Mountain West Basketball: San Francisco vs. Fresno State–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Bulldogs host Dons in non-conference showdown
Game 3: San Francisco Dons (3-0) @ Fresno State Bulldogs (1-1)
When: Wednesday, November 16th – 7:00 PT
Where: Save Mart Center; Fresno, CA
How to Watch: Livestream on Mountain West Network
Odds: Fresno State -1 Over/Under 136.5
It’s back on the horse for Fresno State, as they look to rebound following their first loss of the season, when they play host to San Francisco on Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center. The Bulldogs dropped a 61-54 contest on the road Friday afternoon in a Veteran’s Day matinee against Cal Santa Barbara.
Unfortunately, most in the area were choosing to honor those who have served our nation in different ways, as the announced crowd was 121. That’s right, no zero or other digit missing at the end of that number, just 121 people attended; as meager a total as you will see for a college basketball game, at any level. The lack of an atmosphere in the building may have trickled down onto the floor, as Fresno State struggled in what turned out to be a very low possession and low scoring game. That shouldn’t be an excuse though, sometimes you have to create your own energy, especially as a veteran team, which the Bulldogs certainly qualify as.
Returning four starters is a rarity in today’s college game, where plucking multiple key players from the transfer portal is the preferred method of roster building. Justin Hutson, in his 5th year in charge of the Bulldogs, has instead chosen to run it back with much of his core from a season ago. Granted, the one missing piece from last year is the most important, 7-footer Orlando Robinson. The all-Mountain West Conference performer is now on the roster of the Miami Heat, and has taken his 19/8/3 stat line with him. Replacing that production has proven difficult in the early going.
The shooting percentages aren’t terrible, but there has been very little offensive rebounding, and turnovers have been a problem. Combined with playing at a fairly slow pace, it’s easy to see why the Bulldogs have scored 69, 69, and 54 in their 3 games (including an exhibition). Those totals don’t scream awful, but consider that two of those three outings are against Division II programs, and it’s a little more eye-opening as a potential issue moving forward.
Much of the problem is, without Robinson, there is not a ‘go-to-guy’ the Bulldogs can count on to get a bucket when in the middle of a scoring drought. Anthony Holland is the best shooter on the roster and has connected on 4 of 10 from deep, but until someone else proves they can knock down a bomb, and to this point no one has, he is going to draw the toughest defender from opposing teams. Something else to note; the Bulldogs are shooting only 9-33 from 3-point land. They are 33-61 from inside the arc. Better shot selection and recognition of strengths may need to come into focus sooner rather than later.
Isaih Moore has been a pleasant surprise, and the most efficient player on the offensive end. The 6’10” Southern Miss transfer is 10-17 from the floor, with most of his damage done from inside the paint. He is also the only member of Hutson’s current eight-man rotation that stands taller than 6’7”, and is doubling as a rim protector on the defensive end. It would be helpful for Fresno State if Jemarl Baker Jr. could regain the form that made him a prized Kentucky recruit years ago. As it is, he continues to work his way back from injuries that have ended his last two seasons.
What type of matchup is this for FSU? While San Francisco might not come to mind when thinking of top-end WCC programs, like Gonzaga and St. Mary’s do, the Dons have quietly built themselves into an annual contender for an NCAA at-large berth, and they finally snagged one of those last season. This year will look different though, as head man Todd Golden has taken off for the SEC (Florida), and the two ringleaders a year ago, Jamaree Bouyea and Yauhen Massalski, have exhausted their eligibility. Those two combined to average over 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in 2021-22.
Two other starters also graduated, and new coach Chris Gerlufsen moves over one seat from the top assistant’s chair to take over for his mentor. Order number one was replenishing the roster, and Gerlufsen did that the newfound way, grabbing transfers from high-major schools Washington State, Texas A&M, and Georgia Tech. Those three, guards Tyrell Roberts and Marcus Williams, and big man Saba Gigiberia will be counted on heavily. But, they will all play supporting actor to the most important returning piece–Khalil Shabazz. The lightning quick guard does it all on both ends, will fill the leadership void left by Bouyea’s absence, and is truly a stat stuffer. He is averaging 16 a game in the early going, and has pulled down 20 boards, a ridiculously high number for someone standing 6’0”. For good measure, he has 9 assists and 8 steals. Neutralizing him should be of the utmost importance for Hutson and his staff.
There is depth for this San Francisco squad too, as Gerlufsen has been comfortable going 10 deep thus far, as opposed to the eight that Hutson will trot out there. It is spread out pretty evenly among the back court and the front court and includes a very intriguing wildcard–7’2” junior Volodymyr Markovetskyy. Let’s get this out of the way first, the man needs a nickname, and another game like his 20 point, 4 rebound effort (in only 17 minutes) on Saturday, and I’m sure someone on Twitter will come up with something for the massive Ukrainian. He is one of several bigs that pound the glass, a staple of this USF resurgence under Golden, and now Gerlufsen.
This is an interesting game to break down. On one hand, many of the schematic advantages and the overall personnel point towards a USF win. They have more size, more scoring punch, and the best player on the floor, in Shabazz. They also seem to have a deeper bench and more ways to score the ball. However, their schedule thus far has consisted of three lower tier opponents, all at home. Playing on the road in college basketball is an entirely different animal, and of course this will be Gerlufsen’s first time in charge away from the friendly confines. Additionally, with all the new pieces on the roster, it’s likely they are not as in sync as they will be come January. And with none of the three games being close, how will they respond in a tight one down the stretch?
For Fresno State, they do not seem to have the firepower to go blow for blow with the Dons. But, while USF was a top 30 defensive unit nationally a season ago, many of those pieces, including the head coach, have turned over, and maybe they are temporarily still a work in progress. Also, returning home after a drab effort on the road should provide a little extra juice for the Bulldogs. We have seen multiple teams early in this college season lay an egg, and then rebound the next time out with a completely different effort. Temple comes to mind, losing to Wagner and then following that with an upset win over Villanova. Closer to home, Boise State dropped their opener to South Dakota State and then bounced back to defeat PAC-12 sleeper Washington State.
Under Hutson, the Bulldogs have been fairly predictable. They beat the teams they are supposed to, and come up just short against the teams above them in the conference standings. It’s run that way for much of his four seasons at the helm. The problem is, at this point it’s tough to gauge where each team stands in regards to the other, making this one extremely difficult to call. The hunch is we see an inspired Fresno State team on Wednesday night, and they eke out a close, home victory.
Prediction: Fresno State 66 San Francisco 63
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