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Cal Men’s BB vs. Wyoming: Preview

Can the Bears get back on track when they host the Cowboys?

NCAA Basketball: California at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Cal hoops will be looking to rebound when they host the Wyoming Cowboys tonight at Haas Pavilion. This is the third consecutive season in which these two squads will meet, with the Bears having won the previous two. Last season’s meeting was a wild one, as it took overtime for the Bears to overcome a Wyoming team that was particularly feisty on the day, but not the season.

The 2015-16 season was one to forget in Laramie, Wyoming. The Cowboys finished the season 14-18 (7-11) and it resulted in Head Coach Larry Shyatt resigning after six years in charge of the team. One of Shyatt’s assistant coaches, Allen Edwards, was tabbed as the replacement. Edwards won two national championships as a player at Kentucky, and has served as an assistant coach at Morehead State, VCU, Towson, and Western Kentucky.

Last season’s matchup between these two teams ended in a 78-72 overtime victory for Cal, and a big reason as to why the game was so close is no longer suiting up for Wyoming. Josh Adams has graduated and he took his 24, 6, and 4 per-game statline with him. Trey Washington III, largely a bench player last season, is the only other departure from the 2015-16 squad.

Wyoming’s 2016-17 season got started with a comprehensive 88-49 victory against Western State, a Division II school from Colorado. The Cowboys followed it up with a 73-72 win at Montana, a 77-67 win against South Dakota State, and a 73-65 loss at Pacific.

Their loss to Pacific was quite an ugly game offensively for both teams. Wyoming shot 18 of 54 for 33 percent from the field, and it wasn’t much better for Pacific as they shot 19 of 55 for 35 percent. They combined to go 9 of 45 from beyond the arc and did a ton of scoring from the foul line. Wyoming struggled to make plays and shots against a physical Pacific defense which forced 19 turnovers while allowing 11 assists.

The Cowboys have not been too great offensively this season, their leading scorer — Jason McManamen — has been a volume scorer. He’s averaging 17 points per game, but is shooting just 30.8 percent from the field. His three-point shooting is below 30 percent, but he is lethal from the free-throw line at 87.5 percent.

As a team, the Cowboys are stout defensively. They lead the Mountain West in field goal percentage against at 37 percent, which ranks 38th nationally. They are allowing 65.2 points per game, which ranks fourth in the Mountain West. On the offensive side of things, the Cowboys are 40th in the nation with 9.5 made three-pointers per game, but are not terribly efficient as they are shooting just 33 percent from downtown.

Here is a look at their projected lineup for the game against Cal.

F #5 Alan Herndon (RS JR, 6-9, 210) 9.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 BPG, 28.3 MPG

F # 33 Jordan Naughton (SO, 6-10, 225) 7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 13.5 MPG

G # 11 Jeremy Lieberman (JR, 6-1, 175) 2.8 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 20.3 MPG

G # 23 Jason McManamen (RS SR, 6-5, 195) 17 PPG, 3 RPG, 2 SPG, 35.3 MPG, .308 FG%, .875 FT%, .290 3PT%

G # 3 Alexander Aka Gorski (JR, 6-5, 205) 11.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 28.5 MPG, .455 FG%, .500 3PT%

Key Reserves

G # 1 Justin James (SO, 6-7, 180) 14.3 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 BPG, 23.3 MPG, .512 FG%, .714 FT%, .250 3PT%

F # 20 Hayden Dalton (JR, 6-8, 185) 8.8 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG, 1.3 BPG, 20.8 MPG

Here’s a post-game quote from Edwards on what he expects against Cal:

“They’re a little bit like what we just faced (at Pacific), with how hard they’re going to play, how aggressive they’re going to play,” Edwards said of California. “And then just getting the kid (Ivan) Rabb back just adds to what they’ve done so far. … It’s a Pac-12 team at their place on the road. Different than last night against Pacific, you’ve got to go on and — not have a perfect game, but you’ve got to go on the road and be able to defend like I thought we defended last night and then walk away with shots being made for us.”

Looking at the numbers, there isn’t an obvious playmaker on the roster as far as setting up his teammates. Cal needs to be careful with McManamen and not allow him to get easy penetration to try and keep him away from the free-throw line, which is where he is most effective. Keep him as far away from the basket as possible because he has struggled from deep this season. Cal needs to be careful with Aka Gorski and Herndon, as those two are a combined 17 of 36 from beyond the arc this season.

In last season’s contest, Ivan Rabb scored 13 points on five of five from the field before fouling out. There doesn’t appear to be an obvious answer for Wyoming to stop him in this matchup either. Their best bet is to double team him, and when that happens Cal needs to hit its shots. All in all, this is a Wyoming team that was predicted to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Mountain West conference. Predictions don’t mean much, of course, but Cal needs to — and should — win this game if it wants to fulfill its potential. There aren’t a ton of opportunities for Cal to add resume building wins in non-conference (Virginia, Seton Hall) now that the San Diego State opportunity was lost, which means the Bears cannot afford to drop games it should win.

Prediction: Cal wins 72-57