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Gonzaga vs. Washington State: Zags and Cougs close chapter on rivalry for time being

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Gonzaga gets one last game against its Eastern Washington nemesis before the biggest home game of the season.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs return from a holiday jaunt to the Bahamas to face the Washington State Cougars in what sadly could be the last game between the two schools in quite some time.

SportspressNW reported coach Mark Few told Ernie Kent that the game probably won't happen next season. After all of the hoopla involving how this game was scheduled, this was the confirmation of news that was a long time coming.

That is a bummer. Sure, Washington State basketball is hardly back to its glory years, but these are two teams that have played almost every year since 1907. 1907! I understand Few wants to schedule more "resume-building" games and what not, but this has been going on so long, it seems a travesty to let it end.

So get your verbal battles and bets in against your Coug friends. It might be a while before these two teams play each other.

Meet the opponent

Washington State Cougars, 4-0, KenPom #147

These aren't your Tony Bennett style Cougars, at least so far this season. Washington State looks like it can score with the best of them. The Cougars are led by junior forward Josh Hawkinson and junior guard Ike Ioregbu. Hawkinson opened the season with consecutive double-doubles and is one of the more dependable forwards in the Pac-12.

Iroegbu has stepped up in a big way since becoming more involved in the offense. He averages 13.8 points per game and has expanded into a three-point threat this season. Although he doesn't attempt too many, Iroegbu hits over 50 percent from beyond the arc. He also has been shooting at an efficient clip at 51.5 percent overall from the field. This was highlighted by his last game against Texas Southern, where Iroegbu scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point.

Finally, the Cougars have their own version of Kyle Dranginis with senior forward Junior Longrus. Longrus' minutes have slowly increased as the season has progressed and he has rewarded the extra playing time with a statsheet stuffed to the brim. Against Texas Souther, Longrus finished the game with eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks.

What to watch out for

Just how good are the Cougars?

If you look at their record sitting at 4-0, you might think, hey, these Cougs aren't half bad. But if you look at who the Cougars played, the situation gets a bit murkier. Then if you factor in that Washington State was picked to finish LAST in the Pac-12, the picture starts to get a bit more clear. The Cougars were one of the worst defensive teams in the nation last year (No. 313) according to Ken Pomeroy. They also lost Davante Lacy.

Things don't look good for Washington State. Through four games this season, Ken Pomeroy rates the Cougars at No. 169 in defensive efficiency, and that is against a non-conference strength of schedule that is as close to the bottom as you can get without being all the way there (No. 349). The Zags, meanwhile, boast an offense ranked No. 11. This might not even be a close one.

Can Przemek Karnowski get it going?

There is no arguing that Karnowski's defense has been stellar to watch. The big man from Poland has been a game-changing rock down low, and it shows with a career-best defensive rating of 83.3 so far this season. Offensively, things have been coming a bit slower for poor Karno.

A lot of this has to do with putbacks that just don't seem to fall in for whatever reason, and he is taking more of them as well. According to Hoop Math, last year, 57.1 percent of Karnowski's shots came at the rim and he made 69.2 percent of them. This year, 68.8 percent of his shots are at the rim and he is hitting 68.8 percent. Not enough to make a terrible difference, but just enough to notice.

For the record, Karnowski is down on most offensive stats, but not by much. The major difference is that he hasn't had any game that really stands out at all. You can probably consider his best game to be the 12 points and six rebounds against Washington -- not exactly awe inspiring.

Can the backcourt establish any sort of consistency?

This is one of the biggest issues facing the Zags right now. Josh Perkins had a breakout game against Texas A&M (minus the free throws), but then he followed it up with a foul-plagued 17 minutes against UConn. Silas Melson looked fantastic against Mount St. Mary's, but vanished off the face of the Earth against Washington and Texas A&M, only to return with an outside touch against UConn. Eric McClellan virtually mirrors the Melson routine.

With Gonzaga as stacked as it is in the frontcourt, the Zags don't necessarily need the backcourt to be throwing down 50 points per game. But they do need some sort of consistency there, and it isn't so much as the players disappear during games. Disappearing would almost be better. Instead, this backcourt alternates having detrimental games. Gonzaga's backcourt needs to figure this issue out fast, or else it will be a long, long, stressful season.

Prediction

Gonzaga has had Washington State's number lately for quite some time. It is a bummer to see this game get put on the back burner (considering the history involved). But it also makes sense. Washington State's defensive shortcomings aren't going to be enough to stand up against Gonzaga's offense, and perhaps a game against the Cougars will be exactly the tune-up needed for the Zags before Arizona waltzes into town.

Gonzaga 80, Washington State 62