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Previewing Cal Men’s Basketball vs. UC Riverside

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The Highlanders come to Haas for the season opener

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Media Day
Wyking Jones and Cal will face UC Riverside on Friday.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off Monday’s 81-52 exhibition win over the University of Providence, the California Golden Bears men’s basketball team will take on the UC Riverside Highlanders at Haas Pavilion this Friday in late night action. I’ll try not to hum Louis Armstrong’s “Down by the Riverside” while I watch. Cole Welle, Juhwan Harris-Dyson, and Justice Sueing missed the exhibition due to injury or illness. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the Cal starters fared in that one:

#1 G Darius McNeill: Scored 8 points on 2-6 shooting from downtown while converting a pair of free throws. He added 8 assists and pulled down 7 rebounds in the contest.

#14 G Don Coleman: Showed quickness and creativity but committed 6 turnovers. He hit 8 of his 18 field-goal attempts, two of which were three-point conversions, en route to 20 points.

#21 G Nick Hamilton: Got some open looks from downtown but finished just 1-8 from the floor. Ended the night with 4 assists and a rebound.

#24 F Marcus Lee: Missed a couple of close shots early but was solid in the paint after that. Lee’s first on-court action as a Golden Bear was a long time coming, and his emotions help explain an early technical foul called on him. He blocked 2 shots, hauled down 12 rebounds, and was a perfect 5-5 on free throws which contributed to his 17 points.

#22 C Kingsley Okoroh: 10 blocks! Providence’s Deontae Woodbridge will be seeing King in his nightmares. The Cal record for a non-exhibition is 7 blocked shots. That gave Okoroh a wild triple-double: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 swats. He was getting plenty of congratulations on the bench when he exited the game.

Riverside struggled last season en route to a 7-21 record including 5-11 in Big West conference play. KenPom.com does not expect much more out of the squad this season, placing them 8th out of nine Big West teams. Their best known returning player is guard Chance Murray, who began his career with Arizona State. Head coach Dennis Cutts is entering his fifth season at Riverside, where has has compiled a 45-78 record.

UC Riverside

Projected lineup

#3 G Chance Murray - 6’3” Sr.

Murray paced the Highlanders with 19 points in Saturday’s 81-65 exhibition win over Cal State Stanislaus. He averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds last season but shot just 37% from the field.

#15 G Dikymbe Martin - 6’1” So.

Not to be confused with the finger-wagging big man Dikembe Mutombo, Martin hit 39.4% of his three-point attempts last season. He scored 15 against the Stanislaus Warriors while turning the ball over five times.

#22 G Dominick Pickett - 6’3” Fr.

A nice story, Pickett was team manager before walking onto the squad last January. He took a redshirt for last season and got to start against Stanislaus, scoring 5 points in 18 minutes.

#14 F Brandon Rosser - 6’7” Sr.

Hailing from Temecula, also known as Southern California wine country, Rosser likes to take threes but isn’t particularly good at it. He’s a decent rebounder and will block the occasional shot.

#12 C Idy Diallo - 6’11” Jr.

Unlike Providence, UC Riverside has several big men to mix and match. Diallo wasn’t particularly effective against Stanislaus, though. He recently transferred in from Boston College where he played sparingly.

Key reserves

#21 F Alex Larsson - 6’10” Sr.

Larsson played the most minutes off the bench during the exhibition. The Swedish forward has filled a sort of sixth man role for most of his collegiate career. He can score from inside, finishing second on the team in field-goal percentage during 2016-17. The only one ahead of him in that category was Dutch center Menno Dijkstra, who did not face Stanislaus.

#17 F James Jackson - 6’8” Fr.

Jackson played for two junior colleges before ending up in California’s Inland Empire. He should have a bigger role this season if he can pull down rebounds, although even Cutts admits that his rotation is fairly uncertain at this point. I can’t resist pointing out that he lists sleeping among his hobbies.

#24 G Koh Flippin - 6’2” Jr.

Flippin, aside from putting me in the mood for pancakes, is the first player from North Torrance High to play Division I ball. Last campaign Flippin managed to shoot 40.8% from the field but 43.2% from long range, albeit in limited playing time. It was a vast improvement from his freshman year when he barely saw the floor.

Winning strategies

1. Keep rejecting.

On Pac-12 Networks, Ted Robinson kept remarking about how intimidating Okoroh and Lee were to any semblance of Providence offense inside the paint. Riverside has taller players than the Argos, but interior defense and shot blocking should still be a team strength if Cal can stay healthy.

2. Cut down on offensive risk.

This is a somewhat different Highlander team, but Riverside was near the bottom of Division I in offensive efficiency last year. Limiting turnovers and taking high percentage shots are always priorities, but there’s really no reason for the Bears to beat themselves when they aren’t facing a high octane attack.

3. Let Winston lead.

Deschon Winston seems to have good point guard instincts, and it behooves Wyking Jones to let him get his feet wet as much as possible in non-conference play. Winston started off solidly against Providence with 7 points and 3 assists over just 15 minutes of play.

4. Make it, Marcus.

I drafted Marcus Lee with my last pick in a recent fantasy college basketball draft. That caused one of my snarkier league members to comment: “Well, someone has to score for Cal.” In all seriousness, Lee seems to relish being Big Man on Campus and needs to maximize his offensive opportunities around the basket.

5. Challenge everything.

Riverside did not show much willingness to go to the free-throw line last season. The Highlanders didn’t take aim from deep much, either. The best defensive tactic seems to be contesting their two-point jumpers and not giving shooters too much space, particularly if they are reluctant to drive to the bucket.

Meaningless Prediction: Cal 80, UC Riverside 71

KenPom gives Cal a 90% chance of victory.

Date and Time: Friday, November 10, 9 PM Pacific

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Online: Pac-12.com

Device: Pac-12 Now App

Radio: TuneIn or KGO 810 AM

Go Bears!