Three Things You Need To Know Now About Washington State Men’s Basketball Team

The Washington State Cougars Men’s Basketball Team is receiving AP Top 25 consideration. Let’s repeat, the WSU men’s hoops teams is receiving AP Top 25 consideration. While for some programs in the Northwest this may actually be considered a subpar year, see No. 1 Gonzaga. For the Cougs, this is not the norm. WSU hasn’t cracked the Top 25 since the 2007-08 season. Historically, they are comparable to the Cleveland Browns. What’s changed on the Palouse?

Here are three things you need to know now about the WSU’s men’s basketball team.

The Coach

Kyle Smith has transformed the Cougs in a year-and-a-half on the job. Before Smith, WSU was arguably one of the worst power conference teams in the country.

In the 2018-19 season, the year prior to his arrival, the Cougars finished 11-21 overall and 4-14 in conference. But the record doesn’t communicate how atrocious they really were. In 2018-19 they lost to Seattle University, New Mexico State, Montana State, San Diego, Santa Clara, and New Mexico State. For those of you counting that’s New Mexico State twice. The be fair though, the Aggies did finish 30-5 that season.

Either way, the Cougs ended that campaign losing to Oregon by 33 points in the conference tournament, the matchup looked like Duke versus a 7th grade rec team.

Enter Smith.

In his first year as coach WSU finished 16-16 overall with a 6-12 record in conference. It was their first .500 season in eight years. But what really caught the attention of Coug nation were victories against No. 8 Oregon, Oregon State, and sweeping the season series against rival Washington. That just doesn’t happen in Pullman.

In his second campaign WSU is off to a 4-0 start, and they may well be in the Top 25 next week.

But what’s the difference? Defense!

Under the previous tenure the Cougars allowed 78.7 points per game which equated to 331st in the nation. In Smith’s first year, that number dropped to 69.7 and 187th. Even though the sample size is small, this season they’ve only allowed 58.2 which is good for 28th in the country.

This team takes copious amounts of charges, contests almost every shot, and fights like hungry raccoons for loose balls.

They are a reflection of their head coach’s philosophy, and it’s exactly the type of basketball needed to win in Pullman.

The Point Guard

Isaac Bonton is probably the most entertaining player to watch in the Pac-12. He is the purest example of a hot and cold player. In the first half of the opener against Texas Southern, he shot 1-of-9 on 3’s and 0-of-4 on 2s. In the second, he shot 2-of-5 on 3s and 4-of-7 on 2s.

He is the Cougs most explosive offense player and intoxicating to watch with the ball is his hands. He is averaging 17.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. But here’s the fun part, he’s shooting 27 percent from the field.

While most analysts would say that’s terrible efficiency, and it is, he’s actually doing the right thing to help his team win. WSU has limited guys who can create off the dribble which places much of the emphasis on him.

Even though many of his shots are questionable, he once attempted a 360 layup on a baseline drive. This heavy volume forces the defense to pay attention to him which creates openings for other players. And the other Cougs have stepped up, hence the Top 25 consideration.

In the first four games of the season he is averaging eighteen-and-a-half attempts per contest, he’s also averaging eight and a quarter free throw attempts, which is a character attribute often assigned to elite playmakers.

Bottom line is, are some of his shots terrible, yes. But can he make them, also yes! He scored 34 points against the Oregon State Beavers last season.

The Cougars success on the offensive side of the ball will be largely predicated on whether or not he can improve his efficiency, and field goal percentage all in one.

The man’s a scorer, and he could prove the Pac-12’s league leader by the end of the season.

Everyone Else

Everyone else starts with Noah Williams, (If you’d like to know more I wrote a column about him last week).

but for the sake of repeatability let’s focus on three other contributors.

The most notable new addition to this year’s roster is Efe Abogidi. He is a 6-foot-10 Freshman center from Nigeria, who has game changing athleticism for a player his size.

He has the potential to be the best post defender in WSU history. He just doesn’t block shots, he hurts your soul…

Against Oregon State he finished the game with three rejections, but more importantly, Beavers players appeared timid around the rim fearing a highlight reel denial.

His impact has already been felt in the Pac-12, and he’s only played one conference game. While his fundamentals aren’t fundamental, he could be the cornerstone of the Cougs defense for the next four seasons.

Unless of course he decides to go pro.

Another player who’s made leaps in his game is returning Junior forward Aljaz Kunc. The six-foot-eight sharpshooter from Slovenia may be unknown outside of Pullman, but he’s a crucial piece of the Cougars roster.

While he’s struggled to find his rhythm from behind the arc this year shooting only 25 percent, he’s found other ways to impact the game.

His biggest area of improvement is on the defensive end of the floor, he’s taken a multitude of charges which is something he had not done in previous seasons. He’s also made timely free throws at the end of games.

His contributions may not be recognized, but he deserves acknowledgment. Not every player is willing to sacrifice their body for the team. 

The last Coug in the spotlight today is DJ Rodman. Yes, he is the son of Dennis.

DJ is another deep ball threat, who had the best game of his career against Oregon State last week. He hit a barrage of three-pointers in the second half which helped WSU erase a 10-point deficit.

Before that contest, the 6-foot-6 Sophomore forward had struggled to find his rhythm, but this could prove a sign of things to come. He finished the game with a career-high 13 points all in the second half.

He’s also a solid perimeter defender, but this should be expected by a Smith coached team.

2020 has been a weird year, but nothing would be more abnormal than the Cougs winning the conference title, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 1941.

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About Nick Bartlett 212 Articles
My name is Nick Bartlett, and I am a Senior Writer at as well as a Senior Writer here at OregonSportsNews. My work has been featured in the Seattle PI, OregonLive, and various other publications. I've also served as a guest on Sirius XM radio as a "Pac-12 Football Insider" For business inquiries, you can reach me at - Email: Phone Number: 425-366-9711