When Tony Bennett departed Pullman for the ACC, I would guess that some fans assumed that the luster and quality that this rivalry had seen in the past 4 years might have left with him. However, when I was writing the WSU team preview back in October, I found myself starting to realize that this Wazzu team might be pretty darn good. The most important step that Ken Bone took when he was named the coach at Washington St. was making sure that no members of the 2008 recruiting class transferred. In doing so, he kept the tremendous core of Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto, and Marcus Capers on campus. What made this so significant is the fact that all three of those guys are much better fits in the attacking offense of Bone then they were in the half court system of Bennett. Bone followed this up by adding the crown jewel of the 2009 recruiting class, when he convinced one time Gonzaga target Reggie Moore to come to campus. Moore is an explosive point guard who can score at a high level (13.5 points per game) and also does a nice job of finding his teammates and pushing the tempo. For any Gonzaga fans that thought this game would be a cake walk, I can assure that it won't be.While the Zags have faced some very good competition through the first six games, they haven't seen anyone quite like Klay Thompson. After a very solid freshman season, Thompson is averaging 28.3 points per game, and is coming off of a 43 point performance against USD. It's clear that Thompson is having no problems adjusting to the tempo of Ken Bone and his offense, and I don't think there is any way that Gonzaga can totally limit Thompson. However, Steven Gray will be the best defender that Thompson has seen all season, and Gray is athletic and strong enough to make Thompson really have to work for his points. I think that Coach Few and the staff will also rotate defenders throughout the game and mix up looks, with guys like GJ and possibly even Elias seeing some time on Thompson. If Thompson is limited to less than 20 points, there is no way WSU can win this game. With that said, if he gets hot, he can keep the Cougs in this game and give them a chance to win it at the end.
In DeAngelo Casto, the Cougs have an ideal compliment to the high-scoring Thompson. Casto is a high energy big man who makes his living on the offensive glass and in transition. While he does have an improving post game, Casto is most dangerous when he is active on the boards and is able to beat his man down the court on the break. It will be vital that Elias Harris is able to stay out of early foul trouble, because he is the only Gonzaga big man that I am totally comfortable with guarding Casto. I'm not sure Rob can keep up with Casto for a prolonged amount of time, and I don't think that Kelly Olynyk is tough enough or physical enough to have any impact on Casto on the glass.
Once you get outside of Moore, Casto, and Thompson, that is where the Zags have the huge advantage. WSU doesn't have the depth and overall talent to keep up with Gonzaga for 40 minutes. The three guys I mentioned are the only people on the WSU team that average over seven points per game. Gonzaga needs to use their depth and overall size to wear down the Cougs and pull away in the second half. Behind a huge Matt Bouldin performance, Gonzaga will use a big second half to secure the 83-70 win.