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Back of the Pac-12 again? The media isn’t high on WSU basketball team’s chances

Washington State head coach Ernie Kent speaks with his players during a timeout. The University of Washington Huskies played the Washington State Cougars in a NCAA men’s basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash., on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018.
Washington State head coach Ernie Kent speaks with his players during a timeout. The University of Washington Huskies played the Washington State Cougars in a NCAA men’s basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash., on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

With no NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 seasons — heck, Washington State hasn’t even gone over the 15-win mark since the 2011-12 season — to say that Ernie Kent is under pressure to show improvement in Pullman is an understatement.

The media doesn’t expect it will happen this season, either. The Cougars were picked to finish last in the conference in the annual preseason media poll, making it the fourth season in a row that WSU has been picked to finish last.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">For the second time in the last three seasons, <a href="https://twitter.com/OregonMBB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OregonMBB</a> is the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pac12Hoops?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pac12Hoops</a> preseason favorite according to the media! It marks the first time the same school has been favored in both the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pac12Hoops?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pac12Hoops</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pac12WBB?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pac12WBB</a> preseason polls. <a href="https://t.co/oOib16VMLN">https://t.co/oOib16VMLN</a> <a href="https://t.co/rII4eKq4PA">pic.twitter.com/rII4eKq4PA</a></p>&mdash; Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) <a href="https://twitter.com/pac12/status/1050393348928937984?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 11, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Here are some facts about the Cougars entering the 2018-19 season.

Washington State Cougars

2017-18 record: 12-19 overall, 4-14 Pac-12

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2008

Coach Ernie Kent along with Robert Franks and Viont’e Daniels met with the assembled media in San Francisco on Thursday at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. (Quotes provided by Pac-12.com)

Head coach Ernie Kent

On what is different with Robert Franks now that he has come back to school after testing the NBA Draft:

Confidence. Confidence is the biggest thing. I think, when you go up to that level, first of all, you’re probably shocked. You’re shocked at what they tell you, what they put you through, how hard they work, and I remember him coming away thinking, whew, I had no idea. Then all of a sudden now you go to the next one, the next tryout, the next tryout, and all of a sudden his confidence comes, and all of a sudden you’re competing, and you’re competing against players already in those programs. So I think the confidence factor is huge for him right now.

On if he thinks this team is more talented than some of his previous squads:

Oh, no question. Not just talent and the ability to score, but defensively we can do a lot with this group. You can put two 6-9 guys at the top of your zone, and that will disrupt a lot of people. I just think the freedom to do more is what I’m comfortable with.

On how he feels about the conference record number of 3s his team shot last season and if he expects to do more of the same entering this season:

Early on, we saw we’re going to be an excellent shooting team. It’s such a weapon. The line is so close. There’s so much talk about moving it back further and everything. Eventually, it may move in that direction. I even feel this year we’ve got more 3-point shooters. We chart everything in practice. Any live situation, we chart it, and right now we’ve got seven guys shooting over 40 percent from 3. Not only do we have three great shooters coming back, three of the best in the conference, but in addition too, there’s guys that can really shoot the ball. So, yes, it will continue to be part of our offense

On incoming freshman Seattle-native CJ Elleby:

“His dad played at Cal and I remember coaching against him, what a great player he was, tough, tough competitor. His son is just like him, extremely tough, understands the game, and really likes to compete. When you get freshmen to come in where you work so hard, which is a jolt to their system, and they still can come through that -- and I always call it, they thrive instead of survive through practice. He’s thriving in practice. That’s a good sign. But he can really score, and he knows how to play. He’s going to help us immensely this year.”

On any possible changes with the offense and playing inside as opposed shooting from 3-point land:

“I think the biggest thing that you’ll notice about this offense is that there are more players that have the ability to create and have what I call see the play and make the play. It was not by default. That’s not going inside. A lot of times that play was there and we didn’t make the play. This group already has the ability to do it. I’m already noticed it. When you talk about a pick-and-roll play and the screens are being slipped and the ball is right there, right on the money, and we’re scoring or we’re giving it one more. You’ll see more freedom -- more freedom of movement, more cutting, more passing, and just really more basketball plays being made.”

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