The Defensive (and Under) Juggernaut Rising at Washington State

by Team Del Genio

In our NCAA-B Sunday Night Vegas O/U Jackpot after the NFL Conference Championship Games, we noted that the Washington State Cougars had played four straight and eight of their last nine games under the total. 

The Cougars went into that game holding their opponents to 39.9% shooting, ranking in the top-30 in the nation. They held the Utes to a 39.1% field goal percentage on Wednesday in a 71-54 victory. That final score finished below the 139 total installed by the oddsmakers, and they had played eight of their last ten games under the number after playing an under in their last game. Washington State had played six straight unders after a win. They were set to complete a four-game homestand where they had played seven straight unders. They were holding their opponents to 63.8 points per game on 40.6% shooting when playing at home in Pullam. Yet the Cougars were scoring only 69.6 points per game on 41.4% shooting in their previous five games, a bit below their 74.0 ppg average on 42.2% shooting. They had played eleven of their last twelve games under the number when the oddsmakers install them as the favorite. 

Washington’s State reliable defense made a statement against Colorado that night. They held the Buffaloes to just 18 first-half points to race out to a 21-point lead. When the final buzzer sounded, the Cougars had held Colorado to a 29% field goal percentage on 16 of 56 shooting. Washington State overachieved expectations on the offensive end of the court by shooting 49% from the field and making 12 of their 28 shots from 3-point land. Yet the combined 113 points scored in the Cougars victory fell well below the 132 point total that most oddsmakers settled on by tip-off.

Head coach Kyle Smith is quietly building a defensive juggernaut with this Washington State team. His Cougars finished 24th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. That was the program’s best defensive effort since 2009. Smith mixes man-to-man defenses with 2-3 matchup zone schemes. In Year 3 at Washington State, Smith has his team ranked 22nd in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. They have held their last three opponents to 57, 54, and 43 points. 

With a 12-7 record and a 5-3 mark in the Pac-12, the Cougars appear destined to be a bubble team for the next six weeks before the NCAA tournament. Their victory against Colorado may have been their best win for their resume. Yet they end the month of January ranked 35th in the nation according to the analytics at kenpom. They have held 11 of their 13 opponents to no more than 64 points. With upcoming games against Arizona, UCLA, and USC, Smith has the opportunity to test the defensive chops of his team against three teams with legitimate final four aspirations. Those showdowns may offer some intriguing under opportunities, pending what the oddsmakers and the market have to say about the over/under number. 

Good luck - TDG.

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