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Cal MBB Preview: Bear Territory hosts Fresno State Bulldogs

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Can the Bears break the losing streak?

NCAA Basketball: California at Duke Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Cal plays Fresno State tonight, and the Bulldogs just might have a claim for unluckiest team in the nation right now. The sport an ugly 1-6 record vs. D1 competition, but those 6 losses include three overtime losses and a 1 point loss to Cal State Northridge. In another universe the Bulldogs are 5-2 with respectable losses to Oregon and St. Mary’s, plus a solid road win over Utah State.

But regardless of the record, Fresno State is very much in the Pepperdine/USF/Santa Clara mold of solid-but-beatable mid-majors. Because this one is at home, this game is basically a coin flip, and hopefully things look more like the Pepperdine game and less like the Santa Clara game.

Roster

Starters

PG Jarred Hyder – Freshman is attempting five 3s a game despite mediocre shooting numbers so far.

G Noah Blackwell – Low usage senior who mostly stretches the court as a 38% career 3 point shooter.

G New Williams – Has attempted 3x as many 3s as 2s, but hasn’t hit them at all. Dunno.

F Nate Grimes – Fresno’s best player – excellent rebounder, excellent ball security for a big man, may have added a 3 point shot as a senior, solid shot blocker. Does Cal have anybody that can guard him?

F Orlando Robinson – Freshman has stats that very much suggest he’s adapting to college basketball. Struggling to finish, rebound rates are mediocre considering his 6’10’’ size.

Bench

PG Mustafa Lawrence – Change of pace PG with a stat line suggests he’s an agent of chaos. Highest on the team in assist rate AND turnover rate, foul drawing rate AND foul committing rate, gets lots of steals.

G Aguir Agau – attacking wing with length to block shots, turnover prone and deep shooting is iffy.

G Anthony Holland – Has attempted 18 threes and 1 two. Just a shooter.

G Niven Hart – Also pretty much just a shooter.

Fresno State’s offense appears to be Nate Grimes and a whole ton of average shooters who jack up a ton of 3s. To that end, Fresno State is FIRST in the nation in 3 point attempt percentage – fully 55% of their shots are from behind the arc. They’re hitting them at a pretty low rate (30%, 267th in the country), but I’d be willing to bet that they’re probably a better shooting team than that – a couple guys are below their career percentages this early in the season.

Fresno St. is a weird team. Their rotation really only includes two post players, and while Grimes is a great rebounder the team as a whole struggles on both ends of the floor to pull down boards, particularly when Grimes sits.

Because Fresno St. shoots so many 3s they don’t draw a ton of free throw opportunities, and perhaps because they’re undersized they tend to foul a lot. But they do take good care of the ball and take a ton of 3s, so their offense is oddly efficient despite some ugly looking component stats.

Keys to the game

1. Guard Grimes – this assignment presumably will go largely to Anticevich, perhaps with some help from Andre Kelly. But Grimes is their only efficient scorer and the only guy who’s going to spend much time doing anything inside the arc. He’s hard to shut down (only St. Mary’s and Oregon were really able to deny him opportunities and production) but if he does Fresno doesn’t have many other options to turn to.

2. Hope that Fresno St. doesn’t get hot from three – Obviously, you have to try to take away open looks, but when you face a team that shoots more than half their shots from behind the arc, even if you do a good job they might still get hot and you might get burned. So let’s get a little lucky and hope that Fresno St. continues their early season cool streak.

3. Get healthy against a team that doesn’t force turnovers – The Bears have been distressingly turnover prone, and during their current slide they’ve also faced teams that are pretty good about forcing miscues. Fresno State isn’t that team. So let’s hope that the Bears take a decent matchup, hold onto the ball, and use those increased opportunities to get up some decent shots.

Also, apropos of nothing, Cal is 23rd in the country in 3pt% and 336th in the nation in 3pt attempt rate. Can we shoot more threes please?

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom sez: Cal 63, Fresno St. 62, 52% chance of a Cal win

This is about as close to a coin flip as you can get. The betting lines actually have Fresno St. slightly favored, perhaps because they believe that what we have seen from Cal recently is closer to Cal’s true identity than Cal’s early 4-0 start. Regardless, this should be a close game. And if it isn’t, that’s either a really good development or a really disturbing sign.