Comment: Roster upgrades have Washington State and UW basketball teams up in the Pac-12 | University of Washington

The Washington State Cougars lost a slew of key players to the draft or the NBA transfer gate this spring, with a shell of a roster left in their wake.

But some good news finally emerged on the Pullman stage – two tracks, in fact.

First, striker Mouhamed Gueye backtracked on Tuesday and returned to WSU after spending a month in the portal. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is a bit rough but one of the most physically gifted young big men in the conference.

Given the standard year-on-year development, he should be an impact player next season for both sides.

Also on Tuesday, the Cougars strengthened their backcourt with the addition of Tennessee transfer Justin Powell, a rotation-level player whose career began two seasons ago at Auburn, where he shot 44% from 3-point range. before a season-ending injury.

(Because the move to WSU is his second transfer, Powell’s eligibility in 2022-23 is not guaranteed. He must seek a waiver from the NCAA.)

In our view, Gueye’s return solidifies the Cougars as a mid-level finisher in the conference race next season, with the likes of Colorado and Stanford but trailing the four favorites: UCLA, USC, Oregon and Arizona.

While the frontline looks solid, WSU apparently lacks the skill and backcourt depth to push for a top spot — at least now.

Coach Kyle Smith probably isn’t done tinkering with his perimeter unit after losing top scorers Michael Flowers, Tyrell Roberts and Noah Williams.

Good news has also arrived for the Washington Huskies.

The Huskies captured one of the best transfers in the market this week with a commitment from Keion Brooks,

A former five-star recruit who spent two seasons at Kentucky, Brooks could become Terrell Brown Jr. 2.0.

(Or would that make him Terrell Brown Jr. Jr.?)

If you recall, Brown saved Washington’s season — and perhaps coach Mike Hopkins’ job — when he scored 22 points per game in 2021-22 after arriving from Arizona.

Brooks could have a similar impact, elevating an otherwise flawed roster to a respectable level and extending the Hopkins era.

The 6-7 forward was a double-digit scorer for Kentucky and led the Wildcats with 27 points in their midseason blowout against eventual national champion Kansas.

Combine the arrival of Brooks with those of center Franck Kepnang (from Oregon) and wing Noah Williams (from WSU), and the Huskies have rebuilt their front line through the portal.

If backcourt play is just average — and that’s far from guaranteed given the current roster — Washington should hold its own in the middle of the conference.

However, escaping this purgatory will be a next-level challenge.