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January 15, 2010

The Pres' Palouse Park Bench - Jumping Through Hoops


Take a stroll into Beasley Coliseum these days on a Thursday evening or Saturday afternoon and there you will find either the men's or women's basketball team locked in heated battle with a conference opponent. Aside from the obvious differences between the squads, there are many subtler anomalies. For instance, the men's team is struggling to keep up with the expectations of the postseason that previous teams have set before them. The women's team meanwhile is trying to leave behind many years of futility to experience even a semblance of success. The women's team focuses on playing hard-nosed, feisty defense while the men's team focuses more on a fast paced, hot shooting offense.


For as different as both teams are, they are striking similar in one way: they are incredibly young. In fact, that might be too big of an understatement for both of these teams. For instance, the men's team's regular starters include four sophomores and a freshman while the women feature three sophomores and two freshmen. On both teams, only one upperclassman sees any significant playing time. They are as inexperienced as inexperienced can be. I'm here to tell you: be patient, they are going to be just fine.

As far as the men's team goes, I don't think this statement is too radical: this team is better with Ken Bone as the head coach than they would've been with Tony Bennett. The younger players on this team would still be in the middle of learning the pack defense and would've struggled mightily in the non-conference schedule, probably dropping an additional game or two. But Bone's style is more akin to what we would associate with normal basketball and young Klay Thompson has thrived under this system (as if he wasn't already). Thompson can now do what he loves to do, shoot from the outside and find and open lane to drive to the hoop. Without Bone, we would be Reggie Moore-less, a player who has been an incredible treat to watch insofar. Without Moore, Xavier Thames would've like been shoved into the starting point guard role and while Thames is a talented player, he's not ready to handle that responsibility.

Bone has showed he's willing to take responsibility for losses, not just shouldering his players with the burden. Multiple times after wins or losses, Bone has said he could've done things better in that game and isn't willing to throw players under the bus. But he also knows how to handle a young team. When a few players were late for "team events" he did the right thing to punish them: took away playing time. Some fans were crying for them to run suicides instead, claiming the physical punishment would be enough. But to a varsity athlete in college, the worst thing you can do is take away playing time. Players want to play and if you take that away and make them sit on the bench and watch the team struggle without their help, it is a much better punishment. The game in Tempe was two things: a disaster and a lesson. The team played badly because of who they missed but Bone needed this young team to know it was inexcusable to waltz into "team events" late and assume you just get to play.

We knew games like this would happen. We knew they would struggle in games against veteran teams and would have nights where just nothing goes right. But this team has a long way to go and this year is a learning experience to better themselves for next year.

For the women's team, the problems are entirely different. The fact that head coach June Daugherty and her staff have been able to get talented players in Pullman like Jazmine Perkins and April Cook is impressive but it will take more than that to make this team successful. Daugherty preaches tough defense which the team plays but their offense leaves a lot to be desired. As a young team does, when a play breaks down, they frequently panic and take bad shots. They get enough offensive rebounds but it's more important to make those shots in the first place obviously.


Daugherty is the right coach for this team. Even if you have just a brief conversation with her, you'll get a good dose of her fire, intensity and passion and how much she really wants to make the Cougars successful. But a lot of patience will be required with the team. Last season when they won 11 games, it tied the most wins in a single season for a decade. With that kind of win total being considered your "best" of the decade, there is a long way to go. Let me reassure everyone: Daugherty is the right coach for this job and on a team full of sophomores and freshmen, it will take time to make them better. Part of the reason we may be seeing this drop of from last season was the departure of Katie Appleton and Heather Molzen, the team's two seniors who provided leadership.

Both of these teams will struggle in the short term, one more than the other. Don't expect either team to completely fulfill all of your expectations this year. Give them time. Because, and rest assured, they'll likely get it turned around pretty quickly; one of the beautiful things about basketball.


PICKS:


Last Week: 5-4
Overall: 10-7

How high can this score get? Pretty high I figure. Hopefully Jerome Randle didn't waste all his points on the Cougars.

California 81, Washington 78


I can't make any sense of this game. But we'll try too. Oregon State isn't surging as much as Arizona State.

Arizona State 66, Oregon State 55


This week in totally insignificant rivalry games (confession: I think the only real rivalry in conference is WSU-UW) UCLA figures it out.

UCLA 68, USC 57


Two teams that are struggling now. I continue to not be able to make sense of this conference.

Arizona 76, Oregon 65


Score the same amount of points as you did against Cal and you'll be in good shape.

Washington State 78, Stanford 60


Both of these teams are absolutely terrible. Probably should just give the edge to the home team. But that would be predictable!

Oregon State 56, Stanford 50


After watching them play WSU, I'm convinced Cal has what it takes to actually win the conference.

California 80, Oregon 68


Washington is like Oregon State last year (or this year for that matter): inconsistent. I'll assume the good team shows up this day.

Washington 71, UCLA 60


I don't know that I have the confidence in WSU to go to USC and beat a defensive minded Trojan team.

USC 61, Washington State 56


Obscure Pick of the Week: A non-conference match-up between a team that I have never heard of the other whose mascot is the "Gentleman". I'm going to stick with the team I've heard of despite likely divine intervention for the other squad.

Centenary 75, Southwest Assembly of God 60


Dunderhead of the Week: Colt McCoy. Did he do anything wrong? No. But in the professional opinion of my girlfriend (and frankly women every where) being the star quarterback at Texas and proposing to your girlfriend on the field at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium is about as stereotypical and uncreative as it gets.








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