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Is Wazzu For Real?

   by Matt Fargo - 01/12/2008

Washington St. passed another test on Thursday as it went into USC and easily took care of the Trojans, moving its record to 14-0 on the season. To the novice college basketball follower, the Cougars came out of nowhere to be where they are now since they are not a household name and have been overshadowed for years by their in-state rival Washington Huskies. I am here to tell you this team is for real as it has all the makings of a team that can make a serious run at the big boys.

I backed the Cougars against USC and am still trying to figure out why it was the underdog in that game. One simple reason is the fact that the Cougars are still not getting the respect it deserves. When they go into Pauley Pavilion on Saturday and defeat the UCLA Bruins, maybe some people will finally take notice. Sure, Washington St. is ranked 4th in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls but the fact that it is ranked 26th in the most recent RPI is a slap in the face.

The RPI ranking will eventually go up once conference play really gets going as right now, Washington St. is dogged because of a light schedule played thus far. Currently its schedule is 251st in the nation and there is no doubt that is not very solid. There have been some cupcakes in there but there have also been some quality wins against USC, Washington, Gonzaga, Baylor and Boise St. And better yet, all five of those wins were on the road.

For a team to be this good and not have a player averaging more than 12.7 ppg is even more amazing. That honor goes to Derrick Low, who also leads the team in three-point shooting, free throw shooting and is second in steals. Center Aaron Baynes and guard Kyle Weaver are the only other players scoring in double figures. It isn’t because no one else is capable of scoring but more of quality over quantity. The Cougars average 68.9 ppg but shoot a solid 49.8 percent from the floor.

Washington St. came on the scene last year with its tenacious defense as it came within a bucket of advancing to the Sweet 16. That defense is present once again as the Cougars are allowing just 50.4 ppg on 38.1 percent shooting. They have held seven teams below 50 points and on Thursday, they won by 15 points despite allowing USC to shoot 54.2 percent. How does that happen? Taking care of the ball remains the philosophy of this team as it committed just seven turnovers and did not allow a steal.

As mentioned, the Cougars now must face their stiffest challenge of the season when it takes on UCLA on Saturday. The teams match up very well with each other as both take quality shots on offense while the defense on both sides is hard nosed and very tough to penetrate. The most intriguing matchup in this game is at the center position with Baynes going up against heralded freshman Kevin Love. Love is averaging 16.1 ppg and 10 rpg which are 4.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg better than Baynes.

Earlier I said that Washington St. will get the respect it deserves after a Saturday win. I do believe it is more than possible so keep an eye out for the best line as I’m projecting UCLA to be around a five-point favorite. Anything should be a take as this has the makings of a “last possession winsâ€쳌 type of game. This is just a guess but if the Cougars win, they should be able to pass Syracuse and Massachusetts in the RPI. Continuing this style of play, they can surprise in the Pac 10 and go a long way come tournament time.

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