Instead of breaking down today's game, our pregame show – to give it a television feel – will instead break down the Cougars postseason chances. Bet you didn't see that one coming did ya? We live to surprise here at SportsLink, WSU edition. Read on.
• Did we stimulate your interest? I hope so. Anyhow, the questions I've heard around Pullman recently revolve around the chances for a third-consecutive NCAA appearance for WSU. Can the Cougars get back? Sure. And they also could win all their remaining games. But as the latter isn't going to happen, let's examine how WSU can legitimately put itself into position to get an at-large berth.
To do that, we're going to look back to last year, when Oregon earned an at-large berth despite posting a 9-9 conference mark. Of course, ASU didn't get one, and it also finished 9-9 in the Pac-10 and had one more overall win (19) when the tournament was announced. But the Sun Devils played a much weaker non-conference schedule than the Ducks last year, though Oregon's 2008 non-Pac-10 slate wasn't as good as WSU has played this season. And that's what makes me think there's a chance for the Cougars if they finish 9-9 this season.
Let's examine Oregon's non-conference last year. The Ducks best win was at Kansas State (which finished at No. 17 in the Pomeroy ratings, 47 RPI) in overtime. But that has to be balanced by a loss to Oakland (149, 169). Then in conference play, the Ducks .500 mark featured just one big win, their home game vs. Stanford (12, 14).
This season, the Cougars didn't have a non-conference win as big as UO's Kansas State one (the best: No. 85 or 83 Mississippi State, which is looking better). But they also didn't have a bad loss, with the LSU defeat (44, 68) the worst this season, league or not. And there are still four games left with top 20 teams. And that holds the key.
If WSU finishes 9-9 in conference – the Pac-10's overall rating by Pomeroy and the RPI is about the same as last year's final rating – and only beats the bottom feeders of the Pac-10, then its not going to make the tournament. But the Cougars have seven games left with USC (33, 63), counting today, Arizona (53, 85), Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State. If they can go 5-2 in those games – and they have wins over Stanford (36, 48), UO (143, 112) and OSU (176, 175) in hand – that gets them to eight conference wins. Though I think the two Oregon schools are must wins at home, just because a loss to them would be worse than a loss at USC or Stanford. Which means they have to win one of the five games left with Arizona State (7, 20), UCLA (12, 38), Cal (30, 34) and Washington (19, 35). Of course, all but one of those is on the road (the second ASU game is here on Feb. 28). And that's the one that could hold the key for WSU's postseason hopes. If the rest of the games fall in place, then an upset of ASU, especially if the Devils continue to play well, just might be the impetus the Cougars (52, 96) need to make the tournament.
Will it happen? Who can see the future. But the road laid out above is possible. And still might not get WSU into the tournament, just because of NCAA politics and other hard-to-predict occurrences. If the Cougars do fulfill the requirements, then they have just as good an argument for inclusion as Oregon did last season, and, of course, ASU did as well. And we all know how that turned out for the Devils.
• Those are my thoughts for today. A win against the Trojans here is a good way to begin a run for the postseason. A loss, while not fatal, makes the road that much tougher. We'll be back with a status report at halftime. Till then ...