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2014-15 Season Preview: Washington St.

Washington State looks for change with Ernie Kent at the helm

DaVonte Lacy returns for his senior season in Pullman
DaVonte Lacy returns for his senior season in Pullman
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Last Season: The Cougars entered conference play 7-5, but any hopes they had were dashed in their first game. Arizona embarrassed Washington St. 60-25 and they could only muster up seven points in the entire first half. It didn't get much better going forward as they lost 14 of their next 16 games. Their highlight of the season came afterwards as they beat UCLA 73-55 in the final game of Pac-12 play. After a last-place finish in 2012-13 and a 11th place finish in the Pac-12 last year, the Cougars opted for a change and replaced Ken Bone with Ernie Kent.

Kent returns to the sidelines after four years of announcing at the Pac-12 Networks. Kent's teams at Oregon were mostly up-tempo and aside from his last two seasons in Eugene, his teams hovered around the top 100 in offensive efficiency ratings per KenPom. Kent also relied on guard play over the years from the likes of Luke Ridnour, Aaron Brooks and Tajuan Porter which bodes well for current guards Dexter Kernich-Drew, Que Johnson and DaVonte Lacy. Kent's teams, however, had consistently low assist rates, which means Cougar fans could be seeing a lot of isolated twos and bailout threes.

Key Losses: Washington St. will have to replace two significant starters from last season in D.J. Shelton and Royce Woolridge who graduated and transferred respectively. Shelton was the Cougars' second leading scorer at 10.1 points per game and also was the leading rebounder with 9.6 per game. Woolridge, the team's starting point guard, will be easier to replace due to the depth at guard, but he did lead the team with 2.7 assists per game.

Notable Returning Players: Most of the offense this season will come from the trio of guards Lacy, Kernich-Drew and Johnson. Lacy boasted a team-best offensive rating of 112.7 and led the team in scoring at 19.4 points per game. Kernich-Drew was second on the team from behind the arc shooting at a 36 percent clip and 62 percent of his shots came from three. Johnson averaged 9.5 points per game and fits in the same mold as Kernich-Drew and Lacy as a guard who creates his offense, but not much else. Lacy was 39th in the Pac-12 in assist rate and neither Kernich-Drew or Johnson cracked the top 50 in the conference last season.

Jordan Railey, the team's starting center, returns as well. Railey played sparingly for Ken Bone only logging 16 minutes per game. The coaching change might free up some more playing time, but it is disheartening that the seven-footer averaged 2.5 rebounds per game last season and only blocked 7.1 percent of shots while he was on the floor.

Junior Longrus and Ike Iroegbu both saw consistent minutes last season and will look to improve on their contributions from a year ago. Longrus only averaged 3.3 points per game, but could step into the starting lineup with the absence of Shelton. And Iroegbu served as the backup point guard last season and gives Kent another guard to work with. But even with a decent group of returning players, Washington St. still lost two starters and doesn't have much incoming talent making it difficult to envision more wins than the 10 they had last year.

Key Newcomers: Transfers Aaron Cheatum and Valentine Izundu will attempt to help shore up the frontcourt. Both are late transfers, however, and don't give much reason for encouragement. Izundu, the 6-foot-10 center, only played in four games at Houston last season, was held scoreless in all of them and stopped traveling with the team in the middle of December. Cheatum is a JUCO transfer from East Los Angeles and at only 6-foot-7 will still have to transition to the athleticism and size of the Pac-12. They'll be fighting with Brett Boese and Josh Hawkinson, two returning players that averaged 4.2 minutes and 6.4 minutes per game respectively.

Incoming freshman guards Jackie Davis, Ny Redding and Trevor Dunbar will likely have little impact considering the depth already on the roster. JUCO transfer Marcus Graham will also fight for minutes.

Notable Non-Conference Games: The Cougars scheduled UTEP, TCU, Idaho St., UCSB, UTSA, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and U.C. Davis in non-conference play. Washington St. doesn't have NCAA Tournament expectations, so the inferior schedule makes sense. But it's difficult to find any game intriguing to any non-partial viewer on the schedule aside from Gonzaga. At least they should get some wins.

Conference Stretch to Look At: In the second week of conference play, Washington St. will take on Washington and then follow that up with a home stand against Oregon and Oregon St. The Oregon St. game serves as a chance to get an early conference win while the other two games should provide a barometer of how far away or close Ernie Kent's team is to the middle of the conference.

Best-Case Scenario: Ernie Kent takes a winning record into conference play and the Cougars finish 9th in the Pac-12. Kent's fast-paced offense gives his team a chance in almost all of their games and DaVonte Lacy earns an All Pac-12 selection.

Worst-Case Scenario: The glut of guards don't share the ball and constantly jack up shots. And the lack of a frontcourt allows teams to outmatch Washington St. game after game. Their only Pac-12 wins come over Oregon St. and the hiring of a retread coach doesn't look too smart in hindsight.

Projected Finish: 11th