Inside-out threat Brock Motum the player to watch for Washington State
Team: Washington State
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 87
• Making shots inside: Washington State has made 58 percent of its twos so far this year (21st nationally), thanks in part to last year's Pac-12 leading scorer Brock Motum, who has made 61 percent of his inside shots (19 of 31). The Cougars also thrived in the stat a year ago, ranking 30th nationally while connecting on 52 percent of its two-pointers.
• Defensive rebounding: WSU has grabbed 77.2 percent of the available defensive rebounds, which ranks 10th nationally. The Cougars completely shut Pepperdine off the boards in their last game, pulling down 29 of a possible 35 defensive rebounds (83 percent).
• Foul avoidance: Through three games, WSU has allowed just 31 free throws to opponents (10.3 per game). The Cougars also have just 34 fouls, meaning — so far — they have made opposing teams earn their points through field goals.
• Three-point defense: Much like Chattanooga, Washington State has struggled with limiting teams from the three-point line. So far this year, opponents have scored 46 percent of their points against WSU from the three-point line (second-highest split nationally). The Cougars defense also has allowed the opposition to make 39.1 percent of its threes, which ranks in the bottom 75 nationally.
• Forcing turnovers: As the lack of fouls might suggest, WSU is not overly aggressive defensively. The Cougars ranked 307th nationally in steal percentage a year ago and haven't been much better this year, ranking 260th in the stat. Opponents are averaging 13.7 turnovers per game through three games against the Cougars.
• Offensive rebounding: WSU has been below average in this stat the last two years, as the Cougars' best offensive rebounders this year are bench players. Six-foot-5 Will DiIorio and 6-7 Junior Longrus have been the Cougars' top two guys on the offensive glass percentage-wise, but neither has played more than 12 minutes per game this season.
3 Players to Watch
• We have to start with 6-foot-3 point guard Royce Woolridge (No. 22), who will play against Kansas after transferring away from the Jayhawks two years ago because of a lack of playing time. The sophomore has been forced into big minutes and also the point-guard spot following the dismissal of three-year starter Reggie Moore in September. So far, Woolridge has performed how you'd expect a combo guard to perform playing as a point guard: He's shot it well (4-for-8 from three) while turning it over too much (giving it away on nearly one-third of the possessions he ends). Woolridge is a nice kid and has always said the right things when talking about KU, but one has to wonder just how he'll react Monday night facing the team he verbally committed to as a sophomore in high school.
• Six-foot-10 center Brock Motum (No. 12) returns for his senior year after leading his conference in scoring a year ago. The left-handed Australian is the Cougars' unquestioned go-to guy offensively, attempting 34.1 percent of his team's shots so far this year (54th-highest nationally). Motum's range extends all the way to the perimeter, as he made 39.7 percent of his threes a year ago (29 of 73) to go with 59 percent of his twos (191 of 324). Motum also was adept at drawing fouls in 2011-12, ranking 97th nationally with 5.8 fouls drawn per game. This should be a tough inside-out assignment for KU's Jeff Withey.
• Six-foot-5 Mike Ladd (No. 2) has been impressive in the early season after fully recovering from a thumb injury a year ago. The Fresno State transfer is a threat to get to the free-throw line (shooting 16 free throws compared to 18 field goals so far this year) and also has proven to be a good scorer inside (11-for-18 on two-point attempts). Ladd doesn't turn it over often, and he's also a big reason WSU has been dominant on the boards, as he's grabbed 23.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds when he's been in (156th nationally).
The last two seasons, WSU coach Ken Bone has elected for an extreme, slow-it-down style, with his team ranking in the 300s in tempo both years. Playing against an athletic team like Kansas, I wouldn't be surprised if Bone tried to slow it down even more, hoping for a low-possession, half-court game against a KU team that has struggled manufacturing offense in the early season.
Much like the Chattanooga game, this one could hinge quite a bit on how well KU shoots from three. WSU will play some zone, and the Cougars most likely will try to pack it in and force the Jayhawks to make open threes over the top.
Defensively, if the Jayhawks are "turned up" as KU coach Bill Self likes to call it, they should be able to force turnovers against a Cougars team that is short on ball-handlers. Woolridge is playing a team-high 31.3 minutes per game, and he's not a true point guard, showing exactly how desperate Bone has been to leave his best ball-handlers in the game.
Though the game is in Sprint Center, where KU hasn't always performed its best, I think the Jayhawks will pull away with their defense, getting some easy baskets in transition while making at least a few of the open threes they see.
Kansas 69, Washington State 54
Hawk to Rock
This has the potential to change over the course of the season, but so far, Ben McLemore has been far and away KU's best offensive player. I'll say his hot streak continues against Washington State, with the freshman continuing to stay aggressive on a KU team that needs him to take control.
3-0 record, 22 points off (7.3 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Average: 5.3rd in KUsports.com ratings