Here is my question-and-answer session with Robert Kuwada, who covers Fresno State men’s basketball for the Fresno Bee, about Tuesday’s game with the University of Wyoming.
Tip off is at 8 p.m. MT at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.
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How would you assess the Bulldogs’ season so far at 13-7 overall and 4-3 in the Mountain West? Is the team where you thought it would be at this point in the season?
For a team with three seniors in Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis and a couple of others that have played a lot of basketball in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs have been pretty inconsistent. Fresno State has not won back-to-back games against Division I opponents since Dec. 12 and 16 against Pacific and Bakersfield (263 and 167 RPI), and in conference play have followed up every win with a loss. We’ll see what happens against Wyoming, coming off a win at Air Force. They haven’t won more than two in a row since starting 5-0. The ability to get on a run is there, though. This is by far the best team coach Rodney Terry has had at Fresno State, which was a sizable rebuild job when he got there. This could be the Bulldogs’s best chance to go on a run with Wyoming at home, followed by a game at San Jose State before playing at home against UNLV (they beat the Rebels at Thomas & Mack) and San Diego State (they took the Aztecs to overtime at Viejas).
Past Fresno State teams were big, physical and athletic. Is that how you would describe this season’s squad?
This team is still fairly athletic and it plays hard, though not with much consistency. It is bigger, with more legitimate inside presence than it has had the past few years. Fresno State has been pounded on the boards since it has been in the MW, but that has turned around. The experience level also is up, and it has been able to navigate through foul trouble in a couple of games. Terry has been able to let them play through some rough patches or end-of-game situations with success.
Senior guard Marvelle Harris was expected to be one of the best players in the MW this season. Has he, in your opinion, lived up to that billing?
He is taking on more this season, playing a lot more point guard than he ever has, and has played well. He is third in the league in scoring, first in assists, second in steals. His rebounding numbers are down, but Fresno State has forwards Torren Jones and Cullen Russo, who they didn’t last year, and Karachi Edo is one of the more improved players in the conference. Rebounding is one of the biggest differences this year from last. But Harris, no question, has led this team to this point and will be a big part in anything they do the rest of the way.
Who else has stepped up their game this season, or who has not lived up to expectations?
Jones has made a big difference. He is third in the MW in rebounding (8.1 per game), and this is a team that has been led in rebounding the past two seasons by guards. Jones and Edo are tied for the lead in the MW in offensive rebounds at 3.5 per game, and Fresno State has had 10 or more offensive rebounds in 14 of 20 games including 5 of 7 in conference play. Last season, it had 10 or more just seven times in 32 games, three in the MW. Edo has developed over three years and is giving them a little more at the offensive end – he can step out to 15-18 feet and knock down a jump shot. Cezar Guerrero is in a different role with Harris handling the ball more, but has made some huge plays for them the past two games, grabbing an offensive rebound and sprinting to the corner to knock down a tying three at the end of regulation in an overtime loss at San Diego State, and hitting a big three to put Fresno State up with 32 seconds to go in a win at Air Force.
What are some of the things you will be watching closely in Tuesday’s game with Wyoming, and how do you see the game unfolding?
One thing to watch is Josh Adams. Fresno State has had a lot of trouble staying in front of good guards and that gets it in some trouble with fouls. The Bulldogs give up a ton of points from the free throw line – 26 percent of their points allowed, 342nd in Division I – and Adams has taken more foul shots than anyone in the conference. The interesting thing is they have been able to play Adams the last few years without letting him pump in a lot of free throws. Adams has taken more than four against Fresno State just once – he was 6 for 6 last year in the game up there. If Fresno State can defend without fouling that could give it an edge in what figures to be another close game in a series where the past five games have been decided by four in overtime, five, five, six, five in triple overtime and five points.
Cowboys game day
Game: Wyoming (10-11 overall, 3-5 Mountain West) at Fresno State (13-7, 4-3)
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Save Mart Center, Fresno, California
TV: ESPN3 (online only)
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM) Cheyenne; KCGY (96.1 FM) Laramie