Busting Brackets

2014-15 Pac-12 Conference Preview: #8 Washington State


Washington State Cougars 2014-15 Season Preview

2013 Season Results: 10-21 overall, 3-15 conference record. 11th place in the Pac-12, 74-63 loss to Stanford in First Round of Pac-12 Tournament

Key Losses: DJ Shelton (graduated), Royce Woolridge (transferred to Grand Canyon)

Key Returners: DaVonte Lacy, Jordan Railey, Que Johnson, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Ike Iroegbu, Junior Longrus

2014 Recruiting Class: Jackie Davis (2 stars, #94 PG according to ESPN), Trevor Dunbar (2 stars#136 PG), Aaron Cheatum (JUCO PF), Marcus Graham (JUCO Guard), Nyaires Redding (PG from Post-Grad academy)

It’s been five years now since Ernie Kent left Oregon, but he has finally returned to Pac-12 basketball. 2014-15 begins the Ernie Kent era at Washington State, and if he can duplicate his results at Oregon, the fans in Pullman will be thrilled.

Washington State has proven a very difficult place to win. The program has only two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 20 seasons, and those were engineered by Tony Bennett, one of the best coaches in all of college hoops.

Ernie Kent made two Elite Eights at Oregon, but wasn’t able to produce wins consistently enough in the other years to keep his job. Without the pressure of a dominant football program and Phil Knight’s money, that level of success would make Kent a hero to Cougars fans.

The good news for Kent is that he inherits most of the production from last year’s team. The bad news is that team won just 3 conference games last year (one of them a bizarre 18 point blowout of UCLA).

The star here is DaVonte Lacy, who was Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 last season and figures to contend for even greater honors this season. Lacy scored 19.4 PPG last season from the shooting guard spot, while connecting on 39% of his threes.

Lacy is a quality player capable of getting very hot (his 39 point outburst against Cal was the highest total in any Pac-12 conference game last season), but probably needs to improve his 43% overall shooting if Wazzu are going to win more games this season.

That being said, Lacy was the easily the most efficient scorer on the team last season. The offense was abominable. They shot 40% from the field on the season, good for 337th in the country. There are only 351 Division 1 teams.

Part of that problem was a lack of point guard play, and that problem isn’t solved. Royce Woolrdige led the team in assists last season with just 2.7 per game, and the next leading assist man was now-graduated power forward DJ Shelton.

Washington State was clearly aware of this problem, as four of their five newcomers are guards and at least three play the point. Ernie Kent will have to hope one of those potential floor generals is a diamond in the rough.

Sophomore Ike Iroegbu figures to get the first crack at the job, but Trevor Dunbar could be one to watch. The San Francisco native is undersized but was a dynamo in high school and on the AAU circuit, where he played for the Oakland Soldiers (including the 2012 edition that won the Nike Peach Jam).

Dunbar conjures some memories of Tajuan Porter, the diminutive point guard Kent used to great effect at Oregon.

The other returning guards are Dexter Kernich-Drew and Que Johnson, both shooting guards who shoot the ball alright from deep (35 and 36 percent respectively), but aren’t major threats to create shots off the dribble- for themselves or others.

7-foot center Jordan Railey, a former Iowa State player, struggled to produce much as the starter last season, averaging just  3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, and playing just 15 minutes per contest. He has to get better if the Cougars are going to compete in a conference full of quality big men, as DJ Shelton won’t be around to cover for him.

Washington State doesn’t have a very high ceiling this year, but they will be much improved. If they get improved point guard play, or any point guard play at all really, and continue to play good defense, they will be much more competitive.

Their ability to win consistently, though, will be hamstrung severely by their lack of quality scorers. After all, as Bill Russell will tell you, the game always has been- and always will be- about buckets.

Prediction: 8th Place