Gonzaga vs. Washington State game preview: Talking shop with CougCenter

USA TODAY Sports

To really learn about the Cougars, we spoke with SB Nation's Washington State blog to give the inside scoop.

One of the nicer things about the SB Nation community is that it provides the opportunity to interface with people who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to sports. Case and point, this morning we posted a game preview on the Cougars. I probably watched, maybe, three Washington State games last year, including the annual Gonzaga game.

So I did what all enterprising bloggers do. I reached out to Jeff Nusser, one of the co-founders and managing editors of CougCenter (and all-round stand up individual) to get some in-depth knowledge on the Cougars. I took the time to answer some questions for Jeff as well, which you can view here.

SSF: The Cougars lost Brock Motum, and with it, a lot of scoring. Who will step in to fill the void?

CC: Before the year started, I would have said Royce Woolridge. He was the complementary scorer to Motum last year and had a huge finish to the season, including a 36-point outburst against Oregon on just 15 shots. But two games in, that guy is DaVonte Lacy. He's using a whopping 33 percent of WSU's possessions -- or, roughly what Motum was using -- and is doing it with a newly diversified game. A spot up shooter for the first two years of his career, Lacy is now using the new foul rules to his advantage to be aggressive going to the basket. He's still shooting a ton of threes (20 through the first two games), but his free throw rate is up more than 20 points to 64, due mostly to 17 free throw attempts in the first game.

I've long dreamed of Lacy using his strength and athleticism to do more than just camp out behind the arc, and if this change is actually real, a Lacy and Woolridge could be an incredibly potent duo. Gonzaga is going to provide a nice little test to see whether this change is potentially sustainable.

SSF: After a couple of years of middling success the Cougars took a step back last year, especially in conference play. Is Ken Bone on a tighter lease and how long do you see him sticking around?

CC: Thing is, he was given a seven-year contract by the previous athletic director, and the cost to fire him after this season is two full years of his salary -- $1.7 million total. When you combine that with the $1 million-plus it would cost annually to hire a new coach, it becomes a bit prohibitive for an athletic department focusing all its energy on building up the football program to make a change. Because of that, basketball -- which generates little to no revenue for the department -- just isn't a priority right now. Even if the results would typically dictate a coaching change, chances are better than not that Bone sticks around, an unfortunate circumstance since recruiting is already suffering considerably.

SSF: The Pac-12 media poll predicted the Cougars at the cellar of the Pac-12 by quite a bit. Are they really that bad or will they surprise this year?

CC: I don't think they're that bad, mostly because I think USC and Utah are worse than the media voters were recognizing. I also think Oregon State isn't any better than WSU. But there isn't a lot of reason to think that WSU could surprise by pushing its way up the standings.

Although the backcourt is fairly deep -- junior wing Dexter Kernich-Drew can score, freshman Ike Iroegbu has flashed speed and an ability to get to the rim, freshman Que Johnson has a reputation as a shooter -- the frontcourt is terribly light on talent. D.J. Shelton is solid, but it drops off awfully quickly after that. And the defense is still sort of a mess, even though they really do appear seriously committed to improving that aspect of the team for the first time in Bone's tenure. The key is getting something out of transfer center Jordan Railey (a human foul machine with practically no offensive game) and forward Junior Longrus (whose production hasn't yet matched his athleticism) if they're going to surprise anyone.

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