The opportunity comes Wednesday, when the Cougars travel to Eugene to play league-leading Oregon. The No. 16 Ducks are the Pac-12’s only unbeaten team, and coming off an impressive road sweep of the LA schools.
Peril comes Saturday, when WSU hits Corvallis to play last-place Oregon State. The Pac-12 cellar could be the Cougars fate by week’s end should it lose to both Oregon and the winless Beavers.
Recent history against the Oregon schools suggests Washington State will get a predictable split. The Cougars have trouble against Oregon, while they own the Beavers in Corvallis.
WSU has won three consecutive road games against OSU, including last year’s CBI post-season game. Dating back to 2007, the Cougars have won six of seven games in Corvallis.
It’s just the opposite in Eugene, where the Cougars have lost four consecutive road games to the Ducks. WSU-Oregon is a streaky series, one the Cougars need to get back in their favor. The Ducks have won six of the past seven games against WSU, but prior to that, the Cougars won six consecutive games over a period of two seasons (including two Pac-10 tourney games). But from 1997-2007, Oregon won 21 of 22 games against the Cougars.
The week ahead: Both games are on the Pac-12 Networks this week. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday it’s Washington State (10-8, 1-4) at Oregon (16-2, 5-0), followed by a 2 p.m. Saturday game at Oregon State (10-8, 0-5).
Oregon is clearly the Pac-12’s biggest surprise this season, although the Ducks figured to come along soon under the steady, determined Dana Altman. In his third year at Oregon, Altman has the Ducks on the same path he put many of his Creighton teams on: the road to the NCAA tournament. Only a complete collapse would keep Oregon out of the NCAAs this season. The Ducks play seven of their final 12 at home, but more importantly, have no games remaining against UCLA or Arizona.
The Ducks have some solid wins on their 2012-13 resume, beating UNLV in Vegas, and league victories over Arizona and UCLA. Oregon is 11-0 at Matthew Knight Arena this season.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more balanced team in the country than Oregon. The Ducks’ top five scorers average between 10.3 and 11.9 points per game – and their top rebounder at 9.6 per game, Arsalan Kazemi, isn’t among that fivesome. Three of Oregon’s top five scorers are seniors -- post Tony Woods and forwards E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory. Kazemi, another senior and a Rice transfer, is dogged inside and hits a high percentage of his shots.
Oregon has a couple of exciting freshmen in guards Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis. Dotson, who leads the Ducks with an 11.9-point scoring average, scored 21 points in the Pac-12 opener against Oregon State. Artis has reached double figures in every Pac-12 game, including 14 against UCLA.
The offensively-challenged Cougars will have to make some adjustments to hang with Oregon. Nationally, the Ducks rank 35th in scoring offense (76.4 points), 51st in field goal percentage (46.1 percent) and 41st in free throw percentage (74.1). What makes Oregon’s offense more impressive is that the Ducks don’t rely much on 3-pointers, averaging just 5.8 per game.
Meanwhile, Oregon State has been in a freefall since an inexplicable home loss to Towson on Dec. 29. The Beavers have dropped six of seven games, including four in Corvallis. The heat is beginning to sizzle under the seat of coach Craig Robinson, who hasn’t come close to getting the Beavers to the NCAAs during a five-year OSU run.
Oregon State suffered a serious blow earlier in the season when Angus Brandt blew out his knee and was lost for 2012-13. Brandt, a 6-10 post from Australia, is about as important to OSU as Brock Motum is to Washington State. Brandt is the Beavers’ best rebounder, and probably their best scorer.
Like Oregon, the Beavers have five players averaging in double digits, although a little more spread out. The team’s scoring leader is Roberto Nelson, a 6-3 junior guard who is averaging 16.1 points a game. In his most recent game, Nelson scored 26 points in a 69-68 loss at USC. Earlier this season, Nelson hit 6 of 7 from 3-point range and scored 34 points in a win over Chicago State.
Other Beavers to watch include Eric Moreland (10.3 points, 10.9 rebounds), Devon Collier (14.4 points, 6.8 rebounds) and Joe Burton (11.1 points, 6.1 rebounds).
could be falling out of favor with Robinson, he shared point duties with Challe Barton against USC with Barton playing most of the second half. "He played better," Robinson said of Barton.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel