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WSU has another battle before conference

COUGARS

One more nonconference game awaits the Washington State Cougars tonight. One more chance to make a mark. One more chance to fine-tune their game before the Pac-10 wars begin on Wednesday night. But that's for tomorrow. For tonight, let's look at Butler and what the Bulldogs offer in the way of an opponent. Read on.

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• The Cougars' first two games in the Diamond Head Classic featured opponents that are talented, but really don't play the game the right way. By that, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State and Baylor's Bears can beat you because their players are just better than yours. But if your players play smarter, play as a team especially on the defensive end, play with intensity, the Bulldogs and Bears can be beat. Which is exactly what WSU did. They outworked Mississippi State and outsmarted Baylor. Tonight, however, they'll have to do both and more to win. Butler isn't as athletic as Baylor, but the Bulldogs are damn athletic. And they play the game the right way. They defend tenaciously. They are patient offensively. They run, they make it hard for you to run. They are smart, they have size, they shoot it and they battle. Sure, last year's NCAA runners-up are beatable. They are 8-4, with losses at Duke, at Xavier, at Louisville and, most inexplicably, at home to Evansville. But they have won four consecutive times, including crushing Stanford 83-50. For a more in-depth look at their statistics, check out Ken Pom's page on the Bulldogs. ... Though Pom lists Sheldon Mack, the 6-foot-3 junior guard who averages 14.8 points per game, as their go-to guy, but lately that guy has been Matt Howard, the 6-8, 235-pound sneaky good post player. Howard is averaging 18.4 points and 8 rebounds for the season, but in the four consecutive wins he's scored 26, 27, 23 and 19. Plus, he's put together four double-doubles and missed twice by one rebound. ... Speaking of rebounding, the Bulldogs aren't a great offensive rebounding team (though Howard and Andrew Smith are solid), but they are darn good at making sure you don't get any either. Because they don't turn it over much, they are usually going to get more shots than you, and though they aren't great shooters overall, they are good 3-point shooters led by Mack and his 46.2 percent. ... They are good enough and efficient enough that it will be tough to zone them. If WSU does and is successful, it will show how good the Cougars are playing that defense. ... One guy to watch is Smith, the 6-11, 240-pound sophomore, who could give the Cougars some trouble inside. ... But WSU is 10-1 for a reason. The Cougars have been playing well, they shoot it well and they have been getting better defensively each game. As we said, tonight's game will tell how well they are playing on that end. ... For more on Butler, check out CougCenter's preview and this Indianapolis Star story. Yahoo has this look at WSU and the Pac-10.

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• That's it for now. It's pretty obvious the Cougar game will start at least 20 minutes past its scheduled 6:30 starting time. We'll have another post at halftime and we'll be on Twitter (vinceg55) tonight. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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