He views Oregon (8-4) similarly. WSU opens Pac-10 play at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against the Ducks at Friel Court. Oregon was just 8-23 overall and 2-16 in conference play last season, but Bone sees an improved team. He noted that Oregon, along with a few other Pac-10 teams such as USC, has battled injuries and some key players are returning.
One of those is 5-foot-6 senior guard Tajuan Porter, who is averaging a career-low 11 points per game, but only has played in eight contests because of an ankle injury. Bone, who previously coached at Portland State, remembers Porter well from when he scored 38 points as the Vikings as a freshman.
"Oregon has some guys that are capable of going off for big numbers," he said.
In addition to Porter, Oregon signed junior-college guard Malcolm Armstead in its latest recruiting class. Armstead averages 10.6 points per game, while shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers. Another guard, sophomore Teondre Williams, averages 11 points per game and hits 43.5 percent of his 3-pointers.
THE DUCKS' FRONT line has been hit hard by injuries -- senior Joevan Catron (back) and sophomore Josh Crittle (ankle) both have missed several games -- but are back now. The 6-foot-6 Catron averages a team-best 5.8 rebounds per game. Center Michael Dunigan, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound sophomore, averages 10.6 points and 1.3 blocks per game.
"Their bigs are much bigger than our bigs," Bone said.
He said he is focused on Oregon and is not as familiar with Oregon State. WSU hosts the Beavers (6-5) at 4 p.m. Saturday. Bone said he watched OSU play for a half in a 74-69 win against "a good Colorado team" Dec. 4.
AS THE COUGARS enter conference play, he finds himself agreeing more with the perception of the conference, which is regarded as worse than previous seasons.
"I see it being a little bit down compared to the last few years," Bone said. "There's so many guys who have left early for the NBA. I also feel there's a few teams out there who have had their share of injuries or are like us and young."
He also feels that means some teams can make some significant improvement. Bone cited USC, which was picked by many prognosticators to finish near the bottom of the conference. The Trojans have won five consecutive games since starting 2-4.
Bone hopes WSU's nonconference schedule prepares it for the Pac-10. The Cougars, who beat Louisiana State 72-70 in overtime Tuesday at KeyArena, faced a Tigers team that is similar to USC in "the way they control things with athletes." He compared Kansas State, which defeated WSU 86-69 on Dec. 5, to Washington in terms of athleticism and strength.
Because he feels the Cougars will play teams of similar caliber during the conference schedule, he does not expect them to continue to average 80.2 points per game. They are tied for 34th nationally with South Dakota in that category.
"There probably will be a few more teams like LSU that will slow us down a little bit," said Bone, adding that the coaching staff dictates tempo to the players. "I'm pleased with how we're getting down the floor."
BECAUSE STUDENTS ARE still on Christmas break, WSU is concerned about attendance for this week's Pac-10 openers in Pullman. To help the situation, WSU is offering fans the chance to buy prime-time student seats for $15 per game against Oregon and Oregon State, or $25 for both.
"From watching video last year, there was a little more reckless abandon," he said. "If he gets two or three fouls after five minutes, that's OK."
"I think as the season goes along, James will get increased minutes," Bone said. "He was hampered by some injuries that kept him out. He's slowly catching up and he gives us a good presence on both ends of the court. He's a good rebounder."