Washington State Cougars
Overall Rank: #76
Conference Rank: #7 Pac-10
2007-08: 26-9, 11-7, 3rd
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
As soon as Washington State bowed out of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of North Carolina, the talk about Coach Tony Bennett leaving intensified. With the loss of a few great players that catapulted the Cougars into a Pac-10 contender, it would have been a decent time to for the coach to move on. However, Coach Bennett opted to stay at WSU despite the rebuilding that needs to be done. Considering he could have ended up at Indiana, the rebuilding process in Pullman does not look too bad.
Will the success continue without Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver? The backcourt duo was the heart and soul of the Cougars over the last three years and took the team from perennial cellar dweller to one of the best in the Pac-10. Last year they combined to average 26.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 3.1 steals. WSU better find some new leaders on and off the floor very quickly. Starting forward Robbie Cowgill once led the team in scoring. With the emergence of other frontcourt players, Cowgill did not have to do quite as much. Still, he averaged 7.3 points and 5.1 rebounds during his senior campaign and his absence might be missed more than most think. Thomas Abercrombie, Jeremy Cross, Chris Henry and Stephen Sauls are also departing after seeing limited action during the 2007-2008 campaign.
The Cougs have a huge group of newcomers who need to quickly find their roles on the team. Abe Lodwick has an early leg up on the wide open competition to find a shooting guard. At 6-7, the redshirt freshman has nice size for a two guard. He is not just big though and Lodwick can hit the outside shot with consistency. His year in the system gives Lodwick the edge over incoming freshmen Mike Harthun, Nick Witherill and Klay Thompson. Like Lodwick, Witherill and Thompson can shoot the ball, but if one of the two incoming freshmen can pick up the defense and the system quickly, they could be starting. Thompson came on strong during his senior year in high school and has the tools to be an impact player on the wing sooner or later. John Allen will add even more inexperienced depth on the perimeter. The names keep coming in the frontcourt. Small forward Marcus Capers will probably have to bide his time for a while, but big guys Fabian Boeke, DeAngelo Casto, Charlie Enquiest and James Watson can make an impact this year. Boeke, who missed last year with an injury, is a solid scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. Boeke’s outside shooting can really stretch the defense and he should fit in very nicely with the Cougars. Overall, this is a great class, but usually in systems like this, the newcomers do not play a huge role on the team. This group, or at least quite a few players in this group, will have to pick up the system quickly and make a big impact if the team expects to go to another NCAA Tournament.
Who to Watch:
Aron Baynes is the team’s returning leader in points, rebounds and blocks. This year the 6-10 center will have to play a bigger role and turn into a leader not of just the frontcourt, but the entire team. Caleb Forest was an important part of the regular rotation, but the 6-8 senior only averaged 12.0 minutes per game. His experience will play a more important role this season…most likely off the bench once again.
There are returning options on the perimeter as well. Taylor Rochestie averaged 10.4 points and 4.7 assists last year and will have to get all the new faces involved on both ends of the court. Small forward Daven Harmeling is a decent shooter and Nikola Koprivica will battle Harmeling for the starting job after averaging 2.5 points per game a year ago. Rochestie is a good player, but nobody is going to replace Low and Weaver anytime soon. The recruiting class is solid, but Washington State will need some time to get them acclimated to life in the Pac-10. Another NCAA berth is feasible, but it will take a special season from some unexpected players.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Taylor Rochestie, Senior, Guard, 10.4 points per game
Abe Lodwick, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Daven Harmeling, Senior, Forward, 5.6 points per game
Fabian Boeke, Sophomore, Center, DNP last season
Aron Baynes, Senior, Center, 10.4 points per game