Before tonight’s match-up against Fresno State, we reached out to our friend Eli Boettger from Mountain West Connection for a quick “Q&A” session to preview Oregon State’s next opponent.
Fresno State Bulldogs (2-2)
- Conference/Location: Mountain West Conference (Fresno, CA)
- Head Coach: Rodney Terry (6th Season)
- Top Performer: Jaron Hopkins (15.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
- Points For: 73.3 PPG (T-208th)
- Points Against: 71.3 PPG (T-165th)
- Last Game/Streak: 71-63 Loss at Cal State-Bakersfield (1L)
Last season, Fresno State stunned San Diego State to steal the Mountain West's lone automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. What will it now take for this year’s version of the Bulldogs to return to the big dance?
It won't be easy. Fresno State has to recover from losing Marvelle Harris, Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero while also dealing with eligibility turmoil with the current roster. The Bulldogs dropped a home matchup last Monday to Prairie View A&M, a team that currently ranks in the mid-300's in KenPom and then followed it up with a road loss to CS Bakersfield. With only two top 100 KenPom games remaining on the non-conference schedule (both on the road) and two inexcusable losses already on the resume, it's certainly autobid-or-bust for Fresno State.
Fresno State was selected to finish fourth in the Mountain West Preseason Media Poll, behind San Diego State, Nevada and New Mexico. However, on Tuesday night, they suffered an unforeseen setback with a loss to Cal State-Baskersfield. Are those expectations still realistic for this year’s edition of the Bulldogs?
Fresno State falls into the middle tier of the current Mountain West, so the fifth place preseason projection is fair for this year's team. A lot has changed for Fresno State since Mountain West media day, however. Rodney Terry brought in five-star freshman William McDowell-White to alleviate the vacancy of Marvelle Harris, but he is ineligible for at least the first half of the season and we might not see him at all this year. Karachi Edo, who is also dealing with academic issues, will be out at least another month. If Fresno suffers another loss to a sub-par team before either player returns, it might be too late for the Bulldogs to salvage the season.
The Bulldogs are currently playing without their top five scorers from a season ago as Marvelle Harris, Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero have all graduated, Torren Jones has been dismissed from the program and Karachi Edo is currently academically ineligible. With all those reliable pieces gone, who are the new players to keep an eye on for head coach Rodney Terry’s team?
Even with a depleted nucleus from a season ago, the Bulldogs are still loaded in the frontcourt. Seniors Paul Watson and Cullen Russo are remarkably athletic and stingy on the defensive side. Jahmel Taylor has also looked great, currently leading the Bulldogs with an offensive efficiency rating of 126 and knocking down more than 50% of his shot attempts from deep. Overall, this is a team that has an unusual identity crisis despite being the defending conference champions. There are a lot of talented pieces that can keep FSU in the hunt, but this shaky start has to make you wonder what we can expect heading into the conference season.
Forward Karachi Edo, who dealt with some off-court problems this summer in addition to being currently academically ineligible, is still projected to be the focal point of this team when he returns sometime in mid-to-late December. Will his return to the line-up be enough to salvage a potential back-to-back NCAA Tournament season or will too much damage be done to the Bulldogs tournament resume by that point?
It definitely looks like it at this point. Fresno's KenPom ranking has already slipped nearly 40 spots since preseason and it might get worse before it improves. A single bad loss, in my opinion, is almost enough to ensure a team that it has to win the MW Tournament if it plans to reach the Big Dance this season. Fresno State already has two L's on its resume that few anticipated heading into the season. As a reference, San Diego State fell to Grand Canyon and San Diego in non-conference last year and still failed to punch a ticket despite a 16-2 conference record and 25 wins overall on Selection Sunday. It will be an uphill climb for the Bulldogs, especially without Edo and McDowell-White for the first half of the season.
Finally, could you give a prediction of how you think Friday night’s game might go?
This is make-or-break for Fresno State. The Bulldogs have road games against Oregon and Marquette coming up, but both of those matchups seem like longshots at this point. KenPom.com gives Fresno State a 30% chance of taking down the Beavers, which I believe is a fair estimate. Fresno needs to find a way to keep Tres Tinkle off the boards, currently the owner of an impressive 19.5% defensive rebounding percentage and two double-doubles. Fresno State ranks 311th in the nation in opposing offensive rebound percentage, so it will be imperative for Fresno State to limit additional OSU shot attempts. If the Bulldogs can crash the boards and limit Tinkle from a 20-point, 10-rebound game, this should come down to the wire. I'm not expecting a lot of points out of this matchup, but I do have Oregon State topping Fresno State by a score of 68-62.