PULLMAN - The tall task facing Washington State tonight in the National Invitation Tournament will have to be undertaken without the team's tallest starter.
DeAngelo Casto, the Cougars’ leading rebounder and shot blocker and third-leading scorer, was suspended indefinitely Tuesday by coach Ken Bone.
The Cougars (21-12) play Northwestern (20-13) in the NIT quarterfinals tonight at 8 on ESPN2. The winner advances to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Bone issued a brief statement that said Casto was suspended for “a violation of team rules.” The statement said Bone and the team will have no further comment.
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“I am disappointed in DeAngelo as he let himself and his teammates down,” Bone said.
Two sources with ties to the WSU basketball program, speaking under the condition that their names not be disclosed, said Casto is suspected of marijuana possession.
A Pullman police spokesman said Casto has not been arrested. A message left with the WSU police was not returned.
Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore, regular key WSU starters along with Casto, were each suspended one game earlier this season after they were accused of misdemeanor marijuana possession. A number of WSU athletes in various sports have been arrested on marijuana charges in recent months.
Casto, a 6-foot-8, 255-pound junior from Ferris High in Spokane, is WSU’s best big man at both ends of the floor. He averages 12.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots. Casto has looked into the possibility of turning pro this year, quite possibly overseas.
Brock Motum, a 6-10, 230-pound sophomore, appears to be the most likely replacement for Casto in the starting lineup. Motum averages 7.6 points and 3.0 rebounds and leads the Pacific-10 Conference in field-goal shooting percentage at 60.4, but he struggles at times on defense and with rebounding.
Casto’s inside presence on defense figured to be a huge factor tonight. Northwestern runs a Princeton-type offense that features lots of passes and cutting to the basket.
The Wildcats rank second in the nation in 3-pointers made per game with 9.4. Northwest is suspect defensively and on the boards.
Prior to Casto’s suspension, the Cougars seemed highly optimistic after playing extremely well at times in their first two NIT games.
“We know we have the ability to go to New York and win this tournament, and we’re playing like it,” Thompson said.
“I feel like we’re playing our best basketball at the very end of the year,” Bone said.
NORTHWESTERN (20-13) AT WASHINGTON STATE (21-12)
When: 8 p.m. Where: Friel Court, Pullman.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 850-AM/1300-AM.
Series: Northwestern leads, 3-2. WSU won the last meeting, 68-52, in 1996 in Honolulu.
Statistical leaders: For Northwestern: John Shurma, 16.9 ppg; Luka Mirkovic, 5.2 rpg; Michael Thompson, 4.4 apg. For Washington State: Klay Thompson, 22.2 ppg; DeAngelo Casto, 6.8 rpg; Thompson, 3.8 apg.
Scouting report: The fourth-seeded Wildcats, running their Princeton-type offense to perfection, thrashed top-seeded Boston College, 85-67, on Saturday in a BC Region contest in Boston. WSU is seeded second. ... With Casto suspended for at least one game, the Cougars’ top two rebounders are guards Thompson (5.2) and Marcus Capers (4.4). Northwestern is not a strong rebounding team, but neither is WSU, even with Casto. ... Shurma and Michael Thompson are the busiest 3-point bombers for the Wildcats. ... Northwestern ranks 314th among 336 ranked teams in NCAA Division I in field-goal percentage defense (47.0). WSU is 19th at 39.7. ... The Wildcats rank third in turnovers (9.8). WSU is 123rd with 13.0. ... Shurma, a 45 percent shooter on 3’s, was a teammate of Klay Thompson and Casto on the 2009 under-19 world champions from the United States. ... Michael Thompson is averaging 21.6 points and hitting 47 percent of his 3’s over the past eight games.
Next: The winner plays in the NIT semifinals Tuesday in New York.
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer