Welcome to basketball season! For a variety of reasons, I bet you could use a fun distraction right now!
The Bears are opening their season against the cream of the crop from the Summit League. SDSU has won at least a share of the regular season title in three of the last five seasons, to go along with three conference tournament titles and NCAA tournament appearances. You might remember them as the team that gave Maryland a scare in the round of 64 last year, although it’s also possible that you blocked out most of last year’s NCAA tournament.
The Jackrabbits are expected to be part of a three team chase with North Dakota St. and Fort Wayne for the league title, but there’s a bit of uncertainty because of a major change: after 21 years in charge, Scott Nagy departed to Wright State Now it’s T.J. Otzelberger, previously an assistant who spent time at Iowa St. and Washington, who takes the reins.
As a result, it’s not entirely clear what we can expect from the Jackrabbits in terms of style and scheme. Otzelberger has stated that he wants to play an entertaining, up-tempo style. Whether or not he takes that style on the road against a high end power conference team remains to be seen.
PG Michael Orris, 6’3’’ senior
G Tevin King, 6’2’’ sophomore
Wing Reed Tellinghuisen, 6’7’’ junior
Wing A.J. Hess, 6’7’’ senior
F Mike Daum, 6’9’’ sophomore
G Andre Wallace, 6’1’’ junior
Wing Lane Severyn, 6’5’’ junior
G Skylar Flatten, 6’5’’ junior
Wing Chris Howell, 6’5’’ sophomore
F Ian Theisen, 6’9’’ junior
The two names to know are Daum and Tellinghuisen. Daum was last season’s Summit Freshman of the Year and is now the preseason player of the year. He’s a versatile, efficient interior scorer and rebounder who averaged 15 and 6 last season . . . despite playing only 21 minutes a game. He has 3 point shooting range, draws a ton of fouls, and is generally probably one of the single best interior players outside of major conference basketball. Tellinghuisen is a bit more of your standard three-and-D mid-major gunner, but Cal will primarily be worried about him as a deep threat.
After that? Probably only Otzelberger knows. He understandably played a large rotation in SDSU’s only exhibition game, and held out a couple of potential contributors, so the rest of the rotation could be very different. SDSU is replacing 4 seniors from last year’s rotation and brought in a few grad transfers, so we’ll see what they throw out. But it will be Daum and Tellinghuisen that will have to carry the load for SDSU to pull the upset.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Kenpom: Cal 75, SDSU 64, 83% of a Cal win
I’ve been having discussions with noted statistical analyst Reef on twitter, and he’s of the opinion that Kenpom is underrating Cal in the preseason projection engine. The Bears are currently ranked 52. FWIW, other statistical engines have the Bears firmly in the top 25 (for just one example, Sports Illustrated’s projection system places Cal 17th) and there’s reason to think that Cal can make up for what they lost in volume scoring with better efficiency, without sacrificing any of the defense that was their 2015-16 calling card.
All that is a long way of saying that Kenpom might be underrating Cal’s chances in this game, seeing as SDSU is going through a coaching transition and the Bears are probably (hopefully?) underrated in his system.
Keys to the Game
1. Limit Daum on both ends
If there’s a scenario where SDSU makes this game competitive, it probably involves Daum going off and getting some or all of Cal’s bigs into foul trouble. Conversely, if Daum picks up some early fouls this game could quickly get away from SDSU.
The first question Cal needs to answer is who gets the defensive assignment? Daum’s range and quickness means that Kam and King might not be great matchups. Ivan can handle the assignment, but he’s also recovering from a minor foot injury and would be risking foul trouble. Daum might be good enough (and the talent that surrounds him weak enough) that we may see double teams.
2. Do what the Cal defense did all last season: limit 3s
Last season, the Jackrabbits were on the higher end in terms of 3 point attempts and 3 point percentage. Otzelberger’s Iowa St. squads weren’t afraid to shoot from deep either. More generally, any SDSU upset will likely require a strong night from deep, and SDSU probably doesn’t (beyond Daum) have the type of players to challenge Cal’s elite interior defense.
So: Will Charlie Moore, Grant Mullins, and anybody else added to the guard rotation be ready to run players off of the 3 point line at the same rate that the Bears managed last season?
3. Get Ivan Rabb 2.0
This is probably more about future games, but how good would it feel to see Ivan go up against a legit interior challenge and come out with a clear win? That and we all need to see him looking 100% on the court to relieve general irrational anxiety about whatever minor injury he picked up in pre-season.
The Pac-12 isn’t full of experienced, high end big men this season (of the seven post players who made 1st or 2nd team all conference, Rabb is the only returner) and that fact buoys hopes that he can improve on last year’s stats. A strong start against legit non-conference opposition will only bolster our long term excitement for the season.
4. Memorial #Kod5 keys to the game blank
There’s not enough scouting info on SDSU’s new personnel and coach to come up with 5 non-coach-speak keys, but we gotta get to 5 ‘cause them’s the rulesa
5. Kodiak’s 5th key super fun time extravaganza! Hope that Cal shoots at or above their own baseline while SDSU doesn’t!
Last year, SDSU surrounded one super-efficient player (Daum) with a bunch of equally solid shooters. Most of those guys are gone, so the question now is whether or not SDSU has enough weapons to keep defenses honest.
SDSU is juuuuust good enough to make me a little bit nervous. This isn’t quite like 2015-16, when Cal started the season with UCSB and a bunch of tomato cans. SDSU (Jackrabbits), UC Irvine, and SDSU (Aztecs) are all high end mid-majors who are capable of pulling an upset over a team that isn’t ready to play. Cal is the better team, and they are playing with home court advantage, but this isn’t a body bag game either. Come out strong, Bears.