Even though Oregon is playing better at the end of the year, we just had to draw Washington State in the Pac-10 Tournament. The Cougars beat us by 12 at Mac Court in January. In February, they looked at the Civil War football score and said to themselves..."yeah, we can beat that", destroying Oregon 67-38 in Pullman. Will March be any better? Third time is the charm? Perhaps. Nuss over at Coug Center was kind enough to give us some insight into what we can expect in round 3.
ATQ: I know Cougs Fans are probably upset about losing to Huskies. As a Duck, I can relate. That being said, is finishing 7th and having to play Oregon on the first day a blessing in disguise? Oregon has had an awful year and if you get by the Ducks, you face a UCLA squad that seems to be having some issues at the end (whom you beat just a couple weeks ago).
CougCenter: I don't think so. This team really is playing well right now, and has high confidence that there isn't anyone in this conference that it can't beat, so it really doesn't matter who the second round opponent is. However, we know that our only real shot of getting into the NCAA Tournament at this point is to win the Pac-10 tournament, and winning four games in four days, even when your first one is against the last place team in the conference, is an enormous task. This game doesn't add anything to our season, other than to serve to wear down two guys who usually log big minutes who we need performing at a high level -- Taylor Rochestie and Klay Thompson. Sixth or higher would have been highly preferable, but the Cougs have no one to blame but themselves for choking away those two games against USC and Oregon State.
ATQ: Taylor Rochestie has just killed Oregon this year. What can we do to stop him outside of stealing his GPS or locking him into the "Small World Ride" at Disneyland?
CougCenter: Nothing. I think he's too tall and strong for Porter and too savvy for any of your other young guards. But that puts him in good company -- he dropped 31 on Darren Collison and UCLA and just scored 23 on Venoy Overton, Justin Dentmon and Washington. He's just become such an all-around threat. He's done a much better job of taking makeable shots, and giving up the ball when they aren't there. And trust me -- nobody wants to go to a third consective Tournament than him, so he's going to give you all he's got.
ATQ: Given your article here, do you think the Cougs met expectations for this season? Do they still have some work to do in order to get there? How does this play into your hopes for next season?
CougCenter: This season has been one of ebb and flow. That piece, after the first four games, was during a time of flow, as the Cougs blew out some really terrible opponents, and looked darn good doing it. But once we got into the tougher portion of the nonconference schedule, we ebbed -- our veterans proved they weren't athletic enough to keep up with more talented teams, but the more athletic freshmen just weren't ready to contribute heavily yet. That continued sort of back and forth as the freshmen would work their way into the rotation, then play themselves out, until this late-season run, when they've finally forced Tony's hand with some great play. I think it was a pretty normal outcome with so many new faces, and it's pretty safe to say we all wish the regular season was about two weeks longer.
Because of that, I think they generally met our expectations. Most Coug fans at the beginning of the year thought a third consecutive Tournament appearance would be a stretch and the NIT was our most likely destination. That's exactly where we're at. As for next year ... boy, our freshman have grown up a lot, but it's going to be tough without Rochestie and Aron Baynes. We might be in for another NIT-type season, but two years from now? Watch out, Pac-10.
ATQ: Considering their 7th place finish in the Pac-10, are the Cougars better, worse or about right as far as the Pac-10 rankings?
CougCenter: In terms of how they're playing right now? They're better than that, and the difference is the contributions of freshmen Marcus Capers and DeAngelo Casto, who seemed to finally grow up overnight about three weeks ago. When on the floor, they give the Cougs a great mix of veteran savvy and youthful energy (and athleticism) that make them very dangerous. They still make mistakes -- Capers and Thompson getting themselves into foul trouble on Saturday comes to mind -- but their positive contributions are outweighing their mistakes at this point, something we couldn't say earlier.
ATQ: What are some ways that the Ducks can get Washington State out of their comfort zone offensively and defensively?
CougCenter: Offensively: There's really only two ways to beat the pack defense -- hit a lot of 3s and try to get in transition. The first is why Oregon had so much success against WSU for a few years there, but obviously these Ducks aren't the shooters of previous years. If you can get hot from outside, you've got a chance. The second is really only doable if you can force WSU into a lot of missed shots -- it's hard enough to run on WSU, but it's practically impossible to do it when you're pulling the ball out of the basket.
Defensively: Take a page out of Washington's book. Get the ball out of Rochestie's hands as much as possible and try to deny the passes to Klay Thompson. Double team Aron Baynes before he has a chance to make a move in the post and get Dunigan into foul trouble. Funnel the ball to lesser offensive options such as Caleb Forrest and Nik Koprivica, entice them to shoot/drive, contest their shots, and hope they both have off nights. Of course, this all is much easier if you have tenacious perimeter defenders such as Venoy Overton and Justin Dentmon, and long interior double-teamers such as Justin Holiday, Darnell Gant and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, but it's a plan that can work.