Fresno State at Cal Poly: Game Preview, TV, Radio, Live Stream, Odds, More
Fresno State hunting for first D1 victory since Nov. 10
Bulldogs look to snap five-game skid
WHO: Fresno State (2-7, 0-2 MWC) at Cal Poly (2-7, 0-0 Big West)
WHEN: Saturday, December 14 — 7:00 P.M. PT / 8:00 P.M. MT
WHERE: Mott Athletics Center, San Luis Obispo, CA
LISTEN: Fresno State All-Access; 940 AM ESPN
ALL-TIME RECORD: Fresno State leads the series, 32-8
ODDS: Fresno State -7, per KenPom
It’s been tough sledding for the Bulldogs thus far in the 2019-20 season, but Saturday night’s trip to San Luis Obispo to take on Cal Poly presents a good opportunity for Fresno State to turn their fortunes around.
Over a month has passed since the Bulldogs’ last—and only—win against a Division I team, a three-point win over Winthrop that nearly went the other way. Since then, Justin Hutson has only been able to celebrate once, after his team scored a hollow 92-47 over Division II Cal State San Bernadino.
But even counting the game against CSUSB, Fresno State hasn’t gotten a victory since November 17.
Instead, they’ve racked up five straight losses.
Fresno State was always going to be the underdog against teams like Utah State and Saint Mary’s, but hung well with both. They lost to the Gaels by 10 points, but took the Aggies to overtime before giving up their upset bid. Between those games, the Bulldogs’ were also bested by UNLV, a disappointing result made worse by the fact that it came by a single point after two overtime periods.
But no matter how good Fresno State may be with horseshoes and hand grenades, the binary win-loss column in the Mountain West standings doesn’t care about context—the team is 0-2, regardless of how close they came.
The issues for the Bulldogs have been on both ends of the court, but the offense has generally outperformed the defense. Jarred Hyder has been found money for Hutson, as the freshman guard leads Fresno State in scoring with 12.7 points per game.
Close behind is senior forward Nate Grimes at 12.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Those numbers are an early advertisement for Grimes’ bid for All-MWC honors.
Newcomers Orlando Robinson and Mustapha Lawrence have contributed admirably so far, while Huston is still looking for more out of returning guards Noah Blackwell and New Williams.
As for Fresno State’s opponent, Cal Poly has had their fair share of struggles, too. In fact, until just a week ago, the Mustangs had yet to register their first Division I win of the season. But the team managed to squeeze out a 70-66 win over Siena seven days ago, perhaps signaling a changing of the tides.
Last month, first-year head coach John Smith got his first official win when the Mustangs coasted past Simpson University of the NAIA.
Smith, who played two seasons at UNLV in the late 1980s, served as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton for six seasons before getting his first Division I head coaching gig at Cal Poly.
Cal Poly’s leading scorer is sophomore guard Junior Ballard. Shooting 42% from beyond the arc this season, Ballard has taken a big step forward in year two. Behind him is former Boise State reserve Malek Harwell, who has a much bigger piece of the pie now that he is in San Luis Obispo. The transfer guard is shooting at an even higher clip, hitting 48% of his threes so far.
Ballard and Harwell are the only double-digit scorers for the Mustangs, though 6-10 center Tuukka Jaakkola and freshman guard Colby Rogers are both getting nearly nine per game. Rogers is shooting 45% from deep.
BY THE NUMBERS
Both teams come in with a similar profile: mediocre offense, poor defense. In terms of efficiency, Fresno State has better than Cal Poly on both ends of the court this season. Here’s a breakdown of how each team should fare when it has the ball in its hands.
On FRESNO STATE’S POSSESSIONS…
For all of their issues closing out games, the Bulldogs actually do have a pretty decent offense. The cornerstone of it is their ball security, with their turnover rate ranking near the top 100 nationally. The problem has too often been that those retained possessions end in missed shots. Fresno State has shot the 34th-most three-pointers in the country so far, but has only connected on 31.6% of them, which ranks 240th. That’s a bad combination.
Instead, they should consider going inside to Grimes more against Cal Poly, as the senior is shooting 60% on two-pointers and the Mustangs have been susceptible inside the arc. A secondary benefit of working the ball into the paint is a higher likelihood of drawing fouls. The Mustangs put their opponents on the line a lot, so the Bulldogs should look to exploit that.
The battle on the boards should be pretty even on this end, with Fresno State holding a slight edge with Grimes, Robinson, and Aguir Agau. Overall, the Bulldogs should have a good offensive game against Cal Poly’s porous D.
ON CAL POLY’S POSSESSIONS…
The Mustangs are a better shooting squad than their record would indicate. Their team three-point percentage of 38% ranks 30th in the country. But perhaps that’s a product of a small sample size—Cal Poly ranks in the bottom 50 for three-point attempts. The Mustangs go inside more often, but shoot well under 50% on two-pointers. Smith may want to think about giving his shooters the green light to launch from long range.
Cal Poly has been generally careless with the ball, but they are fortunate to face a Fresno State defense that has seemed uninterested in forcing turnovers this season. The Bulldogs are one of the ten worst teams in the country at getting their opponents to cough up the ball. But while the Mustangs may lose fewer possessions to turnovers, don’t expect them to get extra shots from second chance opportunities. Cal Poly gets very few offensive rebounds, while Fresno State has been slightly above-average on the defensive boards.
The Mustangs shoot just 63.5% at the line, but maybe they’ll get a boost simply by playing Fresno State. While it’s true that the Bulldogs have a poor defensive free throw rate, they’ve also had some incredibly bad luck. Opponents are shooting nearly 77% from the stripe against them, which is one of the dozen highest marks in the country.
DPI PREDICTION: FRESNO STATE 79, CAL POLY 71
The Dieckhoff Power Index projects that the Bulldogs will finally get off the schneid, predicting an eight-point victory for Fresno State. This is roughly in keeping with projections from KenPom, Haslametrics, and T-Rank, with all three metrics predicting a margin of victory between five and seven points. The DPI predicts a higher-scoring game than the other metrics, however, mostly owing to the defensive struggles that each team has had so far.
Don’t be surprised if this one turns out to be a sloppy foul-fest, but in the end, the Bulldogs are a rare favorite in this game.
Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for multiple outlets, including Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.