Washington State Cougars (4-7)
The Washington State Cougars might seem to finally be turning the corner after years of struggling to pull themselves out of the bottom third of the conference.
After making a surprising run through the Pac-12 Tournament last season, no Pac-12 team scored bigger upsets during non-conference play than Washington State. The first was against the Ohio State Buckeyes, the second at Gonzaga, which - for those that haven't been there - is not the easiest place to earn a win as a visitor.
Nevertheless, they still went 2-7 outside of those upsets. So how close are they to making a move to crack the top two thirds of the conference? The statistics suggest they're still a long ways away.
Four Factors statistics for Washington State during non-conference play.
Efficiency statistics for Washington State during non-conference play.
Narrative description: Against one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, Washington State struggled in every facet of the game, but they came together defensively to get a pair of major upsets.
SOS: 60.90 (5th nationally)
Upset wins: at Gonzaga, vs Ohio State
Upset losses: N/A
MVP: Tia Presley, G (5'9", So., 11.12 MVP)
On a team that does not score efficiently, it's probably not much of a surprise that the player who boosts her efficiency (50.42% true shooting percentage) by getting easy points from the free throw line (39.44% free throw rate) comes up as the statistical MVP. But it's also not a stretch to say that a team that struggles to shoot from the perimeter has a point guard as their most significant contributor.
As a sophomore point guard, Presley isn't the most efficient distributor (-1.21 pure point rating) but considering that she's also one of the team's primary scoring options (24.58% usage rate) she's someone that has really helped her team thus far.
- Washington State is not a great defense, but their opponents commit a number of turnovers, which helps create transition scoring opportunities for themselves.
- There's something to be said for the fact that the Cougars ended up with relatively narrow differentials against the fifth toughest schedule in the nation. It's hard to know what exactly to read into that, but it's very possible that they're better than their numbers suggest.
- To their credit, they were 3-1 at home, including the upset of the Buckeyes, during non-conference play, which is noteworthy.
- They're not a good rebounding team and the fact that they can't get many offensive rebounds for themselves hurts even more given that they don't shoot the ball well: they entered conference play 10th in field goal percentage among Pac-12 teams.
- Another part of their low shooting efficiency is their inability to hit 3-pointers: they were second to last among Pac-12 teams in 3-point shooting at 26%. They also neither get to the free throw line all that often nor do they make free throws (63.2%, 10th in the conference). In short, scoring is a major weakness for them.
- Turnovers are a problem and it's primarily because their biggest minute players who are looked upon as primary offensive weapons are also turnover prone (ironically, freshman Lia Galdeira is the exception).
X-Factor: Lia Galdeira, G (5'11", Fr., 10.40 MVP)
Galdeira is not the most efficient player by any stretch of the imagination, but on a team that struggles to score it's hard to blame her as a player who has already proven that she can at least get shots up (34.06% usage rate). She's their leading scorer and they need her ability to create shots. Nevertheless, they need their freshman guard to get more efficient in Pac-12 play if they want to build on their non-conference performance.
Key question: What will end up being their strength in conference play?
In conclusion, the Cougars will have to improve in some area in order to win games consistently in Pac-12 play and by no means is it impossible to imagine them doing so. The problem is that it's not immediately obvious where that might come from, particularly on the offensive end; Washington State needs someone to step up as an efficient scorer and someone who can efficiently direct the offense.
Still, the very fact of their upset of perennial tournament teams gives them plenty to build on moving forward.