Although the Washington State Cougars don’t project to make the NCAA Tournament, they will have one of the best big men in the Pac-12.
The Washington State Cougars have been an underrated team the last few seasons, with a record of 69-61 under Kyle Smith. Last year’s team, led by TJ Bamba and Mouhamed Gueye, finished above .500 in the Pac-12, probably just a few different results away from a chance at an NCAA Tournament appearance.
The nucleus of last year’s team is gone, but rotation players Jabe Mullins and Andrej Jakimovski return to give coach Smith some sort of consistency. However, like most college basketball teams nowadays, Washington State will be built on transfers. Isaac Jones, Joseph Yesufu, and Jaylen Wells all figure to play major roles for the Cougars this season, with Wells, a DII transfer, a major wildcard to have a breakout season.
Although the Washington State Cougars aren’t projected to finish near the top of the Pac-12, they have a couple of players who could help pull off a few shocking wins along the way and outperform expectations.
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Head coach: Kyle Smith (14th season, 5th at Washington State)
2021-22 record: 17-17 (11-9)
2022 postseason finish: Lost in NIT Round of 32 to Eastern Washington, 81-74
Notable departures: TJ Bamba (Transfer to Villanova), Mouhamed Gueye (NBA Draft), Justin Powell (Graduated), DJ Rodman (Transfer to USC)
Notable non-conference games: Mississippi State (Nov. 18), Northwestern/Rhode Island (Nov. 19), Santa Clara (Dec. 16)
PG: Joseph Yesufu (6-0, 185, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 4.1 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.4 APG (Transfer from Kansas)
SG: Kymany Houinsou (6-7, 205, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.4 APG
SF: Jabe Mullins (6-6, 200, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 43.0 3P%
PF: Andrej Jakimovski (6-8, 220, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 APG
C: Isaac Jones (6-9, 245, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 19.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 BPG, 62.9 FG% (Transfer from Idaho)
6: Rueben Chinyelu (6-11, 245, Fr.)
247Sports Composite 4-star recruit
7: Dylan Darling (6-2, 180, So.)
2022-23 stats: 1.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.6 APG
8: Jaylen Wells (6-8, 205, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 22.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 43.8 3P% (Transfer from DII Sonoma State)
9: Isaiah Watts (6-3, 170, Fr.)
247Sports Composite 3-star recruit
10: Spencer Mahoney (6-9, 230, Fr.)
247Sports Composite 3-star recruit
11: Oscar Cluff (6-11, 255, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 18.2 PPG, 74.8 FG% (Transfer from NJCAA Cochise College)
12: Myles Rice (6-3, 180, Rs.-Fr.)
2021 247Sports Composite 3-star recruit
Washington State Cougars MVP: Isaac Jones
The Idaho transfer joins a Washington State team without its top four scorers from a year ago. The Cougars do return a handful of role players from last year’s team, but Jones figures to be the man in the middle from the start.
With the Vandals, Jones was a problem inside. His stats tell the story, but his highlight reel proves it. Jones is a muscular power forward who excels at overpowering defenders for buckets right around the rim. The Pac-12 will be a step up from the Big Sky Conference, but at his size, Jones will still require toughness from whoever defends him.
One important aspect of Jones’ game is his court vision. He is above-average at passing out of double teams, which should help a new-look Washington State team out as most players adjust to new roles.
Washington State has been competitive in the Pac-12 under head coach Kyle Smith. If that is to continue, it will be because of Isaac Jones.
Washington State Cougars make-or-break player: Joseph Yesufu
Can the former Kansas Jayhawk prove his worth in a bigger role? Yesufu showed promise at Drake but got lost within the rotation in two years in a KU uniform.
Yesufu did make some big shots for Kansas and was mostly used as a spot-up shooter. However, with the Washington State Cougars, Yesufu will likely need to play point guard. The team doesn’t have any true PGs, but Yesufu’s overall experience outweighs the other options.
It’s a lot to put on someone’s plate who played in the shadows on a national championship-winning team. Jones will be under pressure to continue his dominance in the paint, but Yesufu will have the pressure of the keys to the offense. Luckily, playing at Washington State means he won’t necessarily be in the college basketball limelight, which could wind up being a major benefit.
Key analytic: Second-chance conversation%
According to the fine analytics at Haslametrics, the Washington State Cougars were a top-notch team at converting second-chance points compared to their opponents.
Obviously, this will be a whole new team, but this might stay the same with a player like Jones in the middle. Jakimovski and Houinsou both averaged over 1.0 offensive rebounds per game last season, which also speaks to the fight WSU puts up on the offensive glass.
For a team that doesn’t have many pure offensive players, they sure scrap around to put the ball in the basket. Now, they still struggled overall in scoring the basketball, but getting more opportunities should lead to an increase in wins.
Plus, adding Jaylen Wells, 6-11 Rueben Chinyelu, and 6-11 Oscar Cluff to the mix should also add to an advantage in the paint on both ends of the court.
Washington State Cougars 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 11th in Pac-12
Projected postseason ceiling: NIT Appearance