College Basketball Nation: Klay Thompson

Washington State cleans up team culture

September, 27, 2011
Washington State filled its news section this offseason with stories of community service. The Cougars helped one woman build a house with Habitat for Humanity, encouraged academics with kids at a basketball clinic, walked in the National Lentil Festival Parade in Pullman, and hung out with senior citizens at a community center.

The headlines came in stark contrast to the negative ones last season after three of the team's top four scorers last season were cited for separate marijuana infractions, with Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore serving suspensions.

According to The Spokesman-Review, coach Ken Bone made it an offseason priority to change the culture by dedicating them to work in the community.
The Cougars who spent the summer in Pullman not only did basketball workouts and weightlifting, they also volunteered for multiple community projects.

Though the coaching staff initiated the process, Bone said, the players ran with it.

"In probably any business you need good character to persevere," Bone said. "We had some issues last year that we think we've done a great job of cleaning up."

Issues needed to be addressed after athletic director Bill Moos in an interview with The Spokesman-Review was critical of the student-athlete culture on campus in wake of a third men's basketball marijuana incident involving DeAngelo Casto last March.
"I'm not sure we have a championship mentality here. We have to instill in our student-athletes a mentality that Saturday's game is more important than tonight's party. We're in a location that has a lot of positives, but Pullman is also extremely visible and our young people need to be aware of that."


"But we still need to address the drug issue in this department," Moos said. "In a perfect world, if the Pullman police or campus police wanted to target our athletes, there would be nothing to target."

Now that Pac-10 scoring champion Thompson and rugged big man Casto have turned pro following an unsatisfying 9-9 conference finish that resulted in a trip to the NIT, the rebuilding process begins.

At Washington State, the culture apparently needed to be rebuilt as well.

Malcolm Lee leaves UCLA question marks

April, 13, 2011
UCLA coach Ben Howland gets his players to the NBA, and that's one of the selling points when it comes to recruiting future Bruins. So when UCLA players enter early into the NBA draft, Howland has to feel happy for them even if it does leave him wondering at the same time what might have been.

UCLA will lose both guard Malcolm Lee and forward Tyler Honeycutt, the second- and third-leading scorers from this season's team that came within a few possessions of getting to the Sweet 16. Howland had heard the super-early preseason projections that a team with the two of them might have been among the nation's elite, and he now knows those expectations won't be there anymore.

"I really believe that if we had both of them back we would have had a chance to challenge, no question, in that category," Howland said.

With Lee and Honeycutt leaving, UCLA will need other players to step up. The Bruins should have a strong frontcourt with leading scorer Reeves Nelson expected to return along with center Joshua Smith. With Smith and North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear, UCLA will have three 6-foot-10 players to give them a size advantage over most teams.

What Howland will need to emerge is consistent production from the backcourt. Point guard Lazeric Jones should be better after an injury-plagued year that saw him get his first Division I season under his belt. Tyler Lamb is a wing who will get a chance to earn more minutes, and Norman Powell is a freshman who is expected to get early playing time. UCLA is also expected to sign a guard in junior college transfer De'End Parker.

UCLA will miss Lee's defensive presence. While his offensive skills could have used another year of seasoning, Howland thinks that he's as good of a defender as anyone in the draft, and that will be his greatest NBA skill. Lee's decision to forgo his senior season shouldn't have come as that big of a surprise, not after he let it be known two weeks ago that his AAU coach was in the process of interviewing agents.

Honeycutt's departure was an expected one even though he might have needed another year to boost his stock. Howland thinks he'll be a first-round pick, but as former UCLA and NBA player Tracy Murray described Honeycutt to the Daily Bruin, "He’s a carpenter with a bunch of tools, but he hasn't built nothing."

The Bruins should still challenge for a Pac-12 title. Washington and USC lose top players to the NBA, and Arizona's Derrick Williams and Washington State's Klay Thompson could depart as well.

The hope for Howland is that he still has the pieces to make UCLA an elite team.

Ben Howland optimistic on UCLA's future

March, 28, 2011
The NBA draft could end up stealing plenty of talent from the Pac-12. USC's Nikola Vucevic declared last week he was signing with an agent, as did UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt today. Several players must still make decisions, including Arizona's Derrick Williams, Washington State's Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto, and UCLA's Malcolm Lee and Reeves Nelson.

And when it all shakes out, UCLA could easily be the favorite going into next season. The Bruins lose their best athlete in Honeycutt, but won't miss his 100 turnovers and could return most of their roster to go along with transfers David and Travis Wear.

"Would we be a better team if (Honeycutt) came back? Absolutely," said coach Ben Howland, whose team was without a senior this season. "One hundred percent.

"I'm still very optimistic. I think we'll be a very, very good team."

Howland said the team could still play with three guards, using David Wear as a small forward. And the interior presence provided by the Wear twins along with freshman center Joshua Smith -- all standing 6-foot-10 -- is a nice advantage to have.

Should Nelson and Lee stay in school, UCLA would return its top two scorers along with point guard Lazeric Jones, who now has a Division I season under his belt.

UCLA will have plenty of challengers in the Pac-12. Arizona will really miss Williams should he leave for the NBA, but would still return most of a team that includes point guard Lamont Jones and bring in a top recruiting class coming off an Elite Eight appearance. Washington should still have Isaiah Thomas and an emerging star in Terrence Ross. Cal brings back freshman of the year Allen Crabbe, and Washington State would be strong with Thompson returning to school.

Losing Honeycutt isn't ideal, but it appears the Bruins will manage. And after some more draft decisions get made, they could really find themselves in a good spot.

Washington State searches for consistency

March, 10, 2011
It's only been his second season, but Washington State coach Ken Bone has already experienced quite a ride since taking over the program. To briefly sum it up, the Cougars had promising 10-2 starts in non-conference play in both seasons, but then finished last in the Pac-10 a year ago and sixth this season by going .500.

There have been glimpses of potential, with the Cougars routing Gonzaga at home and having a nice showing at the Diamond Head Classic (to some extent a five-point loss at home to Kansas State counts). There have been some turns in fortunes, with nagging injuries hurting the team and Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore being busted for marijuana possession in separate incidents which resulted in each being suspended for a game.

Here's how guard Marcus Capers described this season to The Spokesman-Review:
"Ya, it's had its ups and downs," Capers said Wednesday after the Cougars' final pre-Pac-10 Conference tournament workout, a practice delayed because WSU was stuck in Pullman an extra day due to snow and a canceled Tuesday flight.

"I feel we could have done better, but one thing we were constantly struggling (with) was our consistency," said Capers, a junior whose role has been anything but consistent this year, swinging back-and-forth from wing to point depending on Reggie Moore’s health. "When you don’t have consistency, your team is going to be a roller coaster during the season."

That brings us to tonight, as Washington State hopes to make its way off the bubble starting with a win against rival Washington. The Cougars have already swept the regular-season series, and the Huskies will be down a man with reserve guard Venoy Overton getting suspended for the tournament. Bone, a former UW assistant under Lorenzo Romar, knows there are few secrets between these two teams.

The Cougars certainly have the personnel to not only beat the Huskies a third time, but also win the entire tournament. Thompson led the conference in scoring while Moore, who is having an injury-plagued season and is expected to return from an ankle injury, burst onto the scene last season. DeAngelo Casto is a load to handle inside, Capers is a reliable presence, and sixth man Faisal Aden has the ability to provide instant offense.

The issue -- as Capers said -- has been consistency for a program that isn't accustomed to sustaining success like some of the other Pac-10 powers. It has crept up on a day-to-day basis, as Moore and Aden have missed practices battling nagging injuries. There's been a leadership question as well, with Thompson putting himself in a poor position with the marijuana incident and also previously showing up late for the team bus. And as a team, the Cougars have struggled on the road, getting swept by the Los Angeles and Arizona schools.

When will it all come together for the Cougars? The long-term answer remains unclear (as does Thompson's NBA draft decision), but there's plenty of opportunity over the next three days to make a strong statement.

Washington State likes at-large chances

March, 7, 2011
Washington State heads into its first-round Pac-10 tournament game against Washington as a No. 6 seed with uncertainty in its backcourt, but coach Ken Bone feels the Cougars might not need to win the tournament to make the NCAA tournament.

"Even though we lost the other day to UCLA, I still feel right now that if we were to get to the championship game, I feel we'd have a good chance of getting in," Bone said.

Washington State could very well have conference scoring leading Klay Thompson available in the tournament after he was suspended for the UCLA game after being cited for marijuana possession.

Bone said he would make the decision in the next 24 hours after Thompson practices, but seemed to indicate that Thompson's public apology to fans before the game and Reggie Moore's one-game suspension for a similar offense would be weighed heavily in the decision.

"It doesn’t seal the deal, but it's a great step in the right direction," Bone said. "He was very sincere, and I think his apology came from the heart. That can't be a very easy thing to do for a young man. We as a staff appreciated what he had to say.

"We like to be consistent with our actions when it comes to disclipline."

The Cougars, if they reach the Pac-10 championship, would be 21-11 with three wins against Washington and non-conference wins against Gonzaga and then-ranked Baylor.

Washington State finished .500 in Pac-10 play, with the team's previous two losses coming with Thompson out of the lineup against Arizona State due to being late for the team bus, and against UCLA from the marijuana incident.

Moore's status is also unknown for Thursday's opening-round game after he missed the regular-season finale with a sprained right ankle.

Klay Thompson's suspension is untimely

March, 4, 2011
Washington State is fighting to position itself for a chance to make the NCAA tournament, and then this happens.

Klay Thompson, the Pac-10's leading scorer and an NBA prospect, has been suspended for Saturday's regular-season finale against UCLA -- a crucial game that will determine conference tournament seeding and how much of a shot the Cougars have of going dancing.

Shortly after scoring 22 points against USC, Thompson was pulled over and cited for the 1.95 grams of marijuana found in his vehicle. It left coach Ken Bone no choice but to suspend the star guard after previously having benched point guard Reggie Moore for a similar infraction.

This was horrible timing for Thompson. Just two weeks ago, Bone kept him out of the starting lineup for being late for the team bus and the Cougars ended up losing to Arizona State. Only afterward did Bone find out that the tardiness was over a misplaced iPod. So it's been a bad stretch for the guy that should be looked upon as the team leader.

The other factor in this that hurts Washington State is that Moore is a question mark going into the UCLA game after he left Thursday's game in the first half with a sprained right ankle and spent the rest of the contest on the sideline in a protective boot. The Cougars are expected to turn to Faisal Aden, who has shown tremendous scoring ability, but has also battled knee issues throughout the season.

The Cougars' season began with much promise as they went through nonconference play with a 10-2 record and Thompson regained his shooting form after struggling a year ago. They have beaten Gonzaga, Baylor and swept rival Washington.

But because of uneven play in the conference season, a loss on Saturday could drop the Cougars as far down as the sixth seed in the Pac-10 tournament.

And Thompson won't be able to help.

Mychal Thompson, his father who works for ESPN 710 in Los Angeles, said he received a 7 a.m. phone call from Klay and thought, "uh, oh."

"He put himself and the team in this situation knowing the consequences," said Mychal, a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. "It's disappointing to me.

"He seemed to realize he messed up. If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is."

Misplaced iPod costs Klay Thompson

February, 22, 2011
Washington State lost by two points at last-place Arizona State on Saturday, likely ending any argument the 17-10 Cougars might have had for deserving an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.

It didn't help that Washington State was missing guard Klay Thompson, the Pac-10 scoring leader, from its starting lineup. Thompson, who still finished with 28 points in 34 minutes, was benched at the beginning of the game for being late. Here's the reason for it, according to The Spokesman-Review:
But he also played a role in the Cougars' glacial start, benched for the first 5 minutes, 47 seconds because he was late for the team bus.

"I lost my iPod, so I was stressing there," he said.

It's unclear how Washington State might have done with Thompson in the lineup. But coach Ken Bone, who didn't know about the iPod until after meeting with Thompson on Monday, made it clear that rules are rules.

"What we're trying to do is lay down some discipline within the program, and one of those areas whether it's rules, policies is to try to make sure that when there's time involved, be on time," Bone said. "It's kind of a life lesson. We're not going to try to throw away games because of it. And he knows the rules. He understood it. He had no issue with it.

"The way things have gone in regard to managing time, we're going to stick with that. The guys are going to be on time when they need to be, or there will be consequences."

For a second straight season, the Cougars have disappointed in conference play after a nice nonconference start. For a missing iPod to have had even a slight effect on them dropping below .500 in the Pac-10 is just salt in the wound.

And as it turns out, Thompson hadn't actually even lost the iPod and eventually was able to find it. According to Bone, it was in forward Brock Motum's bag all along.

Pepperdine's Mychel Thompson has range

February, 7, 2011
Washington State's Klay Thompson has an older brother, and he's pretty good, too.

Check out Pepperdine senior Mychel Thompson hitting a 35-footer at the buzzer to send Saturday's game against San Diego into overtime, with the Waves going on to win 70-63.

Mychel Thompson went on to score 12 of the team's 13 points in the extra period and scored 21 of the Waves' final 26 points.

Helped by a missed free throw and Thompson's shot, Pepperdine avoided losing to San Diego and stayed in the hunt for a semi-decent seed in the WCC tournament.

Thompson's efforts were especially needed after the team suspended guard Keion Bell for the remainder of the season. Bell, the WCC's second-leading scorer, averaged 18.9 points per game.
Did we forget about the Washington State Cougars? Maybe just a little bit.

Sure, Wazzu garnered some minor press back in December, when the Cougars trounced Mississippi State and handled Baylor on their way to a second-place finish in the Diamond Head Classic. It was clear then that this team was better than most of the non-Washington, non-Arizona portions of the Pac-10. If the Pac-10 had a potential third NCAA at-large bid to win, the Cougars appeared likely be the team that won it.

A few weeks and one very large win later -- Sunday night's 87-80 win over Washington at the Wallis Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum, and yes, I included the arena name because I like the words "Wallis Beasley" used in succession (and no, I don't know why) -- that perception hasn't much changed. If any non-UA, non-UW team can make it out of the Pac-10 thanks to an at-large bid, Washington State is going to be that team.

The Cougars' résumé isn't the prettiest thing you've ever seen, but it's not too bad, either. Some of the Cougars' losses have been less than pretty (an 84-68 loss to Butler, a 63-58 home loss to Kansas State, road losses to Cal, UCLA, and USC), and they don't have a ton of good wins to speak of. But the neutral-court win over Baylor still looks OK, and Sunday night's win over Washington should help Wazzu get the attention of the selection committee in a much more serious way.

Hopefully someone from that committee watched Sunday night's game, because it was full of impressive moments from this Washington State team. Perhaps none were more impressive than Klay Thompson's steal with 1:20 remaining in the second half. As Washington scrambled to stay in a suddenly out-of-reach game, the Cougars extended their impressive zone to trap Huskies guard Scott Suggs in the corner. As Suggs looked to reverse the ball, Thompson anticipated the pass almost preternaturally early -- if you watch the replay, you'll see Thompson takes off from his spot in the lane almost before Suggs throws the pass -- elevated to make the catch and the steal and dribbled the ball down court before eventually earning a fast-break foul.

The game was probably already over, but that highlight did it for me. This Washington State team plays quality defense, has a versatile, athletic star in Thompson (who scored 25 points and had five steals and four assists in the win), is very difficult to beat on its home court and, as of last night, has at least one truly quality win to boost its NCAA tournament chances.

It's far from a done deal, but it's hard not to like the Cougars as a potential tournament team going forward. And if this team can play 75 percent as well on the road as it's played at home, a few more "quality" wins should be soon to follow.

Wednesday night by the numbers

January, 20, 2011
Here's an inside look at the numbers behind Wednesday's top performances:

1. It’s tough to pick the most embarrassing stat from Wake Forest’s 74-39 loss to Georgia Tech. Let’s start with those 39 points, which were the fewest by the Demon Deacons since Jan. 8, 1959. Wake Forest shot just 25.9 percent from the field, its worst over the last 15 years. Even the free throw line wasn’t friendly, as they hit just 9 of 26 from the charity stripe. At 34.6 percent, that’s the worst free throw performance over the last 15 years by an ACC team attempting at least 25 free throws. The second half was particularly ugly, as the Deacons didn’t connect on a field goal until there was 7:28 left in the game. They finished the half with only 13 points on 4-of-21 from the field. It could have been much worse if you’ll believe it. The score was 74-32 with five minutes to go, and Wake Forest went on a 7-0 run in garbage time to end the game.

2. Since the calendar turned to 2011, no one has been hotter than BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 28.4 ppg in the new year. You’d have to be under a rock to miss the Jimmer Show, but under the radar, there’s another player raising his game since the ball dropped. Richmond’s Justin Harper is averaging 25.2 ppg on 65.7 percent shooting since Jan. 1. He put on another show on Wednesday, scoring a career-high 30 points and adding 10 rebounds in a win over George Washington. On the season, the 6-10 senior is in the top 25 in the nation in both field goal percentage (57.4) and 3-point percentage (51.1).

Highest scoring average since Jan. 1

28.4 -- Jimmer Fredette, BYU

27.3 -- Cameron Jones, Northern Arizona

26.4 -- Randy Culpepper, UTEP

25.5 -- Klay Thompson, Washington St

25.2 -- Justin Harper, Richmond

3. Texas State’s Ryan White scored 22 points to go with 11 assists in a 95-91 win over Sam Houston State. It was the 25th 20-point, 10-assist game in D-I this season. So what made this performance so special? White came off the bench. Incredibly, it’s his second 20-10 game off the bench this season. The only other player to accomplish a 20-point, 10-assist game off the bench this season was Cornell’s Chris Wroblewski. But prior to this season, you have to back nearly six years to find the last time this happened. Current San Antonio Spurs guard George Hill had 26 points and 11 assists coming off the bench for IUPUI as a freshman in 2005.

4. Peyton Siva was benched in favor of a freshman late in Louisville’s game on Saturday. Wednesday was a much better day. Siva had 10 points to go with career highs in assists (10) and steals (7), as the Cardinals crushed St. John’s 88-63. It’s been almost 10 years since a Big East player had at least 10 steals and seven assists in a game. In November 2001, Notre Dame’s Chris Thomas posted a triple-double that included 11 steals.

5. Navy attempts 26.2 3-pointers per game, the sixth-most in the nation. So things can get a little ugly when the Midshipmen have an off night shooting. On Wednesday, Navy went 1-for-25 from beyond the arc in a 71-50 loss to Holy Cross. That’s just 4.0 percent. For a team that attempted at least 25 3s, it’s the worst performance since 2003, when The Citadel also went 1-for-25.

Ben Howland believes UW should be ranked

December, 30, 2010
Pac-10 preseason favorite Washington exited the national rankings weeks ago, and the conference hasn't seen one of its teams in the polls since then.

The way UCLA coach Ben Howland sees it, the Huskies merely lost to three current top-20 teams away from home in Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M, and the Huskies deserve more national respect.

"I find it really, really surprising they're not nationally ranked," Howland said on the eve of Washington playing at UCLA. "They should be ranked. I don't understand it."

The Huskies could easily climb back into the rankings with a win on Friday that would mark only their third-ever sweep of the Los Angeles schools. Gutting out a 73-67 overtime victory at USC on Wednesday was crucial, proving they could win a close game in a road environment (though Huskies fans were loud in chanting "just like football" at Trojans fans).

Matthew Bryan-Amaning, after some early-season struggle,s came through with 18 points, and freshman Terrence Ross also had 18 in a confidence-building game for him on a night when USC was focused on stopping Isaiah Thomas.

UCLA is looking to go 2-0 in the Pac-10 as well after containing Washington State's Klay Thompson. The Bruins will now ask Malcolm Lee try to shut down Thomas.

That match-up along with the Bruins' ability to stop the Huskies' transition offense should determine which team wins and takes first place in the Pac-10.

And also whether or not the conference is represented when the polls come out next week.

Observations from the week that was

December, 27, 2010
1. Baylor's offense -- yes, the offense -- is holding the Bears back. What's been more surprising about Baylor's season to date? That the Bears have lost to Gonzaga (in Dallas, no less) Washington State and Florida State? Or that the Bears have done so thanks to a suddenly just-OK offense? Scott Drew's team, which had the No. 3-ranked offense in the country on a per possession basis last season, is just No. 41 in the nation to date this winter, according to Pomeroy. Last year, the Bears were out of this world on the offensive end; they posted an offensive efficiency of 120.4 despite a high turnover rate. Basically, when the defensively suspect Bears didn't turn the ball over, they scored.

This year, Baylor has flipped the script -- the Bears are playing great defense and so-so offense. Why the change? The loss of senior point guard Tweety Carter is a good place to start. Carter was an underrated offensive player, an assist machine with outside touch. Without him, Baylor's turnovers have ballooned -- replacement A.J. Walton is turning the ball over on 35 percent of his possessions, which is way, way too high. Additionally, Baylor's 3-point field goal percentage has deflated and the Bears have lost three of their last four games, all to arguably mediocre teams. Sure, the defensive improvement is great news. But Baylor has to find a way to stop turning the ball over pronto. Until they do, Drew's team -- one with as much pure talent in the lineup as almost any team in the country -- will continue to be exposed on the offensive end.

2. Don't sweat Butler yet. Remember when Butler's at-large hopes were dashed forever? When the Bulldogs were doomed to a must-win scenario in the Horizon League tournament? When last year's March (and April) darlings became this year's November (and December) duds? How quickly things change. Thanks to last week's Diamond Head Classic title run -- which included a tight win over Florida State and a blowout victory over impressive runner-up Washington State -- Butler has relaunched itself into the at-large picture in a major way.

There are a variety of reasons for Butler's resurgence. Matt Howard, who avoided his customary foul trouble during a deserving tournament MVP performance last week, is sporting an insane 137.8 offensive rating, the 11th best in all of college basketball. Shelvin Mack is shooting the ball well again. Freshman Andrew Smith is playing efficient minutes and taking a heap of pressure off Howard on the defensive end. All together, Brad Stevens and company are in fine shape -- Butler's current nonconference record (9-4) is a half-game better right now than it was 12 months ago. True, none of Butler's four nonconference losses last season were nearly as ugly as this season's Nov. 27's loss to Evansville at home. But Butler fans can officially shelve the freakout for now. If their beloved team continues to play like it did over the holiday, they'll be just fine during the real most wonderful time of the year.

3. Mississippi State is a mess. If we remember the Diamond Head Classic as The Week Butler Turned It Around, we should also remember it as The Week Mississippi State Went Completely, Irretrievably Off The Rails. The losses -- to Virginia Tech in the Bahamas and to Washington State and Hawaii in Hawaii -- are bad enough. The extracurricular maladies -- among them sophomore Renardo Sidney’s attitude issues, poor performance and suspension, which was followed by a this-can’t-be-happening fistfight between Sidney and junior Elgin Bailey on Thursday -- seal the deal. The Bulldogs are not an NCAA tournament team. At this point, they more closely resemble a particularly splintered faction of professional wrestlers. (“Sidney and Bailey are fighting in the stands! The fans are livid, JR! Is that a metal chair?! No! NOOO!!!”) There’s no telling where this thing goes next, but whatever happens, it isn’t going to be positive.

4. Washington State deserves some love. Could Wazzu win the Pac-10? While the rest of the conference’s non-Washington teams play sporadic, hard-to-read hoops, the Cougars keep chugging along, playing quietly impressive basketball. After this week, Ken Bone’s team has lost only twice -- to Kansas State and Butler -- and has wins over Gonzaga and Baylor, the latter of which came on a neutral floor in Hawaii. Washington State also has something most teams don’t: a legitimate all-around star. That’s Klay Thompson, whose all-around excellence has anchored the Cougars on both ends of the floor. Take notice: The boys in purple and gold aren’t the only team in Washington worth watching.

5. Memphis isn’t there yet. Before the 2010 season began, we knew Memphis would be better. The question was: How much better? Was this Tigers team, a young squad led by a star-studded 2010 recruiting class, good enough to make a deep tournament run? Or was it an improved but nondescript team likely to win the C-USA and not much else? After a month and a half of nonconference play, the answer is closer to the former than the latter. Memphis’ last, best chance to a precocious statement -- a home date with Georgetown on Thursday -- ended with another high-profile Memphis loss. The Hoyas’ experienced guards handled a rowdy FedEx Forum atmosphere in the first half before pulling away in the second, and by the end of the day, we knew two things. One: Georgetown has been fantastic in the face of its brutal nonconference schedule; the Hoyas are fully worthy of your respect. Two: Memphis is still just too young. The Tigers are on the way back, but they’re not there yet.

Wazzu looks to Diamond Head and beyond

December, 22, 2010
Washington State begins play in the Diamond Head Classic today knowing that things are going swimmingly.

The one-loss Cougars are looking like contenders in the Pac-10 again and receiving votes in the polls. Klay Thompson is back to his old sharpshooting self, and there's plenty of talent surrounding him. The team even catches a break in the opening game of the tournament with Mississippi State big man Renardo Sidney out due to a suspension.

The Cougars could end up playing in some big showcase games this week against Baylor and perhaps Butler, but really, it's merely an opportunity to get good exposure, according to coach Ken Bone.

The Hawaiian business trip is nice to be sure. What the Cougars are looking forward to more, perhaps, are the Pac-10 battles that lie ahead. After all, they remember what happened last season when a 10-2 nonconference start went for naught following a subsequent last-place Pac-10 finish.

"We haven't forgotten last year, put it that way," said Bone, the team's second-year coach.

Bone feels it's clear that rival Washington is the favorite in the Pac-10 this season, with Arizona right behind the Huskies.

"After that, I feel like it's pretty much up for grabs," he said. "The team that can stay together and stay healthy has a chance to be in that top tier."

Is Washington State a top-tier team? The Cougars will soon have a chance to prove it when they finish their two-week road trip by opening Pac-10 play against the Los Angeles schools, starting with UCLA a week from today.

Thompson is one of the conference's top players and a guard who in the past two months has turned himself back into a scoring machine, averaging 21 points per game. He's able to score in a variety of ways after adding muscle and is playing better defense as well, getting away from some of the bad body language that defined his sophomore struggles.

While backcourt mate Reggie Moore recovered from a wrist injury that cost him the first five games of the season, another scoring option emerged. Faisal Aden is averaging 16.9 points per game and can be relied upon to start as he did Sunday in place of Moore or come off the bench to provide instant offense.

Aden has been a pleasant surprise for Bone, who was at first unsure how to handle the junior college transfer's aggressiveness.

"We were on him about his shots even though they would go in, but they kept going in," Bone said. "We’re living with some of his shot selection because the ball goes in the basket."

With Moore back in the flow scoring a season-high 15 points in Sunday's overtime win against Santa Clara, DeAngelo Casto providing his usual physical presence and Marcus Capers a starting-lineup mainstay with 29 assists against only five turnovers, the Cougars have meshed well.

The Diamond Head Classic should give them some good competition to measure themselves against, and continued improvement would be the biggest takeaway from a solid showing. Soon enough, Pac-10 play will offer the opportunity to completely wash away last season's last-place memories.

"We reflect on it sometimes," Thompson said, "but it's a new year."

Diamond Head Classic preview

December, 22, 2010
By Christmas night, the Diamond Head Classic will have likely changed the direction of some potential NCAA tournament-bound teams.

Rarely does a tournament this late into the nonconference schedule have so much at stake for so many.

Here's a preview of the field:

[+] EnlargeRavern Johnson
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMississippi State guard Ravern Johnson is averaging over 22 points per game for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have zero quality wins, two home defeats against lower-level teams (Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State) and already lost one of their five key neutral-site nonconference games (Virginia Tech in the Bahamas).

Washington State: The Cougars, who drew the Bulldogs in the first round Wednesday (ESPNU, 3 p.m. ET), have a quality home win over Gonzaga. But they also lost at home to Kansas State 63-58. Wazzu needs to differentiate itself in Hawaii from Arizona, USC and anyone else that considers itself a challenger to Washington in the Pac-10.

Baylor: The Bears, who open with San Diego on Wednesday, (ESPNU, 5 p.m. ET), had visions of being a Big 12 title team. But they scheduled down, playing only one power six school to this point -- Arizona State at home -- before losing to Gonzaga 68-64 in Dallas on Dec. 18. That was the first time Baylor stepped out of Waco this season. How the Bears perform in Hawaii will be a barometer as to whether we should take the Bears seriously in the Big 12.

Butler: The Bulldogs, which open with Utah on Wednesday (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET), have yet to find their rhythm this season. Injuries to Ronald Nored (out two games with a concussion) and Shelvin Mack (leg cramps) have slowed this team's progress. The Bulldogs did challenge themselves more than most of the teams in this field, but that's to be expected. Opening Louisville's new KFC Yum! Center was a tough test. Losing to Duke in New Jersey when Mack suffered from leg cramps and falling in the final possession at Xavier were all explainable and acceptable setbacks. Losing to Evansville at home in overtime was not. But a 33-point win over Stanford last Saturday might be a strong indicator that things have changed for the better. A three-game tourney win would do wonders for Butler's NCAA profile.

[+] EnlargeChris Singleton
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreFlorida State forward Chris Singleton is playing exceptional defense for the Seminoles.
Florida State: The Seminoles consider themselves a real threat to finish second in the ACC to Duke. But losing home games to Ohio State and Florida may have skewed that prediction. The 58-44 loss to the Buckeyes is acceptable because Ohio State may be a national champ next April. The defeat against the erratic Gators might be more disappointing. Florida State plays host Hawaii (ESPNU, 1 a.m. ET) on Thursday, which means the Seminoles can add a true road victory to their résumé if they win. Florida State got a road win at Loyola Marymount on the way to Hawaii. The Seminoles have the top overall talent and possibly best defender in the event in Chris Singleton. An FSU title would confirm the Seminoles' ability to possibly finish second in the ACC.

Take note of…

  • How effective Baylor's Perry Jones is in the post. Jones averaged 8.9 rebounds through the first eight games.
  • How does Mack handle the leg cramps? He has had issues with this in the past and didn't play the final 12 minutes against Duke. Humidity will be a problem in Hawaii. So, too, will be playing three games in four days. Mack has to stay on the court for the Bulldogs to have a chance.
  • The possibility of multiple conference player-of-the-year candidates on the court: Mack and Matt Howard will be in contention for Horizon League player-of the-year honors. Singleton will be a candidate in the ACC, and Washington State's Klay Thompson will be in the mix in the Pac-10.
Dream matchups

Washington State versus Baylor in the semifinals and Florida State versus Butler on the other side would be the best-case scenario. Those four teams appear to be the group that could make the NCAA tournament at this point. A Washington State-Butler/Florida State final may not move the meter, but it could provide an early tease for the kind of game we could see in Dayton in the first four in mid-March.

Reggie Moore returns to Wazzu's lineup

December, 7, 2010
Washington State guard Reggie Moore is expected to make his first start of the season on Wednesday against Gonzaga, according to Cougars coach Ken Bone.

Moore missed five games with a wrist injury and had 10 points and three assists coming off the bench in Friday's loss to Kansas State.

Moore's return to the lineup means that Faisal Aden is expected to come off the bench against Gonzaga after averaging 18.7 points per game while filling in for Moore.

Aden has earned more playing time, as Bone indicated that the junior college transfer who is third in the Pac-10 in scoring, could get starts alongside conference scoring leader Klay Thompson (21.2 ppg).

"There's times it's nice to have Klay and Faisal on the floor together," Bone said. "With another weapon out there, it provides balance to what we're trying to accomplish on the offensive end."