Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Red-White Scrimmage Round-up

"Meet the Bulldogs" has never been so perfect a saying for Fresno State's basketball team. It's easier this year to name who all is returning than who all is incoming. And all the new faces made the Red-White Scrimmage extra fun and intriguing Tuesday night.

There was a decent turnout compared to last year, but if you were one of those who missed it, you came to the right place for a breakdown of what you missed.

The White team, which seemed to consist at least mostly of reserves, jumped/ran/bolted/shot its way out to a 19-0 lead en route to a 30-12 win in the 12-minute, running-clock scrimmage. The White consisted of newcomers Kevin Olekaibe, Tyler Johnson, Bennie Rhodes, Givon Crump and Bracken Funk. The Red started Tim Steed, Garrett Johnson, Jonathan Wills, Ned Golubovic and Greg Smith, with Steven Shepp subbing in.

0, Jerry Brown, So, F (6-7, 205): "The Governor" (let's hope this name doesn't stick after the next couple weeks) sat out the scrimmage still recovering from a back injury that coach Steve Cleveland said happened months ago. The 'Dogs will need him for the season, as he's a potential starter or first forward off the bench.

DaCo: Word is he's improved a lot too, but we didn't get a chance to see. Hopefully there's little rust to brush off when he's ready.

22, Givon Crump, So, F (6-7, 210): Now that we heard Coach Cleve say it, we know his first name is pronounced "Jivon," which will come in handy the next three years. Crump has to sit out this season after transferring from Baylor, but has the ability to be an immediate starter and impact player as soon as he gets on the court. He participated in the scrimmage on the winning team, but didn't get a lot of chances on the offensive end with all his teammates scoring. He did make a brilliant pass down low to Bracken Funk for a wide-open layup.

DaCo: Strength of game and preference appears to be as a sniper for 3s. He does handle the ball well for his size and made fundamental passes. Good stamina, good energy and good complement to the rest of the team.

45, Bracken Funk, Fr, F (6-7, 240): The wait for the two-year LDS missionary is over as Funk took the floor tonight as the White team's starting center. He's not likely to play that position much if at all during the season, but was forced to tonight because of John Ryan's injury. Funk's role has been a bit of a mystery thus far, but he was one of the eye openers in the scrimmage, showing more speed than expected and a motor that should rub off on teammates. He goes hard every play, offense of defense, and doesn't give up in transition. He looks shorter than his listed height, probably closer to 6-foot-5 or 6-6, but has a wide body that allowed him to hold his own guarding Greg Smith in the post. Cleveland wasn't kidding when he said Funk will remind fans of a Utah State-type player. And that's a darn good asset for this team.

DaCo: Always nice to get a pleasant surprise like this. Love the hustle, love the scrappiness. There are going to be so many potential scorers on the floor, but he is perfectly happy to fill a role of defense, rebounding, screening, etc. Does have that strong body that plays bigger than he looks, and could easily be one of the new fan favorites, not only because of his game, but because of his big personality as well.

15, Ned Golubovic, Sr, F (6-8, 240): We knew Ned had an improved physique this season, but didn't realize he'd lost 25 pounds and chiseled up so much, as Cleveland told the crowd Tuesday. The Bulldogs' lone senior and team captain and Academic All-American supposedly shed the weight to improve his defense. That, along with rebounding, is what the 'Dogs need most from him. If he can establish himself as another low-post threat alongside Smith, he'll likely hold onto the starting job. He was quiet all around in the scrimmage, as he's had a history of on-again, off-again nights, but the good thing is this year's team has the pieces to mix and match until it finds a combination that works and a guy with the hot hand on a given night.

DaCo: I didn't notice 25 pounds of difference, but part of that is because he leaned up and added a lot more muscle mass, in addition to an apparent tan. His leadership and coach on the floor knowledge are his best traits, but I'm hoping Funk's game rubs off on Ned as much as possible. How that his hands/wrists are healthy, his shooting ability should come back into play as well, which is clearly a good thing.

20, Garrett Johnson, So, G (6-4, 195): Cleveland called G. Johnson the most improved player on the team. He received sparse minutes as a freshman last season but showed the ability to play at break-neck speed tonight. He has the skill to be a 3-point threat, but will have to prove himself in game action before he sees a big increase in playing time.

DaCo: Biggest thing for Johnson appeared to be his comfort with this level of ball now. He handled the ball fine, to where there wasn't a noticeable concern with it in his hands, and seems more capable with his shot. He missed a bad layup on a contested fastbreak, where he over-thought the defender's play on the ball, but that's not likely to be a plaguing recurrence.

25, Justin Johnson, So, F (6-6, 205): J. Johnson, son of NBA great Eddie Johnson, was in his team-issued warm-ups for the third straight year. Cleveland told the crowd Johnson has had his last surgery and is still fighting to overcome injury and that we'll learn this year whether it'll be something he can bounce back from. Fans still have little to no idea what this Johnson is capable of.

DaCo: If you assume the worst case, at least we only have one player who is not good/able/whatever. Even if he recovers from this injury, he'll still be the 15th-best player on the team, which for the first time speaks to the rest of the talent rather than his lack of still-to-be-determined ability.

3, Tyler Johnson, Fr, G (6-2, 170): After one night, T. Johnson is the early leader for the Most Likely Johnson to Make an Impact Award. The freshman is a bit scrawny (think Brandon Sperling only WAAAAY more athletic and skilled), but plays the game at a relentless pace and can jump out of the gym. Guys his size aren't supposed to jump like that, says the law of physics. But he does -- he proved it with two breakaway dunks and a couple leaps into passing lanes on defense. If Johnson sustains this type of effort, there's nothing stopping him from becoming a dominant defender at the college level with his quickness and athleticism. Whatever he does on the offensive end will be a bonus.

DaCo: I definitely wouldn't go as far as the Sperling body comparison. Sperling was straight frail. Johnson lacks muscle but at least has the capacity to add muscle if he works hard in the weight room. I still like my comparison to Devon Wylie on the basketball floor, as they have similar athletic ability and directional cuts and movements. He is a very scrappy, energetic, non-stop effort player. Hands are always active on defense, and on offense has a very nice little left-handed jump shot.

1, Kevin Olekaibe, Fr, G (6-1, 165): First things first, Olekaibe (or K.O. as they call him) is not 6-foot-1 as listed. He's probably not even 6-foot. There's no doubt the freshman has scoring potential, but after seeing his small frame, it's hard to imagine him playing any position other than point guard. If he does, he'll be presented with some tough matchups physically. Olekaibe showed range and an enthusiastic spirit that makes you want to root hard for him on the court. He can shoot the 3 and can push the tempo. Too early to tell what type of ball-handling and passing ability he has.

DaCo: Also so much to like with KO. He's a rare confident freshman, and he often smiles and enjoys his time on the floor. KO handles the ball very well and shoots an outstanding 3 ball. Passing ability in the half court offense is still a mystery, but like Funk, has the potential to be another fan fave.

11, Bennie Rhodes, Jr, G (6-6, 190): Arguably the most impressive player of the night, the San Francisco City College transfer and former SMU recruit put on a show. Early in the scrimmage he took a questionable shot or two, but as soon as he started letting the offense develop he was unstoppable, hitting from inside and out, making passes and "wow" plays. And he knocked down a deep 3 to make it 19-0 White. Rhodes looks like the type of player who is comfortable being the go-to scorer. Can't wait to see how he performs with Smith (the two were on different teams for the scrimmage). Oh, and did we mention Rhodes had hands down the dunk of the night, reaching down with both hands below his feet for a power jam from just a foot or two in front of the free throw line? The dunk drew all 10s from the five judges.

DaCo: Starting with my concern first, I hope Rhodes is cool with being a selfless player as well, because he seemed to want to take over the scrimmage. His skills are undeniable, however, and he seems like a huge steal at the moment. Rhodes loves the 3 ball, but goes hard to the basket on fastbreaks as well, where he had what I thought was the most impressive dunk of the night, launching from outside the key past one defender and over another on a powerful tomahawk jam. Rhodes is a pure scorer with shooting ability as well. If he molds comfortably into a team system, this team can grow much faster.

32, John Ryan, Fr, C (6-10, 270): One of the guys we were most looking forward to seeing, the big man sat out the evening recovering from a broken nose. He doesn't look to be anywhere near the listed weight of 270 since dropping some weight in recent months, but is a big body who should provide valuable bench minutes in relief of Smith. If he can handle the role as a freshman, he'll be a huge asset for this squad.

DaCo: It could have been eye foolery, but Ryan appeared to be the tallest member of the team. Since he didn't play in the scrimmage, it's hard to tell if he has skill on either side of the ball, but his body and low post presence is a need for the team.

12, Steven Shepp, Jr, G (6-2, 175): Shepp sat most of the scrimmage before coming in for the Red team, trailing 19-0, and sparking four straight points. The returning starting point guard is academically ineligible until December. It'll be interesting to see if he still has a starting job after Steed or Olekaibe get a crack at it the first handful of games.

DaCo: The surrounding talent should make Shepp a better player, considering his up-tempo style and preference to pass the ball to others to score. Those scorers appear to be in much larger numbers this year. It'll be interesting to see how Shepp competes with KO and maybe Steed when he becomes eligible.

4, Greg Smith, So, C (6-10, 250): Smith, the Preseason First-Team All-WAC selection, is a physical specimen who Cleveland called one of the great big men in the nation. While true, Smith has a lot of room for improvement after last year's inconsistencies. But he also has the upside and potential to be the catalyst for returning Fresno State to basketball relevance on a national level. Especially if they get him to stay beyond this season and solidify the core of the program. With his Red team trailing 19-0, Smith still had not touched the ball, a major concern. The Bulldogs have to become experts at working the ball inside to their best player or they'll be denied that way all season by opponents. Smith finally took his frustration out down low, bumping Funk back with his butt to clear space before turning around and delivering a trademark power jam.

DaCo: Good big men are rare, but a blast to have and watch on your team when you have one. Smith has low post skills galore, can run the floor and can defend. Fresno State needs to find a way to use Smith as a force and intimidator for other teams, before he resorts to his kryptonite of not being fully matured yet, which means occasional pouting and reduced effort.

5, Tim Steed, Jr, G (6-4, 215): We're looking forward to seeing more of what Steed can do on offense. For now, it looks like he'll be the starting point guard in the exhibition season opener against Fresno Pacific on Nov. 6, with Shepp out. Steed made a nice play to the basket late, but didn't have a lot of other opportunities before that. The most encouraging thing from him, though, was a powerful physique and business-like demeanor on the floor.

DaCo: Steed is the kind of player I love having on a basketball team. He is athletic, muscle-bound and skilled, but he's business-like, a leader and tough as nails. Steed is not the best at any one thing, but he's reliable at everything. And he dunks with power.

2, Jonathan Wills, Jr, G (6-6, 185): Wills, the New Mexico transfer who sat out last season, has been much ballyhooed by Cleveland, who said last season he was the second-best player on the team. Wills was fairly quiet offensively tonight but has immediate starting potential and will play a large role on this team.

DaCo: Wills has been touted as a true scorer, but didn't break out on the scoreboard in the scrimmage. That said, you could see his ability to run the floor and handle the ball while running the floor. Wills worked hard and was very active, and won the men's side of the 3-point contest with a very nice score of 17. Once he finds his comfort zone on this team, there's no doubt he can be very productive.

Friday, October 22, 2010

'Dogs headed for unofficial 8th home game

On a sunnyish, shadyish, hotish, coldish fall day in beautiful Fresno, your friendly neighborhood bloggers were gchatting it up about Fresno State football and other things of that nature. The convo went a little something like this ...

FSDogs1: Hey DaCo, what's blueish, yellowish, has 22 hands in its starting lineup and stinks...bad?

DaCo: You know what, I think I know where you're going with this, and I have to say, I think it's rather insensitive in today's world to make fun of what I can only assume is a team with special needs.

FSDogs1: You know what? You're right. That was insensitive of me and I apologize. San Jose State does have many special needs -- offense, defense, special teams...

DaCo: Let me stop you right there. It's clear that my time is of no value to you, otherwise why would you jump into a list that quite possibly, might never come to an end? We are talking about a team whose head coach admits to fielding a JV squad you know.

FSDogs1: This is true. Let's just hope Pat Hill & Co. see to it that Fresno Sate pounds this opponent like a JV squad, unlike last week when they essentially sat on the ball the entire second half and let it look closer than it ever was against New Mexico State.

DaCo: (Pause for reader chuckling and that'll be the day thoughts ... ... ... OK that's enough)
I understand there is a vicious game of paper rock scissors going on already between Rouse, Harris, Slocum and Ellis to see who gets the chance to do some stat-padding against the team from the valley of stuff used for fake boobs.

FSDogs1: Speaking of Rouse, Harris, Slocum and Ellis, what's the deal with the RB situation? Isn't it pretty obvious, despite Rouse's recent big game, that Slocum or Harris should get starting carries with Rouse sprinkled in? That's obviously when he's most effective.

DaCo: Now it's getting serious. And there's no easy answer, which is mostly due to the running backs not taking the job and making it easy. I agree with the Rouse sprinkling, or change of pace theory if you want to call it that (which I do). He's essentially play-action for the run game. That adds more danger to his dangerous potential. On a side note, here's yet another reason not to keep teams "in the game" by running and punting to preserve leads. Reserves lose time to show gamer ability for upcoming games and seasons. Gamer ability > other time ability.

FSDogs1: Absolutely. I was just pondering this over my Chipotle burrito today at lunch. Why does Boise State seemingly have the same team each year? Same abilities, same talent, same strengths? It's because they play all their players. They get big, huge leads and put in everyone they can. Players get used to executing in live game situations and when it's the reserves' turn to be starters, they have that maturity.

DaCo: I lost you after Chipotle burrito. All I saw was Chipotle burrito blah blah bloo bloo blee blee. Nevertheless, I agree with that. To bring myself back on track, I'll say this about the game this weekend — there is a bottom line to the result. A good win against the spartans will be one where their weaknesses are exposed, where Fresno State's will is imposed and an obvious butt-kicking ensues, both on the scoreboard and on the video proof. I tried to make that somewhat generic, so you can have fun filling in the blanks in between those generalities with as many hypothetical's as your imagination will allow. Ah, Devan Cunningham touchdowns...

FSDogs1: Speaking of imagination, was it my imagination or did we see the Swamp Thing lurking around Spartan Stadium back in the day when it was a soggy, muddy mess there? It could be a mess again, with a 30% chance of rain Saturday. I hear they have Field Turf now though -- I guess those hippies from up the road at Cal weren't too worried about destroying Swampy's natural habitat...

DaCo: I have a few thoughts and theories about that, you know. Wasn't it only fitting that a team that consistently played like crap had a muddy field that resembled ... well, poop? I'm guessing Fresno State finally had enough of playing road home games on a mixture of chocolate milkshake and wheat grass, and told the sparta AD to use the ticket revenue from Fresno State fans to install turf. It's OK though, because we still have those flexible wooden aisle steps and PlaySkool benches to enjoy before, during and after the game. Hooray luxury!

FSDogs1: OK, OK, I can see this convo has turned to poop, which I think is our cue to wrap it up and head to the game. My only question is, which quarter are the wooden trampolines which they call stadium stairs going to snap and break from the Red Wave celebrating all the looming touchdowns?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Grading the 'Dogs (4-2, 2-1) vs. New Mexico State (1-5, 0-2)

FRESNO STATE 33, New Mexico State 10

Quarterback: C-
After wowing fans through the first four games, Ryan Colburn looks to have regressed in the past two. Hopefully that trend ends next week, because 12 of 20 for 132 yards doesn't cut it -- certainly not when he's struggling with accuracy. Colburn missed a wide-open Rashad Evans behind the entire defense for a would-be TD, threw nowhere near a wide-open Vince Pascoe squatting in between coverage and was late in his progressions on numerous other throws. He's better than that. And coaches didn't help him by sitting on the ball much of the second half.

Running Backs: B+
Mighty Mouse Robbie Rouse returned to a form we hadn't seen since last year en route to 150 yards and 2 TDs on 16 carries. But the fact the team struggled to overpower New Mexico State in the second half was disappointing, as were Michael Harris' 1.3 yards per carry.

Receivers: B
The wideouts just didn't really get a chance to do much. The highlight was a double "reBurse" to Isaiah Burse for a 30-yard TD. Another true freshman, Jalen Saunders, led the team with 64 yards receiving on 3 catches. Tight end Tapa (I won't attempt spelling the last name) had the only TD catch.

Offensive Line: B
The first half was flatout impressive -- the second half was far from it. Granted, the Aggies knew the run was coming when the 'Dogs were being overly nice to not run up the score, but this unit should have been able to manhandle its counterpart. Overall, it was still a very strong performance with the backs averaging 6 yards per carry as a team. Also good to see Matt Hunt and Richard Helepiko get valuable time. Unfortunately, Helepiko's time came after an injury to C Joey Bernardi.

Defensive Line: A
On Chris Carter's performance alone, this group deserves an A. Carter earned national defensive lineman of the week honors with 9 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. Beastly. Logan Harrell and Chris Lewis also teamed up on a sack, as the 'Dogs deployed constant pressure on the young, inexperienced Aggies QBs.

Linebackers: A-
The unit helped hold New Mexico State to 30-something yards rushing in the first three quarters before the reserves entered. Kyle Knox turned in a stud performance before an injury cut his night short. Still, he finished with 7 tackles and 1 for loss. The Aggies averaged 3.1 yards per carry as a team.

Defensive Backs: A-
Starting QB Andrew Manley had just 1 yard passing, while backup Matt Christian, the former Fresno State walk-on, had 155 (most in garbage time). In his first career start, in place of safety Phil Thomas, true freshman Derron Smith was tied for second on the team with 7 tackles and 1 for loss. His development will be a big plus as the season continues.

Special Teams: B-
Against a good team, Rashad Evans' first quarter botch of a punt, when he fumbled the ball away, could have been far more costly. Luckily, the Aggies couldn't capitalize. Andrew Shapiro was money on all but one punt, which took a favorable Aggies bounce. He's quietly having a heck of a season.