The first week in February (and last couple days in January) was quite a busy one for Cougar Nation with quite its share of ups and downs. Both the men’s basketball and football teams experienced significant events that had major effects on my Cougar fan well-being in the short term, and probably down the line. I’ll start with the basketball team and explain just why there is a picture of Michael Corleone leading off this post.
Assuming you’ve watched a fair amount of Cougar basketball this season, you may have noticed that Klay and the Gang have had a slight agonizingly frustrating inconsistency issue. Whether it’s over the course of a single game or over the course of a week or two, this year’s squad cannot seem to string together consecutive moments of high quality basketball. Given my inability to keep a level head about such things, I’ve sent texts cursing them, praising them and putting their post-season destination anywhere from The Big Dance to watching at home on a Big Screen. This past Sunday, I thought all that had changed for good. In other worse, “Just when I’m out, they pulllllll me back in.” See, I told you the Michael Corleone thing would make sense. Check out my look back on the week that was…
I dont know if it was the electric home crowd or facing a hated rival (or in Reggie Moore’s case facing long-time buddies), but everything I thought this Cougar hoops season could be came to fruition on Sunday night. All of the collective talents of this team were on display: sharing the ball, high flying dunks, clutch shooting and above all else, a dogged determination to not let this one get away. After such a performance, the Cougar fans were ecstatic and rightfully so (hell yeah they stormed the court! They’re college kids. They had fun. Craaaaaazy.) The conversation quickly turned into what this meant for ESPN tournament hopes, which were validated on Monday by bracket nerd Joe Lunardi of ESPN who had the Cougs in the Dance as a 12 seed. Beating the Dogs was seemingly the perfect spring board to a successful second half of the conference slate. Even better news was that the next two games were against the Oregon schools, two opponents already under the win column from earlier this season.
I tried not to think of last night’s as a trap game. Was there obvious let down potential? Sure, but I had just been pulllllled back in, remember? There was no real reason to think that the more-talented and surely confident Cougs could take care of business. Then it happened. Washington State, in front of a relatively tame audience at the shiny knew Matthew Knight arena, pulled down their Nike shorts and pooped the bed right there for all of us to see. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. The game was a disaster in every sense of the word. Open looks clanked, contested looks clanks, turnovers, more turnovers, you name it. This team came out flat, got smacked in the mouth and never took a swing back. I’ve been debating for nearly 24 hours what to make of it and still don’t know exactly.
The idea was that a 7-2 record down the stretch would be the sure-fire way to lock up a spot in the field of 60-however-many-teams-they-let-in-the-tournament-now. 7-2 is still the goal, but it just got a heckuva lot tougher. One thing we know is that when this team is firing on all cylinders, they can beat anyone in the conference. One thing we don’t know is how often and for how long they can be bothered to fire on all cylinders. Tomorrow night’s game in Corvallis should be telling. After being embarrassed the last time out, anything short of a highly motivated looking bunch at the start will tell me all I need to know about this team and where it’s headed this year. Unless of course, they get hot in the conference tournament. Just when I’m out….well you know.
As for the other big news of the week, you may have noticed that Wednesday was a pretty big day around college football. Over the years, I’ve become more and more captivated by a bunch of 17 and 18 year old kids sending in faxes than I ever though possible. I had a great time following the events this year, chiming in on the signing day blog a couple times and participating in an epic email exchange with my newfound colleagues on this site. I haven’t yet fully shared my thoughts, but wanted to get them all down before signing day 2011 gets lost in the ether and we move on to more important things like Spring Football and opinions on the forthcoming new jerseys.
In terms of who my favorite player from this class is, he’s the fellow HURDLING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING in the picture above. His absurd highlight reels notwithstanding, my good vibes about Rahmel Dockery were cemented on Wednesday. I can’t remember another recruit that was down to the wire choosing between WSU and another school and actually committing to the Cougs on signing day. Regardless of how his career plays out, I’ll have fond memories of constantly refreshing my internet browser, the Twitter feed on my phone and anything else that would break me the news about Dockery’s decision. That’s what makes Signing Day fun and quite frankly, rare is the instance that we as Coug fans get to participate in that manner.
As for the class as a whole, I like what Coach Wulff and the rest of his staff were able to accomplish. I’ve made my feelings about recruiting rankings known, but surely can acknowledge that this class may not pass the eyeball test and appear to be loaded with contributors coming in. That’s never been the expection for a Washington State recruiting class. For many reasons (especially right now) our coaching staff is simply going to have to outwork others to mine for talent. In my opinion, that mission was accomplished.
A run of late decommitments had me down in general about this recruiting cycle, but the eleventh hour additions of Wendell Taiese, Alex Mitchell, Matt Goetz and of course Dockery had me feeling much better. There is no debating that the weaknesses of the team were in the front seven on defense and on the offensive line. There is also no debating that’s where the focus was getting players. WSU is in a fortunate position of not having to replace a lot of impact players right now, but rather to replenish the depth and supplement it wherever possible. That may sound ridiculous given the record of late, but remember last year’s battle cry of how young a team it was. In general, it seems as though there is optimism about who we have returning so the players who signed the dotted line this week shouldn’t come with expectations of being huge contributors this year. This should be the first “normal” class where a majority redshirt and start preparing for the future while maybe a handful come in and play.
The other thing I love the most about this class is the character of some of its most significant pieces. Most notably, I think Tana Pritchard and Logan Mayes, with their Crimson blood lines bring a lot to the table (OK, everyone bleeds crimson, but you know what I mean.) Starting with the 2009 class, Jeff Tuel, Gino Simone, Nolan Washington and others have spearheaded a culture change in the Cougar locker room. I believe that Pritchard and Mayes are exactly the type of young men and players that can continue to carry that torch to drag the program out of the doldrums.
I won’t list my thoughts or analysis on everyone in the class for a couple reasons. One is that I can’t claim to know how a single one will plan out. I hope they all turn out to be excellent players, but realistically know that some of them will wash out and join the long list of what-might-have-beens. For now, I just hope that they all make it to campus, especially those with academic red flags. The main reason I don’t wish to single everyone out, though, is that effective Wednesday, they are now all officially Cougs. That means, I love them all equally….at least until I’m yelling at my tv in the fall because they screwed up.