Despite a 71-61 victory over Wyoming on Friday, the 3-1 Cal basketball team wasn’t totally satisfied. Cuonzo Martin summed it up by discussing the second half in which the Cowboys outscored the Bears 35-33: “You have to execute down the stretch. We didn’t defend the way we need to.” At least Martin can boast a holiday weekend win heading into Sunday night’s matchup with Southeastern Louisiana.
The Southeastern Louisiana Lions are coached by Jay Ladner, who’s in his third year at the helm. Bolstered by the calming presence of mascot Roomie the Lion, Southeastern Louisiana has won all three games at their home arena in Hammond. On the other hand, they’re 1-2 on the road. The Lions defeated UTEP in El Paso but dropped decisions to Tulane and most recently Colorado State by the score of 67-59. About the latter game, Ladner mentioned the difficulty of playing at altitude and commented: "I thought overall our defensive effort was good. We just didn't quite have it.”
Last season, Ladner’s team finished 12-21 and 9-9 in conference. I’m no expert on the Southland, but the Lions are expected to finish near the bottom this year. The departure of leading scorer Zay Jackson doesn’t help matters. Cal has never faced Southeastern Louisiana and is hoping to run its home win streak to 23. The Bears’ longest win streak at home is 26, set between 1958 and 1960. The last time the Lions faced the Pac-12 was back in 2007, when they triumphed 65-63 at Oregon State.
Jordan Capps is a fearless scorer and strong rebounder who has so far more than doubled his 10 point per game average from last season. However, the forward has appeared in just two contests thus far due to an ankle injury suffered in the Tulane game.
Southeastern Louisiana Roster
Projected starting lineup
G Marlain Veal - 5’9” So. - Point guard is taking a big leap forward in his second season and starting to justify the “Baby Westbrook” nickname bestowed upon him during high school. A polished step-back move makes him especially dangerous.
G Jabbar Singleton - 5’11” Sr. - Stepped up when Jordan Capps missed time due to injury but is more of a complementary player.
F Davon Hayes - 6’6” Jr. - His first year with the Lions after playing with Southern Miss back in 2014-15. A decent three-point shooter.
F Moses Greenwood - 6’7” So. - Just didn’t have it against the Rams, but otherwise has filled in admirably while Capps is ailing.
C Dominic Nelson - 6’10” Sr. - Picked up double-doubles twice already, but this is his first year as a full-time starter.
G Eddy Polanco - 6’3” Jr. - Shifty guard was a bright spot in Friday’s loss, collecting a season-high 15 points.
G Dimi Cook - 6’2” So. - Ladner doesn’t use his bench a ton, but Cook usually logs double digit minutes when Singleton hits the pine.
G Michael Corchiani - 6’0” Fr. - Might have been omitted from this list if he hadn’t joined Polanco in the pleasant surprise category with his shooting from distance on Friday.
G Chris Mejia - 6’3” Fr. - As you probably noticed, there is not a lot of size on this team. Mejia went 5-6 from downtown against Xavier of Louisiana but has scored just 2 points otherwise.
1. Dominate the paint.
Ivan Rabb has demonstrated excellent body control around the basket in his first two games back from injury. With Nelson the only Lion listed at taller than 6’8”, focusing on inside scoring makes a lot of sense. Grant Mullins bounced back from his showing in Sacramento and can hit the open three if Rabb gets double teamed.
2. Moore, please.
I apologize in advance to Oliver Twist. Charlie Moore has flashed his considerable talent to the tune of 24.3 points per game over his last three appearances. Meanwhile, Stephen Domingo is struggling and Jabari Bird has been sidelined. His 6 assists against the Cowboys were a season high. Considering Moore’s massive range and performance to date, I’d recommend a high volume of touches for the fabulous frosh.
3. Win the turnover battle.
Southeastern Louisiana ranks among the worst in Division I when it comes to turnovers committed. Veal alone has given the ball away 3.8 times per game, making Ladner wish he had ordered the chicken parm instead. Getting steals and not giving away possessions will go a long way when it comes to the scoreboard. The Bears turned it over 20 times on Friday, but some of that can be explained by Rabb rounding back into form. He had an uncharacteristic 6 and Sam Singer was charged with 5.
4. Channel The Three Musketeers.
With Bird expected to miss two more weeks due to back spasms and Kameron Rooks battling knee soreness, the Bears will continue to need contributions from their bench. Against Wyoming, Roger Moute a Bidias had 12 points off the bench in just 19 minutes of play. Singer made his case for a return to the starting lineup by scoring 8 to go with 6 rebounds. Even Don Coleman put in an appearance with 2 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist.
5. Sustain the defensive intensity.
Cal held Wyoming without a field goal for the first seven minutes and blocked a half dozen shots in the game. Kingsley Okoroh was a force all game, accounting for 5 of those swats and firing up the Haas Pavilion crowd. The second half was less impressive, but it should portend success if Cal holds the Lions to the same 37% from the field . The Bears rank 7th nationwide in defensive rebounds per game which is another way to keep opponents off the scoresheet.
Meaningless prediction: Cal 70, Southeastern Louisiana 58
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