Wyoming vs. Fresno State: Game Preview
Either team happy for a win on Saturday in the Save Mart Center.
Fresno State needs a win to surpass New Mexico, Wyoming would just like a win.
WHO: Wyoming Cowboys (7-22, 2-15 Mountain West) At Fresno State Bulldogs (10-18, 6-11 Mountain West)
WHEN: Saturday, February 29th—4:00 PM PST/5:00 PM MST/7:00 PM EST
WHERE: Save Mart Center, Fresno, CA
STREAM: Mountain West Network
SERIES RECORD: Fresno State leads all-time series 19-11
It’s senior night in Fresno on Saturday and a big game for the Bulldogs as they welcome the Wyoming Cowboys in both team’s last regular season game. Fresno State has dominated the series under Justin Hutson, winning the last three meetings between the two teams and by an average of 13 points.
The last time these teams met was back on January 18th in Laramie for a 4:00 PM showdown. The Bulldogs were able to come away with a 15-point victory and saw freshman forward Orlando Robinson lead them in that win with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks on the night. New Williams also had a good night chipping in 16 points to combine with Robinson for over half of the Bulldogs total points.
Wyoming struggled shooting that day, going 19-55 (34.5%) from the field as a team but really lost the game at the free throw line. A lack of quality defense sent the Bulldogs to the line twenty-five times that day, resulting in 18-25 made free throws (72%) from Fresno State compared to just 2-3 made free throws taken by Wyoming. The Cowboys have to get to the free throw line more on Saturday and settle less for three point shots (they took 32 last meeting). Unless Jake Hendricks finds a rhythm like he did against Nevada where he scored 27 points on 7-12 FGS (7-11 from deep).
For the Cowboys a win tonight could give the team momentum heading into next week. Allen Edward’s group is in last place in the Mountain West and only a San Jose State loss to UNLV has any real consequence for the Cowboys. A win for the Cowboys and a loss by the Spartans would put both teams in a tie in the conference’s basement and give Wyoming the upper hand and the #10 seed as they beat San Jose State on the road back on February 1st by five-points. But a Cowboy loss leaves them in 11th by themselves and a draw against the #6 seed which will also be decided on Saturday.
For Justin Hutson’s Bulldogs a February full of mixed results (3-4) have lifted them up from the bottom of the conference and has them in the running for a finish somewhere in the middle. If they beat the Cowboys on Saturday they not only gain some momentum but also a possible lone seventh place finish, given a New Mexico loss of course. But a Bulldog loss and New Mexico victory could have that previously mentioned finish reversed. But losses for both teams on Saturday would result in a tiebreaker which New Mexico holds and would give the Bulldogs a #8 seed (maybe, we’ll know more Sunday).
Match up of the night: Battle of the backcourts
Hunter Maldonado & Jake Hendricks Vs. New Williams & Noah Blackwell
Wyo’s guards: 26.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG & 5.1 APG Vs. Fresno’s guards: 21.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG & 5.0 APG
The Cowboy offense runs through Hendricks and Maldonado, but recent scoring outings from the likes of Greg Milton III (28 points against Air Force on 2/22) and Kwane Marble II (17 points against New Mexico on 2/8) give them some breathing room, but that’s not too reliable. Allen Edwards needs a big night from his two leading scorers to have a shot at a victory, he could also use a big night from anyone else too.
Williams and Blackwell were expected to take big leaps this season and lead a young but deep Bulldogs team in Justin Hutson’s second year in charge. But that didn’t happen, the senior guards have been good but unable to replace the production lost in Braxton Huggins and Deshon Taylor’s graduations last spring. They’ve been good enough to come close to that 6th place preseason prediction with big scoring outings from both guards.
Williams had 32 points on 10 made threes against San Jose State on 1/4. While Blackwell is averaging 15.0 PPG over his last five games. So this weekend look for the ball to be in their hands to start off and if their knocking down shots, don’t expect it to be in anyone else’s.
Prediction: Fresno State 75, Wyoming 60
I’m a big believer in winning on senior night and both clubs need a win after coming off of losses to the Nevada Wolf Pack this last week. But a difference maker not listed in my X-factor or match up of the night portions of this preview is the front court disparity between these two teams.
Fresno State has only regularly used two big men, Orlando Robinson (6-10) and Nate Grimes (6-8). There are multiple other big men on the bench but none see more than about seven minutes a game and only Assane Diouf has appeared in more than ten games this season (19 played/1 start).
That may make their froncourt seem relatively thin, but Wyoming has it a tad worse. With really only two players standing 6-8 or taller in their rotation regularly, Brandon Porter (7.2 MPG in 22 GMS) and Hunter Thompson (27.3 MPG in 23 GMS). But Thompson is still out at the time of this publishing and that could be a problem.
At multiple times this season we have seen Maldonado as the tallest player in a Cowboy uniform at 6-7 200 pounds. But T.J. Taylor has seen some productive minutes down low, otherwise Wyoming won’t have the size to see these guards battle Grimes and Robinson all night.
The X-Factor: Niven Hart
Hart is one of many talented freshmen on the Bulldogs roster, but the 6-5 guard out of Orlando, FL has really come alive in the month of February (16.5 PPG in seven games). One thing to note is that Hart is not a starter and comes off of the bench to provide some depth and a scoring punch when shots haven’t been falling for the Bulldog starters. That is a luxury the Cowboys don’t have (consistent scoring off of the bench) and if Hart is knocking them down and the starting five are doing their jobs, I expect another 15-point win.