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Previewing Cal MBB vs. Detroit Mercy

Can the Bears win two straight before heading to Brooklyn?

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California
Justice Sueing and the Bears are back in action at Haas.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, Thursday night’s home matchup with the Detroit Mercy Titans might be the easiest non-exhibition on the schedule for the California Golden Bears men’s basketball team. For Cal, it’s the second game of the Legends Classic. The next will take place against St. John’s at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Monday. First-year head coach Mike Davis spent six seasons at Texas Southern and inherited a Detroit team with just three returning players. Former coach Bacari Alexander was dismissed after going 8-24 last season. After a November 3 exhibition win over Wayne State, the Titans have gone on the road to begin the season 0-3. The Bears enter play 1-1 after beating the Hampton Pirates 80-66 on Tuesday.

Detroit Mercy

Projected starters

#0 Antoine Davis - 6’1” Fr G - 27.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.3 apg

A product of homeschooling in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis has definitely looked like a volume shooter in the first three games of his collegiate career. He’s 15-36 from three-point land in that span.

#21 Lamar Hamrick - 6’4” Jr G - 5.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.7 spg

Hamrick, a JC transfer, played well against Western Michigan but has seen his minutes dwindle since then.

#23 Josh McFolley - 6’1” Sr G - 16.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.7 apg

McFolley is a team leader and Motown native. He’s up to nine steals already to go with solid offense.

#13 Chris Brandon - 6’7” Fr F - 6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 bpg

Brandon provided a spark against Temple with 15 points and 9 boards but has been otherwise inconsistent thus far.

#25 Gerald Blackshear, Jr. - 6’9” Sr F - 4.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.0 spg

Competing with Brandon for the early team led in rebounds, Blackshear missed more than a month at the end of last season due to injury. He is already getting far more playing time in 2018-19.

Key reserves

#14 Derrien King - 6’7” Sr F - 4.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.3 apg

Essentially the team’s sixth man on Monday against Butler, you might recognize King from his time at Washington State. His first meaningful action this season led to 10 points.

#4 Jacob Holland - 6’4” Sr G - 2.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.3 apg

Holland transferred from Division II New Mexico Highlands and seems to be gaining the trust of the coaching staff. He averaged 14 ppg for the Cowboys last campaign.

#11 Cole Long - 6’8” Jr F - 1.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg

Hailing from Newfoundland in Canada, Long is the only returning bench player for the Titans, with an emphasis on the word bench. He possesses shot blocking ability but has not been deployed much so far.

#2 Tra’Quan Knight - 6’3” Jr G - 1.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.7 spg

Knight is another JuCo transfer who was something of a playmaker at Shelton State in Alabama.

Winning strategies

1. Contain Antoine.

It’s clear that Antoine Davis is the focal point of this offense and only against Butler was he something of a disappointment, going 7-21 from the field. Regardless, Davis dropped 32 points versus Western Michigan and 30 at Temple, so he is more than capable of torching an inattentive defense.

2. Limit unforced errors.

Let’s be frank: Detroit is projected to finish near the bottom of Division I basketball (#326 out of 353 total teams according to Ken Pomeroy). Even a Cal team with an uncertain ceiling should be able to win this one if they can keep turnovers to a minimum, box out, and keep up the intensity. Matt Bradley has shown flashes of brilliance and another sterling outing from Andre Kelly wouldn’t hurt, either.

3. Keep Austin rolling.

Paris Austin has made a nice impression in his first game action, leading the squad with 18 points against Yale in Shanghai and another 20 at home against Hampton. He needs to be a steadying presence if things don’t go as planned out of the gate.

4. Bring in the subs.

Wyking Jones has not used his bench extensively so far, but on Thursday energy could be just what this team needs. It was nice to see Juhwan Harris-Dyson healthy enough to face the Pirates. Especially if Jones wants to employ defensive pressure, he should consider doling out more minutes to Jacobi Gordon and Connor Vanover.

Meaningless prediction: Cal 71, Detroit 64

Pomeroy gives the Golden Bears an 89% chance of victory, and Cal needs to capitalize at Haas Pavilion due to a fairly tough non-conference schedule over the next few weeks. Humorously, the upcoming slate includes a half dozen schools named after a “Saint” or the Spanish equivalent “San/Santa.”

This game will be televised on Pac-12 Network/Pac-12 Bay Area on Thursday, November 15 at 7 PM PT. The KGO 810 AM stream is available on TuneIn radio.

Go Bears!