WSU Basketball Preview: Cougars hope to rise after breaking streak of losing seasons
It took some prompting but WSU State coach Kyle Smith finally acknowledged that being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 was a disappointment.
After all, the Cougars figure to be improved from the team that surprised doubters by finishing 14-13 last year, the program’s first winning season in nine years.
“We’ll find out. That’s why we play the games,” Smith said at Pac-12 media day in late October. “We don’t invest too much in (the polls), but we do feel like we were competitive last year.”
“Hopefully, eighth will be a little chip on our shoulder,” Smith added. “We’ve had some success. … We have some things to build on. We just got to be consistent and keep building.”
Smith noted the Pac-12 is on an upswing, sending numerous teams deep into the NCAA Tournament last spring.
The Cougars are clearly also improving. Last season, they beat five teams that earned berths to the NCAA Tournament, including UCLA, which made the Final Four, Oregon State and Oregon.
Smith was joined at media day by newcomer Tyrell Roberts, a transfer from Division II UC San Diego, and sophomore forward Efe Abogidi, who was named an All-Pac-12 preseason honorable mention. Abogidi was one of two Cougars to start all 27 games while averaging 8.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
Also back is veteran Noah Williams who was selected to the preseason first-team. Williams finished his sophomore season leading the team in total points with 381 while scoring 14.1 points per game.
“Our depth is really good,” Roberts said. “We have a lot of options. It’s going to take some time for us to jell because we’re so new, but once that comes together, I believe in us 100%.”
Smith said Roberts brings exceptional quickness and leadership qualities.
“He’s got the DNA to win,” Smith said. “He can score and obviously there’s going to be a transition I’m sure, but we’ve had a wonderful summer together.”
WSU also landed senior Michael Flowers, a transfer from South Alabama who averaged 21 points per game last season.
“He’s instant offense,” Smith said. “Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, I think he’s going to be a guy you’re going to have to account for on the scout. He addresses some of the issues we had last year, as far as ball-handling. He’s a good ball-handler, a good scorer, but he’s more than just that.”
Returning guard T.J. Bamba is expected to help fill the void left by two-year starter Isaac Bonton’s departure.
Providing key support minutes will be rookie Mouhamed Gueye, a four-star recruit from Senegal.
BYE BYE BONTON
Bonton played a key role for the Cougars the past two years but he decided against accepting an extra season of college eligibility, granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic. He signed to play professionally in Lithuania. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick as a senior last season after averaging 17.7 points per game to lead the Cougars. He added four assists and two steals per game.
WSU athletic director Pat Chun recently announced that Smith had agreed to a contract extension that could keep him on the Palouse through the 2026-27 season. Smith was named head coach in 2019 and originally signed a six-year contract that ran through the 2024-25 campaign. “The rebirth in our men’s basketball program since Kyle arrived two years ago has been remarkable,” said Chun.
Smith finished his first two seasons with a 30-29 record, joining Tony Bennett as the only Cougars coaches to post .500 or better records in their first two seasons after taking over a sub-.500 club.
WSU opens at noon Tuesday in a non-conference game against Alcorn State that will air live on 710 ESPN Seattle. All WSU games will be carried on 710 ESPN Seattle, the home of the Cougars, starting with the pregame show a half-hour before tipoff.
Pac-12 play starts on Dec. 1 for the Cougars at Arizona State. The WSU schedule also includes two games against No. 13 Oregon and a Feb. 17 meeting with No. 2 UCLA.