As I’m writing this, I can see the Cal State Fullerton campus from my window. I’ve lived in the area for years, and the local joke is that baseball is the only sport Titan fans watch. It’s not far from the truth: Fullerton won its last Big West basketball title in 2008. The Titans had a respectable 17-15 record in 2016-17 but went 30-62 in the prior three campaigns. This year, Fullerton began with blowout losses at USC and Saint Mary’s, then falling to 1-3 after Georgia defeated them 64-57. However, Dedrique Taylor’s squad has ripped off five straight wins and is 6-3 heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against Cal at Haas Pavilion. No word on whether Fullerton’s elephant mascot Tuffy will be in attendance.
The Bears have already played three Big West teams in Riverside, Cal Poly, and Northridge. According to Ken Pomeroy, those were the three worst in the conference in terms of expected record. Fullerton represents a small step up, as they’re expected to finish 5th in conference and carry a national ranking of 230. The Bears are now 170th in those rankings even though they managed to beat San Diego State 63-62 last Saturday.
Cal State Fullerton
#0 G Kyle Allman, Jr. - 6’3” Jr.
Call him a Ramblin’ Man, because Allman came to Orange County by way of Brooklyn. He has improved his shooting from the field dramatically this season, which has led to a career best 16 points per game. Allman has also shown more life on the defensive end, averaging over a steal per contest.
#14 G Khalil Ahmad - 6’4” Jr.
Ahmad is on a roll right now, with 58 points over his last two games alone. Then again, his scoring average of 14.3 is identical to that of his rookie season, so the talent has been there for a while. However, he has enjoyed an uptick in three-point percentage which stands at 39.6% this season.
#1 G Jamal Smith - 6’3” So.
Smith is making more meaningful contributions than he did as a freshman, but he is still has the most tenuous hold on a starter’s spot. Smith likes to facilitate but is committing a few too many turnovers considering what is essentially a part-time role. He is also the brother of Cal women’s basketball player Kianna Smith.
#34 F Jackson Rowe - 6’7” So.
The native of Toronto is making big shots when they count. Rowe is 12-17 on three-pointers so far, which is a cool but unsustainable 70.6%. He is also a big contributor when it comes to rebounding and rim protection.
#13 F Arkim Robertson - 6’9” Sr.
Robertson isn’t playing big minutes every night, but he hits the glass and can score inside when asked. He had 10 rebounds in the last game against Utah Valley but fouled out in only 17 minutes. Robertson hails from the Caribbean nation of Grenada.
#10 G Austen Awosika - 6’3” So.
He’s at least the team’s Sixth Man, but honestly Awosika plays more minutes than a couple of the starters on most occasions. From nearby Chino Hills, Awosika is struggling from the field so far but posted a strong line of 12 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals in his last appearance.
#5 F Davon Clare - 6’5” So.
Clare is a very limited offensive player, but the Texan is deployed for defensive purposes. He’ll get the occasional assist and a couple of rebounds per game.
#21 F Dominik Heinzl - 6’7” Jr.
Czech, please! Heinzl is a junior college transfer who’s originally from Uzov in the Czech Republic. He has made the most of his limited offensive chances and scored an efficient 10 points on December 6 versus Portland.
1. Get open shots.
The Bears racked up a nice lead against San Diego State in part because they took what the defense gave them. I remember a Justice Sueing corner three that felt like a backbreaker for San Diego State, at least until they rallied late in the second half and forced Cal to respond. Darius McNeill also had a couple of clutch three-point buckets in that game. CSUF is just average when it comes to defending behind the arc.
2. Watch the fouls.
Fullerton is very good at getting to the free-throw line. In terms of percentage of points earned at the charity stripe, the Titans are second in the country. Playing solid defense without biting on head fakes will go a long way toward Cal’s ability to win. The Titans are #271 in offensive efficiency, so at least they are not a juggernaut when it comes to overall scoring.
3. Protect the ball.
This sounds like another coaching cliché, but the Titans have a 7.1% steal frequency. Avoiding unnecessary turnovers could lead to important points that help decide the outcome.
4. Keep swatting.
The Bears are middle-of-the-pack defensively, but they’re still 11th overall in block rate. Against a team that likes to score inside, contesting shots near the rim will be necessary. Related fun fact: Cal ranks 17th in the country in average player height. I see you, Kingsley Okoroh and Marcus Lee.
5. Focus on Ahmad.
Ahmad has been a solid player during his time in Fullerton, but lately he is on a tear. Even double teams may be necessary if he gets it going early. The good news is that the Titans don’t boast a plethora of alternative scorers. Here’s a fun highlight from last season involving Ahmad.
Meaningless Prediction: Cal 72, CSUF 68
KenPom believes that Cal has a 73% chance of victory. At least I don’t expect much trash talk in my town if he happens to be wrong.
Date and Time: Saturday, December 16 at 1 PM Pacific
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Device: Pac-12 Now App
Radio: TuneIn or KGO 810 AM