Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
With the ACC-Big Ten Challenge now complete, our attention turns to the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, and this preview focuses on the lowest profile of today’s games, #95 Oklahoma State (5-2) travelling to Seattle to face #139 Washington (3-3).
Both these teams were projected to finish fifth, and be the last team into the NCAA Tournament, from their respective conferences in the CHN season previews, and neither has really done anything to rise above those predictions. Washington dropped two games in the CBE Classic, and also lost a tough game at Portland, but they do have a win that could end up looking good over Horizon favorites Cleveland St. Oklahoma St. has a similar win over Tulsa, along with beating Siena after losing two straight games in the Old Spice Classic. The winner of this game will end up with a solid head-to-head comparison if it comes down to a close battle for the final at-large spots, especially if the Cowboys pull off a road win.
In terms of offensive style, these two teams take very different approaches, with former UMass coach Travis Ford’s Cowboys running the floor with abandon and shooting a lot of threes, while Washington tends to send the ball inside most times down the floor. Looking at 2008 Massachusetts, the key to an effective Travis Ford offense is not just a lot of possessions, but making sure that these possessions end in shots by preventing turnovers, something the Cowboys’ strong backcourt has been very good at. Oklahoma St. has also shot a very good percentage on the fairly high number of threes they’ve taken. This offensive profile matches quite poorly with the Huskies’ defensive flaws. Washington hasn’t forced many turnovers from their opponents, and has generally allowed teams to shoot well from the outside. In addition, Washington has faced mostly interior-focused teams, and allowed the two more perimeter oriented teams they’ve faced, Florida and Portland, to have strong overall offensive performances. They will have the advantage on the offensive boards, an area where the Cowboys will not contest strongly.
Washington’s own scoring hasn’t been too strong, but it’s heavily focused on getting multiple chances inside, as the Huskies are among the nation’s best in offensive rebounding. The problems with this approach are that it has created a lot of turnovers, and tended to put the ball in the hands of some very weak free throw shooters. However, the Huskies have generally been effective, due to solid shooting when things go well inside. For a guard-laden team, the Cowboys have been poor at defending threes, and will be glad to see few of them from Washington. They also send their opponents to the line often, where they will also benefit from a Washington weakness. Oklahoma St.’s interior has been merely average in defending, and against a team with the Huskies’ inside talent, that may not be good enough to hold the score down.
Four experienced and talented guards have played a big role for the Cowboys, who are still looking for a good interior presence. Byron Eaton is the conference leader in assists and steals, but also commits a fair number of turnovers and has had some serious struggles with his shot so far, under 25% from three. This shooting problem has been made up for by senior and leading scorer Terrell Harris, who has started at an unsustainable 50% shooting rate from both two and three-point ranges. Junior Obi Muonelo leads the team in rebounds at a fairly short 6-5, and has been an unspectacular shooter. Sophomore James Anderson has been solid on the glass, and has picked up his shooting percentages early in the season. Inside, 6-11 Ibrahima Thomas will have his hands full with Washington, and while he has been solid in his playing time, he must stay out of the foul trouble that has consistently plagued him. No one else over 6-6 typically gets more than a handful of minutes a game, so losing Thomas would cause major problems in the frontcourt.
Washington’s Jon Brockman is the core of the Husky attack, and the CHN Honorable Mention preseason All-American (and avid campaigner for an end-of-year All-America team honor) is the reason why the Huskies’ offensive rebounding numbers are so gaudy. Though he has actually fallen off his rebounding pace from last season, he has made up for it on the offensive end, where he has gotten fewer shots but been more efficient, shooting 57% from the field. Unfortunately, he has shot only 51% from the line, and should be a clear foul target if he’s in late game scenarios. While Brockman gets the misses back, he’s generally not the one that creates them. That dubious honor falls to freshman Isiah Thomas, who really needs to show some understanding of shot selection. He’s taken a similar number of shots as Brockman, but has hit under 40%, including less than 30% of his threes. Those extra possessions that Brockman earns become pretty useless when the ball hits Thomas’ hands. A much better option is senior Justin Dentmon, who has been the Huskies most efficient outside threat, shooting 46% from behind the arc.
Frankly, I’m really quite torn on this game. Brockman seems like he can dominate the boards with a real abandon, especially against a four-guard setup, but the fact that the Cowboys’ offensive strengths so closely match the Huskies’ weaknesses really gives me a positive feeling for the visitors. Still, I could see Oklahoma St. running Washington off the court, or the Huskies pounding their opponents back to Oklahoma. In the end, my formal prediction will be a tight road win for the Cowboys, but foul trouble for the key big men on either side would heavily tilt the game in the other team’s direction.
Winner: Oklahoma St. Margin: 1-5