Will No. 25 WSU make noise in tourney return? Insider weighs in

Mar 20, 2024, 3:48 PM | Updated: 3:49 pm

WSU Cougars Isaac Jones...

Isaac Jones of the WSU Cougars dunks against Stanford on March 14, 2024. (David Becker/Getty Images)

(David Becker/Getty Images)

WSU Cougars hoops fans will finally get to enjoy the greatness of March basketball again as Wazzu begins its first NCAA Tournament in 16 years on Thursday.

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The No. 7 seed Cougs takes on 10th-seeded Drake in a 7:05 p.m. game, with the WSU radio broadcast being carried on Seattle Sports 710 AM and the Seattle Sports app. Ranked No. 25 in the latest Associated Press poll, Wazzu looks to be a tough matchup due to its size and balance, but will they really be able to make noise in the tourney?

College hoops insider Tate Frazier of The Ringer’s One Shining Podcast joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Wednesday, and he broke down his view on the Cougs and specifically their opening game.

“This is a tough draw for the Cougs in the first round,” Frazier said. “Drake is a team that they’re kind of like the darlings of March.”

One big reason the Cougars could have their hands full with the Missouri Valley Conference champs is the Bulldogs’ top player, 6-foot-7 guard Tucker DeVries, who is the son of Drake coach Darian DeVries and the No. 6 scorer in the nation at 21.8 points per game.

“Well, it’s like, who’s going to guard Tucker DeVries on Wazzu? I think that’s the real question,” Frazier said. “Is it (Andrej) Jakimovski? Is it Isaac Jones? Do you double him?”

WSU’s strength of offensive rebounding could be negated by one of Drake’s strengths, too.

“Some of the best offense for the Cougs is offensive rebounds,” Frazier said. “Drake does a really good job of clearing the boards and getting defensive rebounds and ending possessions, so those second-chance points might not be there for the Cougs. I’m hoping that Myles Rice, who has kind of been a little shaky with his 3-point shot down the stretch, hopefully he finds new life from the outside. Jaylen Wells hopefully as well can knock down some shots. It’s one of those things where hopefully Wazzu can play their game, slow it down like and be able to get on the offensive glass.”

The site of the game – Omaha, Neb. – is also an advantage for Drake, which is located just two hours away in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s a tough 10 seed because a lot of people think the MVC was a really good conference this year… but it’s one of those things where you gotta beat good teams in March if you wanna move on,” Frazier said. “… Unfortunately, they’re gonna have a lot of Drake fans in the building cause it’s gonna be in Omaha, so (WSU will) probably feel like the away team there. But (Cougars head coach) Kyle Smith, he loves being the underdog. He’s got a really good team with some really great storylines themselves, so it’ll be a tough first-round game but I think the Cougs can handle business.”

All that being said, Frazier is pretty high on the Cougars. He has them reaching the Sweet 16 in his own bracket, upsetting second-seeded Iowa State in the second round of the East region along the way.

Will this be Kyle Smith’s last hurrah at WSU?

Perhaps just as big of a question as how far the Cougars will go in the NCAA Tournament is whether or not these will be the final games Kyle Smith coaches at WSU. He’s expected to be highly sought after by other programs this offseason, though he did tell Bump and Stacy this week that he and Washington State are talking about an extension.

WSU coach Kyle Smith on potential extension: ‘We’re working on it’

Frazier said he hopes Smith stays in Pullman, pointing to his ability to find local talent like 6-9 senior forward Isaac Jones, an Orting High School alum who starred at Wenatchee Valley College and Idaho before transferring to WSU for this season.

“There was so much talent that he lost (after last season), and to find guys from Wenatchee, a guy like Isaac Jones, I mean that just shows that he understands the area and how to find talent, and how to nurture that talent in Pullman,” Frazier said. “So I’m hoping that he stays there. Obviously, there’s always rumblings, right? And every time that people make lists and there’s a coach that’s done a really good job, they end up on those lists. … So it’s one of those things where Wazzu fans, unfortunately that’s part of the game. Stanford I’m sure will call him, they even said the Huskies would call him. I can’t imagine he would go and saddle up with with UW, but who knows? So I think Kyle Smith will be there, but you never know in college sports.”

Listen to the full Bump and Stacy conversation with The Ringer’s Tate Frazier at this link or in the podcast near the top of this post.

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