Mountain West Basketball: Fresno State vs. Washington--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball: Fresno State vs. Washington--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Fresno State

Mountain West Basketball: Fresno State vs. Washington--Preview, Odds, Prediction

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Mountain West Basketball: Fresno State vs. Washington–Preview, Odds, Prediction

 

 

Bulldogs look to get on track in the Paycom Wooden Legacy

 

 

Contact/Follow on Twitter  @coachmosser & @MWCwire

 

 

 

 

Game 5: Fresno State (1-3) vs. Washington (3-1)

When: Wednesday, November 23rd – 6:30 PT

Where: Anaheim Arena; Anaheim, CA

How to Watch: ESPNU

Odds: Washington -2  Over/Under 129

 

Fresno State joins the Feast Week party on Wednesday night, as they will travel to Anaheim to participate in the Paycom Wooden Legacy, a small four-team event taking place on Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day.  Their opponent in game 1 will be the Washington Huskies out of the PAC-12.  Turkey day’s matchup will be determined by Wednesday’s results, with the two teams in the other half of the bracket being Vanderbilt and nationally ranked St. Mary’s.    

The Bulldogs will look to end a three-game slide against the Huskies, and will need to find some solutions on the offensive end in order to do so.  The numbers are bleak, and that’s putting it nicely.  FSU is averaging 58.8 ppg, slotting them 343rd out of 363 DI teams–not good.  Part of that can be chalked up to playing at a snail’s pace.  Per KenPom’s metrics, Fresno State ranks 347 in tempo, so they have far fewer possessions than most teams, and therefore fewer shots.  But let’s talk about those shots.  The Bulldogs are shooting 41% from the field, also a bottom 50 mark in the nation.  It gets even worse when looking at the 3-point line, where they clock in at 24%, one of the bottom 20 in the country.  We’ll stop there with the continued listing of poor rankings, but needless to say, FSU is not supplementing their poor half-court offense with many 2nd chance points, or fast-break points either.  The last area of concern is taking care of the basketball, as the Bulldogs sport a negative assist to turnover ratio; in other words, they have more total turnovers on the season than they do assists, and by quite a wide margin too.

What can Fresno State do to breathe some life into the offense?  Well first, the eternal optimist may say hold on a minute, let’s take a look at our early season schedule, where three very solid mid-major defensive squads have been the ones putting the shackles on FSU.  San Francisco, UCSB, and North Texas all rank at the top of their respective leagues in terms of defensive numbers.  While that is true, it’s also accurate that in the Bulldogs exhibition game, and game one of the regular season, they faced off against Division II opponents, and did not reach the 70 point mark in either game.  

Unfortunately, replacing all-MWC performer Orlando Robinson has proven more difficult than anticipated, as there is just not a lot of scoring punch on the roster.  Some of that was thought to be addressed when coach Justin Hutson brought in prized recruit Joseph Hunter, the highest ranked Bulldog recruit since the Jerry Tarkanian era.  Hunter, the preseason MWC Freshman of the Year, spurned offers from Arkansas, USC, San Diego State and others to stay home and play for FSU.  Unfortunately, Hunter’s season was over before it began, as he suffered a thumb injury and is set to have surgery.  Fresno State’s hopes for a top-half Mountain West Conference finish may have gone under the knife with Hunter.  

While it’s not time to hit the panic button yet, Hutson and his staff will soon need to identify some easier ways to get the ball in the basket.  Playing at a super slow pace is fine if you are doing it efficiently.  The Bulldogs, however, are far from efficient through two weeks.  Perhaps speeding things up a bit will spark the offense.  The schedule becomes more manageable before the holiday break and conference play begins, with the possible exception of a matchup Thursday with St. Mary’s.  Those upcoming games should provide a solid measuring stick for whether some serious philosophical changes need to be made on offense, or whether it was simply a case of running into a series of stingy defenses.  Whatever the verdict on that is, FSU could use some shot making from Jemarl Baker and Anthony Holland to keep defenses honest and prevent teams from collapsing in the paint on leading scorer Isaih Moore.  Namesake Isaiah Hill was a double figure scorer a year ago, but has struggled in the early going.  There are options for Fresno State, it’s just a matter of executing and knocking down shots.  

Luckily, under Hutson the Bulldogs will always be in games because of their attention to detail on the defensive end.  Teams are shooting as poorly against Fresno State, as they are shooting themselves.  It’s a very fundamentally sound system that rarely lets an opposing player go wild.  They’ve done a good job of both taking away the 3-point line, and keeping opponents off the foul line.  They are also difficult to get easy baskets in transition against.  Most importantly, the defensive intensity has not wavered, despite the struggles of the offense, a testament to the buy-in of the players.  

Washington comes into this contest on the heels of their first loss of the season, a disappointing 73-64 home setback to Cal Baptist.  Contrary to Fresno State, the Huskies did not exactly schedule tough to begin the season, opening with four straight buy-games at home.  Dropping one of those is something Huskies fans have grown accustomed to under 6th year coach Mike Hopkins.  The natives are definitely restless in Seattle, as UW has underperformed over the last few seasons.  The long-time Jim Boeheim assistant brought the 2-3 zone west with him, and they absolutely have the personnel to run it this year, possessing length, and lots of it.  Hopkins hit the transfer portal to get 4 of his top 8 players, including former Bulldog, Braxton Meah.  The 7-footer spent two years in a Fresno State uniform, earning spot minutes.  He now plays 20 minutes a game, scores 7.5 and grabs 5.5 boards a night, while anchoring the middle of the zone.  When he is taking a break, fellow 7-footer and Oregon transfer Franck Kepnang is more than serviceable as his backup, tallying 9.5/7.5 per game.  The guards and wings are long as well, as Hopkins only has one member of his rotation shorter than 6’4”.  When you’re able to play that lineup, it’s quite an imposing sight, and shows why Syracuse has excelled using the zone for many years.  

Hopkins has a few scorers at his disposal as well, including Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks Jr.  The 6’7” senior, has only played in two games as he works his way back from a leg injury.  He has racked up 31 points and 13 rebounds in the two outings, doing his damage attacking the basket, and from the mid-range.  The leading scorer is actually the smallest member of the Huskies, true freshman Keyon Menifield.  The 6’1” guard fills the stat sheet, and is all over the floor.  He is hitting 50% of his 3’s, and is a willing passer.  He is the engine that is making UW’s offense run at the moment.  Returning starter Jamal Bey is also a threat from the outside.  Because of their size advantage, Washington usually enjoys an edge on the glass as well, corralling double figure offensive rebound outputs in three out of their four games.

This is a really tough game to forecast.  On one hand, you have a team in Fresno State clearly having difficulty scoring the basketball.  Now you add in the dynamic of facing a different type of defense, in the lengthy 2-3 zone.  But maybe that has the opposite effect – it loosens the Bulldogs up, and they can knock some shots down.  If nothing else, though the extended zone at times can seem like there are six defenders on the floor, at least they are not applying in your face ball pressure the way North Texas did last time out.  On the flip side, while Washington has looked better here in the first two weeks, their competition leaves a lot to be desired.  The strength of schedule ranks in the bottom 10% in all of Division I.  Some of those easy shots and rebounds are going to be a lot tougher to come by against FSU.  It’s also their first game outside of Seattle, so it may take a little bit of time for the Huskies to get adjusted.  The best and most consistent unit on the floor in this matchup will be the Bulldogs defense.  For that reason, the hunch here, and it’s not a strong hunch, is that someone in a Fresno State uniform – maybe Hill, maybe Baker – gets hot, the Bulldogs play their typical top-rate defense, and they scrape by with a clutch win.

 


Prediction: Fresno State 64  Washington 60

 

 

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