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Sports >  WSU basketball

Washington State picked to finish eighth in preseason Pac-12 media poll

Oct. 26, 2022 Updated Wed., Oct. 26, 2022 at 8:13 p.m.

Washington State coach Kyle Smith instructs his players during a game against Eastern Washington on Nov. 27, 2021, in Pullman.  (WSU Athletics)
Washington State coach Kyle Smith instructs his players during a game against Eastern Washington on Nov. 27, 2021, in Pullman. (WSU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Washington State’s men’s basketball team finished in the top half of the Pac-12 standings last season and made a run to the semifinal round of the NIT. But the Cougars’ roster experienced significant turnover during the offseason.

Pac-12 media members predicted the Cougars to take a step back in 2022-23. WSU checked in at eighth on the Pac-12’s preseason poll, released Wednesday during the conference’s media day in San Francisco.

WSU’s top four scorers left the program after the Cougars compiled a 22-win season, advancing to the final four of the NIT at Madison Square Garden. Senior point guard Michael Flowers, the team’s captain and leading scorer, graduated. Standout forward Efe Abogidi joined G League Ignite, a developmental program for aspiring professionals. Guards Tyrell Roberts and Noah Williams transferred to San Francisco and Washington, respectively.

But WSU scored several big-time recruiting victories this offseason. The Cougars added talented transfers in guards Justin Powell (Tennessee) and Jabe Mullins (Saint Mary’s), both of whom stand 6-foot-6. WSU bolstered its backcourt with freshman signings in Kymany Houinsou, a 6-6 France native, and Spokane’s Dylan Darling. The Cougars also picked up one of their highest-ranked recruits in program history – Adrame Diongue, a four-star 7-footer.

WSU returns a solid core of proven players, including team captains Mouhamed Gueye and TJ Bamba.

Gueye, a 6-11 sophomore, tested the NBA draft waters this spring. A preseason all-conference first-team selection, Gueye is projected to be taken in the second round of the 2023 NBA draft, per ESPN. Bamba, a third-year guard, is the team’s defensive ace. Gueye and Bamba joined coach Kyle Smith at the media day.

“This year’s goal: Make the NCAA Tournament,” Bamba told The Spokesman-Review recently. “We’re all locked in. We all understand it’s going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of discipline and attention to detail.”

In terms of team strengths, WSU will “look a little different” this season, Smith noted. The Cougars led the Pac-12 in blocked shots last year and leaned on their defense. Smith is expecting considerable improvements this season in WSU’s assist numbers and overall offensive efficiency. WSU plans to space the floor and take a more balanced approach to scoring.

“Definitely our unselfishness,” Bamba said when asked about the team’s distinguishing characteristics. “We play for each other right now. We’re hunting assists. There’s no egos and we’re meshing really well. On top of that, we want to get better; we’re a hungry group.”

The Cougars have more size on the perimeter, but they’ll be limited in the frontcourt. Center Dishon Jackson is sidelined indefinitely due to an unspecified medical issue.

“We’re designed differently,” Smith said. “You’ve got to defend and rebound to win. That will be our challenge.”

Still, there’s reason to believe WSU will outperform its eighth-place prediction and contend for a postseason berth – and perhaps its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008. The Cougars are well-stocked with talent. Under Smith, they have improved steadily every season. WSU tied for fifth in Pac-12 play last year with an 11-9 record.

“I think there’s just an expectation level in the program,” the fourth-year coach said during the media day. “The goal is to improve every year.

“The program we inherited was 207th in the country (in the KenPom.com rankings), and we’ve gotten it up to 44. We need to make the next jump … to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.”

UCLA was predicted to win the conference, capturing 26 of 33 first-place votes. Defending champion Arizona was tabbed second. Oregon claimed third and USC took fourth in the preseason media poll. WSU finished ahead of Stanford and Arizona State last season, but the Cardinal landed at No. 5 and the Sun Devils came in at seventh in the poll.

WSU opens its season at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at home against Texas State.

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