Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bozo State gets Paul Georged

With the adrenaline of Fresno State's 71-68 come-from-behind, WAC-opening win tonight against Boise State still lingering, I present my keys to a successful Bulldogs men's basketball campaign.

Tonight's game in front of nearly 8,000 fans was a nail-biter pretty much from tip off to final buzzer. And for a while, it looked like the Potato People were going to sneak out of the Save Mart Center with a win (not a common thing for Boise State). But the Bulldogs -- namely Paul George -- were clutch in the final minute as George completed two straight 3-point plays. Fresno State will need the clutch magic, as the parity-stricken WAC is set for a tough, hard-fought, gritty conference season. Here's what it'll take for the 'Dogs to stay in the WAC race:

Paul George: It's no secret George is considered lottery-pick material, but so far in his career the sophomore hasn't proven that he can consistently take over games. Even tonight he started 0 for 6 from the field before finishing 5 of 11 with 21 points. Fresno State needs George to reach a new plateau, where he's leading the team in scoring most every night and taking and hitting the biggest shots. And he had zero turnovers against Boise State, a huge step in the right direction for someone who's been bothered by turnovers all year.

Sylvester Seay: Seay played beautifully in the WAC opener, with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Most importantly, he wasn't forcing shots and playing 1-on-1 in situations that took his teammates out of the mix. Seay's had a tendency to do that in earlier games, and also a tendency to complain and blame others when things go wrong. A better attitude from Seay will only grow this team closer -- and there's no excuse for the team's only senior not providing that leadership.

Greg Smith: The freshman isn't quite a sensation yet, but he will be as soon as he becomes an imposing defender. The ineffectiveness of Boise State's big men are a credit to what a difference-maker Smith is already, but he's not a fear-inducing defender yet. And he certainly has the potential to be.

Mychal Ladd: It's no coincidence that when Ladd scores points, the Bulldogs are tough to beat. Ladd had 18 tonight and was on fire from downtown again. The Bulldogs need at least one of their guards scoring to keep defenses honest against the three bigs inside. Ladd creates one too many worries for opposing defenses.

Steven Shepp: Shepp to My Lou has developed nicely since the first few games of the season when he was plagued by turnovers. He's since turned himself into the WAC's leading assist man, and showed a sweet stroke from well beyond NBA rang on the perimeter. Steve Cleveland says Shepp is the team's best shooter and he needs to capitalize on more opportunities to prove it. If he can develop his penetrating game (both finishing and kicking out to open shooters) it will go a long way in solving the Bulldogs' offense woes.

Bench: There is basically no bench production offensively right now. That's a huge problem, and one that only a few guys are capable of fixing. The most promising change might be giving freshman Garrett Johnson more minutes than sophomore Brandon Sperling. Sperling has been a huge liability with his poor ball-handling and 3-point shooting -- Johnson at least deserves a chance to show if he can be an upgrade. Both get after it on defense, but Johnson is also stronger. Ned Golubovich has been hindered by hand/wrist injuries and won't be effective until he's recovered -- especially since he's still nowhere near the level of aggression he needs to be to turn into a solid rebounder and role player. Right now, he essentially is a role player without a role. "The Governor" Jerry Brown Jr. brings added intensity when he's on the floor, but still doesn't look completely comfortable in the offense. Big man Brandon Webster has seen very little playing time recently, but is making the most of his opportunities with much improved effort and aggression. He could be helpful against teams like Louisiana Tech with bigs the 'Dogs need to keep out of the paint.

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