Doubters may justifiably point to their schedule, and specifically, the lack of top-notch teams that the Cougars have played up until tonight's game, and that's a reasonable observation. But that sort of thing hasn't really stopped a team like Syracuse, for example, to reach the Top 5 of the National Polls without playing a single game on the road, and featuring mostly cupcakes like William & Mary, Detroit, Canisius, Cornell, Colgate, Iona, Morgan State, and Drexel. Sure, Syracuse undressed Michigan State in NYC, but so has just about everybody of late (including Texas in East Lansing). (Incidentally, Syracuse has one game against Georgia Tech that's listed as an "away" game--it was played in Atlantic City. Yeah, they were on the road.)
I don't mean to pick on Syracuse (OK, yes I do) it's just that they started the season highly ranked, and the fact that they haven't lost to a bad team hasn't just kept them where they started ranked--it's moved them up. As I joked awhile back, a three-point win over William & Mary should have maybe moved them down the rankings. Frankly, so should playing thirteen games in New York. Play someone on the road outside of your conference schedule! Just once!
But let's talk about Washington State. Let's start with the best player you probably haven't heard of (unless, somehow, you've managed to still follow the PAC-10, despite the slide that conference has been on the last couple of years)--Klay Thompson. Yes, "Klay" with a "K". He's the son of former Laker (and former Timberwolves announcer) Mychal Thompson, so the funky spelling is apparently genetic. Klay is a junior and a good sized guard--6' 6", with a deft shooting touch, and an ability to create space for his own shots. He's currently averaging over 21 points a game this year, and does a bunch of little things that help his team win. When Washington State ate Gonzaga's lunch earlier this year, Thompson didn't just put up 24 points--he grabbed 6 boards, threw 6 dimes, and had seven steals. That's a well rounded game right there. He makes them go, and having a legitimate star on a team is a big part of being a dangerous team come March.
They don't have a real talented big man, but they are deep--four guys over 6' 10"; the most important being Australian sophomore Brock Motum, who is certainly capable of getting into double digit points, and will, as the season rolls along, start racking up some double-doubles.
The team is built around a core of seven guys, with five juniors. That's a luxury in the NCAA. And they can play pretty long. With Motum on the court, they can go 6' 10", 6' 8", 6' 7", 6' 6", 6' 4. When your best player is a 6' 6" guard who can create his own shot, generate turnovers, and drop some assists for his teammates, you have a lot of flexibility.
I should also note that this team can win without Klay Thompson--against Baylor, due to some foul trouble, Klay tied his second lowest amount of minutes all season long--27 minutes. Sure, that still sounds like a lot, and it is a good number, but he's usually on the court for well more than 30 minutes of game time. In that time--20 points, 4 assists, 3 steals. I don't think anyone can necessarily wrest the Player of the Year awards from Kyle Singler, who was anointed with those accolades before the season started, but Klay Thompson will get some votes.
In what I think is still a weak PAC-10*, watch out for Washington State. And given that for those of us in the Midwest and certainly folks on the East Coast, we won't get to see them play much, remember what I'm telling you now. You are welcome.
*Consider, the December 20th Top 25 had two teams further west than Texas. And neither of them are in the PAC-10 (or is Gonzaga!). That's San Diego State University, and BYU. Others receiving votes include both Washington and Washington State (the only PAC-10 teams) and UNLV, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, and New Mexico (who just lost to Northern Iowa).
image courtesy of AP