Will Brittany Boyd get the defensive assignment to stop Ki-Ki Moore? - Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
The Bears and their supporters have lofty NCAA expectations. What will it take to get off on the right start?
While I have your attention: VOTE FOR LAYSHIA.
Fresno State Preview
The Bulldogs are actually an NCAA tournament regular, having appeared every year since 2008. And yet this is a different Fresno State team, in part because Adrian Wiggins is no longer their head coach. If that name sounds familiar it might be because Wiggins was rumored to be a candidate for Cal's vacancy two years ago. Wiggins did eventually move on to Mississippi, and I think it's safe to say that Cal very much picked the better coach. Even with Wiggins, Fresno never managed to win a tournament game, and this year's 15 seed is the lowest they have ever had.
If you look at their resume you might be alternatively relieved and nervous. Fresno State lost to Oregon and three other teams with RPIs of 100 or higher. On the other hand, they absolutely crushed Washington State, beat USC, and only lost by 11 at Maples against Stanford. The Bulldogs only played eight total games against RPI top 100 teams, but managed a respectable 4-4 record in those games.
There's another name associated with Fresno State that you might find familiar:
Players to Watch
Ki-Ki Moore was a first team all-freshman and first team all-defense selection in her one year at Washington State. The prep star played high school ball in San Francisco with Tierra Rogers, so the Bears are plenty familiar with what Moore can do. And what she can do is a little bit of everything. She leads Fresno State in points, rebounds, and steals, and is 2nd on the team in assists. She's the MWC defensive player of the year. For Fresno State to pull the upset, she'll need to be tremendous, but she has the potential.
And if you pay too much attention to Moore than you risk leaving space for 3 point bomber Rosie Moult. A 6'1'' wing, Moult has made 4 or more three pointers 12 times this year. And on the defensive end, she's a rangy ball thief named to the MWC all-defense team. The Aussie isn't a great rebounder for her size, but her game is more perimeter oriented anyway.
Our Computer Overlords predict
Sagarin Predictor - Cal by 16
Now, on to the tempo free chart! In case you're unfamiliar with this chart, it's essentially comparing Cal and Fresno State and how they rank nationally in the four factors. The letters on the right represent how big of an advantage either team has.
Fresno State actually has slight advantages in a few areas. Those slight advantages are largely offset by some gigantic advantages Cal has in other areas. Those advantages primarily have to do with a Fresno State defense that, on paper, seems like a very good match-up for the Bears.
I can't find anything online describing the defense that new FSU coach Raegan Pebley runs, but it appears to be entirely based on forcing turnovers. When they don't force a turnover they aren't preventing opponents from making baskets or pulling down offensive rebounds. And when you consider that the Bears are one of the better ball-handling teams in the country, you wonder if Fresno State has any real way to stop the Bears.
Keys to the Game
Don't turn it over: Like it says above - FSU forces turnovers 28% of the time. That's a huge number, so the fact that their over all defensive profile is so weak indicates that when they don't force a turnover they are giving up points. Cal is plenty capable of not turning it over.
Take advantage of height: FSU has one rotation player taller than 6'1'', and that player only averages 13 minutes a game. The Bears should be able to play offensive rebound ping pong all game long, even if the Bulldogs try to pack the paint. This is a game to just physically dominate.
Defend the 3 point line: 36% of FSU's shots are threes, and they make them at a decent clip. The one obvious ingredient in any major upset is a steady diet of three pointers. What makes Fresno State potentially dangerous is that every one of their rotation players can shoot a 3. They basically play a 4 out, 1 in offense that stretches defenses. That set of personnel might be bad news when they are trying to stop Talia Caldwell and Gennifer Brandon on defense, but if it results in a bunch of open threes it could keep the game close. No threes, please.
Fresno State is a solid team, but they are roughly equivalent to an Oregon State or Arizona State - the kind of team that needs a great day when the Bears are having an off-day, and even then it would be close. If the Bears come in focused then there should be no doubt.