NCAA Tournament Free Picks -- Washington State finds itself in tough vs. Drake

  • In Charles Jay
  • Thu, Mar 21st, 2024 2:25:13 pm
  • By Charles Jay - Exclusive to OSGA

Coach Kyle Smith had to replace a lot of players in the off-season, and he has brought the Cougars of Washington State into the Big Dance against the Drake Bulldogs.

The Washington State Cougars are a genuine success story in the final year of the Pac 12 (at least as we know it). There were some preseason publications that placed them as a likely 11th -place finisher. And that was because of the tremendous transition in personnel. Nine scholarship players had to be replaced, but Kyle Smith, who certainly deserves some support for coach of the year, has managed to come out of the whole thing with some scoring balance, as well as a team that knows how to operate on the inside.

On Thursday night they take on the Drake Bulldogs, who qualified for the Big Dance as the champion of the Missouri Valley Conference. This is scheduled for 10:05 PM ET in Omaha on TruTV.

Here are the odds at BetOnline upon which our NCAA Tournament free picks will be made:

Drake Bulldogs -1
Washington State Cougars +1

Over 138 points -118
Under 138 points -102

Myles Rice is one of the players who wasn't around last year for Wazzu, as he was sitting out the season with Hodgkins Lymphoma. One thing nobody on the Cougars' side doesn't want him doing is shooting threes, as he has missed his last 22 tries. But that's okay; these guys don't depend on long-range shooting anyway. And they don't have to, because they are second in the nation in average height.

Isaac Jones, who transferred from Idaho, led the Big Sky Conference in field goal percentage last season, and he's hit 60% this year. Rice, by the way, is the only member of the starting lineup who is under 6-8.

Drake is 307th nationally in team height. And they allow 52% from two-point range (246th), so they are in Wazzu's wheelhouse.

But they have some aggressiveness going for them. They do not do much on the offensive boards, but they are #1 in the country in defensive rebounding, which means WSU may have to work harder than usual to get second shots. Drake can also shoot, nailing 36.5% from the arc, 55% inside the arc and 76.3% from the line. That makes things problematic for the Cougars.

The offensive catalyst is Tucker DeVries, son of coach Darian DeVries, who is averaging 21.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He tallied 27 in the MWC title game.

On balance, though, we're going to move with the team that has a better chance of getting the easy baskets. Yeah, the Cougars' size presents a problem, and they've knocked off some good opponents in the Pac 12, like Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. Smith has done okay in postseason play, winning the 2016 CIT (at Columbia) and making the finals of the of the 2018 CBI (with San Francisco). It may be a close one, but we'll take Washington State.

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