Just a quick pregame post tonight. As you might know, Davidson, behind Stephen Curry's 32 points, went to South Carolina and won, 70-63 tonight. If the Cougars win, our understanding is they would play Monday night at Davidson with, my guess is, a 4 p.m. PDT starting time. Read on for our thoughts on what the Cougars have to do to get there.
• Let's say Aron Baynes and Omar Samhan play to a draw. Barring foul trouble, that's about the worst the Cougars should expect. And let's say Taylor Rochestie and Patty Mills do the same - one note: Mills is shooting the ball well in warmups. His form looks much better tonight than it did in the WCC tournament. Then that puts the game in the hands of the other three positions. And in the hands of the coaches.
Let's look at the former. Diamon Simpson is an excellent shot blocker (like most good ones, he gets most of his in help), a tenacious offensive rebounder and a horrible free-throw shooter. He'll be Caleb Forrest's responsibility – and DeAngelo Casto's as well – and that's OK with the Cougars. Forrest isn't the most athletic guy, but he's pretty darn good at carrying out a game plan. He'll be charged with keeping Simpson off the boards and helping with the post. If he does both well – and hits a few shots from 15 feet – that's a win for WSU. Marcus Caper will be guarding Mills, but on offense he's got to be aggressive so the Gaels will guard him. If he does that, it's a win for WSU. That leaves Klay Thompson and Wayne Hunter, the two big guards who will probably guard each other (unless St. Mary's decides to go with 6-foot-7 Ian O'Leary). Thompson has been struggling lately – it's been three games since he's been in double figures – and that has to stop.
My feeling is WSU will attack inside with Baynes first to see how St. Mary's will defend the post. If Baynes can get off early, then the Gaels will have to double. That's when Thompson and Rochestie will have to shake off the effect of the UCLA game – a combined 3 of 22 shooting.
• But that's all about the offense. Defense is the key for the Cougars, always has been, always will be. And that's where the coaching edge comes in. The WSU pack system is different than any defense the Gaels have faced since conference play started. It forces you to be patient, something fast teams don't want to be. The system is tough to decipher on the court until you've experienced it for a while. An individual talent that was able to get to the rim in a typical WCC game won't in this one. How quickly the Gaels learn that and adjust to it may decide this one. That, and how well WSU rebounds. Because if St. Mary's is throwing up tough shots but pulling down offensive rebounds well, as Dan Fitzgerald loves to say, there's no defense for the second shot.
• That's it for now. We'll be back at halftime. Until then …