So Long, Brothers Lopez

Stanford’s Robin and Brook Lopez are headed to the NBA. They will sign with agents.

In related news, the Pac-10 has just rescinded four foul calls that they were going to preemptively call against Aron Baynes next season in the Cougars’ home and home series with the Cardinal. Pac-10 commisioner Tom Hansen said that the number would have only dropped to two had just Brook declared for the draft.

Bennett Not Interested in Indiana

Tony Bennett is not going to Indiana; reported now by two sources.

Vince Grippi, here.

And Andy Katz, here.

The latter article bugs me a little as Katz implies that Bennett “might” be “interested” in the LSU job. Baton Rouge, LA, happens to be the hometown of Tony’s wife, Laurel. What bugs me about Katz’s article is that one can’t tell whether those words about LSU came out of Tony’s mouth or from Andy Katz himself. The nature of modern-day coaches says there is no certainty that Tony is staying in Pullman, but this is a very good indication. No other school could offer Bennett what Indiana could in terms of money and resources. Scratch that silly Cal rumor, too: Vince Grippi already stated earlier this weekend that Bennett had told him he would absolutely not move within conference. There’s also this remark from Grippi in his blog comments:

Folks:

I think what I’ve posted will answer most of your questions, though not all. I will try to flesh it out before tomorrow morning, but this is what I can come up with from SeaTac. It seems to me Tony is staying, no matter who calls. At least till next year, when we’ll probably have to go through this insane exercise again.
(Author’s note: WordPress is being stubborn and won’t let me insert a space here) And what an insane exercise it’s been. For the time being, we can breathe a little easier. But I wouldn’t say it’s a 100% done deal that Tony will be in Pullman through 2008-09. At least not yet.

About Those Bennett Rumors

“Would I ever leave this company? Look, I’m all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I’m being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly, I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.” – Dwight Schrute

Fortunately, Tony Bennett is not Dwight Schrute. Nevertheless, here we go again. Last year the Michigan and Minnesota openings had my stomach churning; this year it’s Indiana. It’s not that I think Tony will leave – on the contrary, I think he will be sticking around Pullman. But he could leave. And that’s what scares the crap out of me an a lot of Coug fans that have followed this team religiously over the past five years. It’s the possibility.

The coaching carousel demeans everyone involved with college athletics – the coaches, the athletic departments, the fans, the boosters, the media, etc., etc. It is at its heart all about the money. Because schools cannot pay players, they only control two things financially: staff and facilities. College sports, basketball and football in particular, make professional sport money but funnel very little of it to the players themselves. The result are coaches payed so highly that several head coaches are reaping the benefits of choosing the NCAA over professional sports leagues like the NFL (Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban are two that come to mind).

Money is not the root of all evil, however. You never see hoardes of people angry over an investment banker in Spokane leaving his firm for another one that offers a higher salary and more benefits in Chicago. The difference with college sports is that we as alumni or students are emotionally attached to our teams and therefore find that loyalty should rule out money. Those of us that would be irate with Bennett leaving for IU may also be people that didn’t care that Paul Wulff fled Eastern Washington to become the head football coach of the Cougs.

My feeling is this: if you as a coach have a good thing going, stick with it. Look at Dan Monson. He took the first train out of Spokane after Gonzaga’s Elite Eight run and several years later finds himself making a shred of what his former assistant Mark Few now makes at GU.

The frustration is that what we think of as fans really doesn’t matter. The ultimate decision rests with Tony Bennett and his family. That’s really how it should be. If he goes, we have to respect it, even if we don’t like it. But I still don’t think he will.

What do we really know at this point? Well, not much. As of Saturday morning no one official has contacted Jim Sterk about talking with Tony Bennett, despite media reports to the contrary. No contracts have been offered. That of course means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but there is a “ticking clock” here with ESPN reporting that Indiana wants to have a coach announced before the Final Four next weekend.

We could hear something tonight. The Daily Evergreen is reporting that the athletic department may make an official statement this evening regarding Bennett’s future. If it’s the definitive stay or go statement, I believes that is a good sign for WSU. I say this because, if no one has officially offered a contract or called Sterk until Saturday afternoon, I doubt Tony would only spend a couple of hours mulling over an extremely important decision with his family. The earlier he announces his intention, the more likely it is to be a favorable one for Pullman – so he can silence the media and have some peace and quiet from Indiana/Cal boosters and administration that may be trying to reach him. Unless of course there are dark forces at work behind the scenes, but in the end the official request to discuss a contract with Bennett must go through the AD, regardless of any off-the-record discussions.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

First things first: Thank you Cougars. Especially Derrick, Kyle, Robbie, Jeremy, and Chris. You have been class individuals on and off the court and have made everyone at WSU proud. Winning measures teams on the court but the teams that become legends are the ones that win with character. Half of the Pac-10’s all-academic team members are Cougars. You never see Derrick Low pounding his chest; you never see Kyle Weaver taunting an opposing crowd. You embodied all of those five pillars that your coaches told you to believe in: humility, passion, servanthood, utility, and thankfulness. Tony and Dick Bennett brought you all here because they thought you could lose together first. Who’d have ever known that not only would you go out winning together, but go out winning 52 games over two seasons.

I had been working on a draft discussing whether or not this team is superior to the 2006-07 Cougs. I think we can say now with a good amount of confidence that they are (with apologies to Ivory Clark). 26 wins despite a loaded Pac-10 conference, a Sweet Sixteen appearance, and possibly the best starting lineup the Cougars have put on the floor in decades.

We live in a society obsessed with happy endings. It surprises me that we love the NCAA tournament so much, considering that 64 of the 65 teams will go out with a loss. But this was a good loss, if there is such a thing. There’s no shame in losing to the #1-ranked team in the nation and a team that will likely be winning the whole thing when it’s over (Carolina is a great, great team). This was the ending we knew was probably coming but one we were hoping to delay. I actually let myself think about beating Carolina, then wondering to myself, “can we really win this whole thing?”. In the end, the Cougs were Rocky (in the first movie). They were King Leonidas. They fell, but what matters is how they did it and how they got there. And I can’t think of a team I’ve admired more in that respect.

——

Now that the season’s over, it’s time to do some looking back. I will be browsing over the season in the next few days to put together a list of my Top 10 Cougar Plays of the Year. There are several already that stand out in my mind as candidates for the top spots, but suggestions are absolutely encouraged. I want to compile a list that reflects’ the plays that stood out to all Coug fans, not just me. And thanks to some tech savvy Wazzu fans out there, a few of the plays should be available for viewing via YouTube and other media sources. Stay tuned.

Game 35: (4) Washington State vs. (1) North Carolina

“It’s a special place to be, and it’s a special group of kids to do something like this.” – Tony Bennett

———

Here is my more detailed game preview, with all the ins and outs of the matchup. All the breaking down and speculation are over. It’s time to play ball.

Projected Starters

G Rochestie
G Low
G Weaver
F Cowgill
C Baynes

The line: North Carolina (-8)

Why the Tar Heels might win: Tyler Hansbrough: Mobile like Brook Lopez, and gets to the line. The Cougars either need to stay out of foul trouble or get an incredible game from the bench.

Why the Cougars might win: Derrick Low. Kyle Weaver. Robbie Cowgill. They’re not going out without a fight. Also, UNC hasn’t played many teams as efficient on both sides of the floor as the Cougs. It’s their first real test of the tournament.

X-Factor: Robbie Cowgill. Along with Baynes, the low post defense will have to phenomenal to give Wazzu a chance. At first I feared a potential UNC matchup because of Hansbrough. But if anyone can slow him down on this team, it’s Cowgill. Any help Robbie can provide on the offensive end will be an added bonus.

Prediction: North Carolina 72, Washington State 66.

Actually, you know what?

I’m a believer.

Prediction: Washington State 74, North Carolina 72.

Trufant Signs with Seahawks

Former Coug and Pro-Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant reaches a contract extension with the Seahawks for 6 years, $50.2 million. I will now be able to purchase my #23 jersey with confidence this fall.

Harmeling, Cowgill, and Rochestie among five Cougars on the Pac-10 all-acadmic first and second teams. Half of the 10 players on the all-academic teams are Cougs. Think about that for a second.

David Stern rejects idea of KeyArena renovation plan. I have lost all respect for the commissioner and how the NBA is run at this point. I am terrified by the thought of the Sonics drafting Kyle Weaver.

Ben Braun fired by California. Braun was successful at Cal with five NCAA tournament births, but was done in by the fact the Bears haven’t made the dance since 2003. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise; I was going to do a Pac-10 coaches’ job security ranking post but was sidetracked (as I should have been) by the Cougs’ season. Here’s how I ranked the coaches in terms of security, with #1 being the most secure and #11 (I included Arizona “interim” coach Kevin O’Neill) being the most likely to be fired.

1. Lute Olson
2. Ben Howland
3. Tony Bennett
4. Lorenzo Romar
5. Trent Johnson
6. Tim Floyd
7. Herb Sendek
8. Ernie Kent
9. Kevin O’Neill
10. Ben Braun
11. Kevin Mouton

Already 10 has been fired, and it can be assumed 9 and 11 won’t be back (Lute Olson plans on returning to the Wildcats and Oregon State will likely go another direction). Ernie Kent rumors are swirling for what seems like the 10th consecutive year. Number 7 and above are safe.

The Unstoppable Force vs. The Immovable Object

psychotvspsychob.jpg

There are a lot of Cougar fans out there who probably wanted to see Arkansas beat North Carolina last weekend, and I don’t blame them. But I wasn’t one of them.

This is the matchup I wanted. This is the Rose Bowl vs. Michigan, the Holiday Bowl vs. Texas, or the Rose Bowl again vs. Oklahoma (sorry, we really don’t have a basketball precedent for this). Simply put, this is the Cougs’ opportunity to beat a college sports powerhouse on national TV with the whole world watching. There aren’t many opportunities like this, and the pressure is off: If the Cougs lose, it’s another ho-hum win for the nation’s number one team on the way to a potential national championship. But if the Cougs win, well, feel free to go crazy.

And the game itself presents more story lines: possibly the nation’s best offense against the nation’s best defense. Psycho T. versus Psycho A.B. (pictured above). The coaching legend-in-waiting (Roy Williams) versus the young gun (Tony Bennett). The prospect of the final game for Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Robbie Cowgill, who turned this whole program around. To say it is a “contrast of styles” may be a huge understatement. These teams have two different philosophies and one of them will win out on Thursday. Let’s break it down.

Tempo: Contrary to popular belief, you can run on Washington State. You just can’t force it. Notre Dame made that mistake in the Round of 32 and got held to 41 points. The key is to run with intelligence on turnovers and missed baskets. Washington State has a turnover % of 16.7, good for ninth in the nation. So scratch that first idea if you’re UNC. Ultimately the Tar Heels will have to hope for missed shots by the Cougs, and pick and choose their transition opportunities. In the halfcourt, UNC should start watching tape of how Stanford and Arizona used their athleticism to get points in the paint or drive and kick out to open shooters. Low and Rochestie are susceptible to guards like Jerryd Bayless who can drive to the rim. For Wazzu, it’s a matter of making shots, and when they don’t, getting back in the set defense. Review those USC games to remind yourselves of how team defense and staying out of foul trouble can beat a team with much better athleticism.

The contrast is amazing. Washington State’s adusted offensive pace ranks 335th in the nation. North Carolina’s ranks 8th. Only a handful of teams including Bethune Cookman (336th), Delaware State (339th), and the Tortoise (782nd) rank lower.

Run-and-gun teams have problems with the Cougs. The fastest tempos in the Pac-10 belong to (in order): Washington, California, Oregon, Oregon State, and USC. The Cougars are 10-1 against those teams. Husky coach Lorenzo Romar realized this disadvantage two years ago when his team was stomped 75-47 in Pullman; their third straight loss against the Cougs. Now (thankfully) the Dawgs haven’t beaten the Cougs since, but after that day UW has switched to a slower-tempo approach against WSU and the results have been much closer: 65-61, 74-64, 56-52, and 76-73 (OT).

But how does Carolina deal with slow teams? The slowest pace in the ACC belongs to NC State. They were blown out by the heels 84-70 and 93-62. Not a good sign. But NC State isn’t on the same playing field as the Cougars. UNC’s two losses are to Duke and Maryland, two teams that play at a fast pace. That may sound distressing, but UNC hasn’t played a team that plays slow as well as Wazzu. If the heels get frustrated early on by a low-scoring game, the Cougs have a chance. If the Heels reverse it and score in bunches early, watch out.

Offense: North Carolina’s is a juggernaut. #1 in offensive rebound percentage. #2 in raw and adjusted offensive efficiency. They make 52.2% of their 2-point field goals. 38.3% of their threes. 75.4% of their foul shots. No one gets to the free throw line or works as hard under the basket to score points like Tyler Hansbrough. Cowgill will have his hands full, and if Baynes isn’t smart he could get five fouls in 25 seconds. This is where those Yoga classes last summer pay off, Aron: move when you need to and keep your arms straight up. No ticky-tack fouls. And since this isn’t the Pac-10, you will at least have the benefit of competent officiating.

Washington State’s offense should scare Carolina a bit. Why? Because we’re not just about defense. I mentioned that WSU is ninth best in the nation protecting the ball. But we’re also 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency, and shoot for a higher two-point percentage than UNC (53.4%). The Cougs’ effective field goal percentage (which takes into account the extra value of a three-pointer) is 54.4% or 20th best in the nation. All those low-scoring games are really a result of a decreased number of possessions. Turns out, WSU is a very good offensive team after all.

Defense: The Cougar D ranks 7th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. My biggest concern midway through the year was 3-point defense, but the numbers have become favorable for the Cougars after teams shot the lights out during the four-of-five “losing streak”. WSU allows only 33.2% from beyond the arc. Defense under the basket can survive this game, but Robbie Cowgill needs to have the game of his career. He’s the only one mobile enough to deal with Hansbrough. Baynes is your classic big big guy, and Forrest hasn’t gotten to Robbie’s level defensively yet.

North Carolina’s D is suspect, but still pretty darn good (28th in adjusted efficiency). They rebound very well – not a huge concern for the Cougs as we don’t crash the boards much on offense. However, several 1-and-done possessions are likely for WSU in this matchup, and the Cougs can’t afford many of those. UNC defends the three well (33.0%). The only thing they suffer on is holding opponents to a low total score; but when their offense is going for 90 or 100+, that’s the least of their worries. For WSU to have a chance, Carolina’s defense is going to have to be lax, and our three-point shooters (the great equalizer) need to have a very good night. Duke rained threes in UNC’s last loss this season. The Cougs don’t have to shoot the lights out to win; just avoid too many misses from the arc while playing good defense on the other side.