Second Scouting Report: Fresno State
This is the last "burden game" of the season for Air Force, the last time the Falcons have to worry about avoiding a bad loss. Next week and in the Mountain West Tournament, coach Dave Pilipovich's pupils will be presented with "opportunity win" situations, the kinds of games in which motivation is easy to arrive at. Air Force struggled with Wyoming in a burden game this past Tuesday. The Falcons need to be more liberated and forceful when they take the court in Fresno, Calif.
The NCAA at-large outlook is admittedly grim for the Falcons, but this team is not fighting a hopeless battle… not yet. The value of this game is clear: a loss would diminish the value of any quality wins the Falcons might accumulate in the following weeks. As long as Air Force can avoid a stumble in Fresno, the following weeks can add to the quality of the team's resume. The following statement is not sunshine-pumping excess, but straight talk: If Air Force wins its next four games – first in Fresno, then against SDSU and New Mexico, and then in the Mountain West quarterfinals, probably against UNLV or SDSU – it will be on the bubble on Selection Sunday, firmly under consideration for an at-large bid.
The bottom line is this: Air Force might not win the huge games that await the team next week and in the MWC Tournament, but a win in Fresno will at least allow those five-star showdowns to matter, and that's all this team could possibly want at this point. A letdown in Fresno would deny this team – which has worked so hard and played so well this season – the chance to at least pursue its dream of a trip to Bracketville.
FRESNO STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Fresno State sits at the bottom of the Mountain West, with a 3-11 record in the league. Yet, the Bulldogs should not be seen as an impotent team; they're merely a modestly deficient one. Realize this about Fresno State: It has competed well – not successfully, but well – in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs have lost only two games in this rugged and punishing conference by more than 12 points, and they've lost only four games by double-digit margins. This team is not blessed with an abundance of talent, but it sticks around and forces opponents to play 38 or 39 minutes before they can feel appreciably comfortable. This is not a team that packs its bags and prepares to get on the bus with 10 or 12 minutes left in regulation.
Since the last time Air Force met Fresno State (Jan. 30), the Bulldogs have won only twice – at home against UNLV and at Nevada – but they have lost only one game by a double-figure margin, at San Diego State on Feb. 9 in Southern California. Air Force, following a tougher-than-expected win over Wyoming in Colorado Springs, should be mentally prepared to play 40 full minutes and not think Fresno State will concede at the first sign of adversity.
Two added details are definitely worth pointing out before tip-off in the California Valley: One is that Fresno State is playing its home finale; Senior Night should give the Bulldogs an emotional boost. Second, Fresno State will not play another game until March 9, meaning that the Bulldogs have a full week to rest following this contest. Fresno State can spill the tank, and coach Rodney Terry can extend his starters if he so chooses. Air Force should expect a bumpy ride on Saturday night.
FRESNO STATE STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Shooting percentage: 39.1. Change: -0.8 percent (39.9 on Jan. 30).
Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 40.1. Change: -0.3 (40.4 on Jan. 30).
Possessions per 40 minutes: 63.6. Change: -0.6 possessions (64.2 on Jan. 30).
Points per possession: 0.901. Change: +.002 points (0.899 points on Jan. 30).
Assists per game: 9. Change: none (9 on Jan. 30).
Rebounding percentage: 47.6. Change: +0.3 percent (47.3 on Jan. 30).
Center – Tanner Giddings – Freshman, 6-10, 225 2012-13: 2.2 points per game, 1.8 rebounds per game
Four of Fresno State's five starters have changed since Jan. 30, and Giddings is one of the new faces in the Bulldogs' starting five. Giddings has played in 26 of Fresno State's 28 games this season, averaging 14.2 minutes per game. The freshman doesn't log starter-level minutes, but 14.2 per game is a number that's not commensurate with a back-end reserve or a player who gets a cameo appearance and nothing more. If you do the math (26 games multiplied by 14 minutes), Giddings has accumulated over 360 game minutes this season – that's a fair amount of minutes for a freshman. Yet, the fact that Giddings' statistical output is so microscopic offers a clear indication of how unpolished he is. This is a long-term project, a player Terry and his staff must work hard to develop in the coming offseason.
Forward – Braeden Anderson – Sophomore, 6-9, 235; 2012-13: 4.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg
There's an Aaron Anderson on the Fresno State roster, but he plays at the guard spot; Braeden is not related to him. This Anderson is a muscular forward who was finally cleared to play by the NCAA after failing to gain admittance to the University of Kansas as a partial qualifier. Braeden Anderson will be a centerpiece of the 2013-2014 Bulldogs, but right now, he's understandably struggling to develop rhythm and high-level consistency at both ends of the floor because he hasn't received enough in-game repetitions. His first game was Feb. 6 (the date when the NCAA said he was eligible), so his statistics are based on seven contests. Air Force, having played Fresno State on Jan. 30, did not get to see Braeden Anderson up close and personal. Dealing with his power in the low post and on the glass will be a foremost challenge for the Falcons.
Guard – Allen Huddleston – Junior, 6-2, 185; 2012-13: 9.8 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.2 steals per game
Huddleston averaged 9.6 points per game on Jan. 30. He is the second-leading scorer on this squad. Such a fact would be a lot more impressive if Huddleston averaged at least 13 points per contest. When your second-best scorer isn't a double-figure scorer, you have problems. Fresno State just doesn't get enough contributions from its starting five, an issue addressed in the first scouting report. Clearly, not much has changed – not enough, at any rate, to propel this team up the ladder in the unforgiving Mountain West.
Guard – Kevin Olekaibe – Junior, 6-2, 180; 2012-13: 8.7 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.2 steals per game
Olekaibe had been averaging 7.7 points per game on Jan. 30, so his scoring has improved by a full point over the past month. Yet, Olekaibe hits only 35.5 percent of his field goal attempts, and that's part of the reason why this drought-prone team usually encounters a dry period in the second half of a game, one just long enough to spell doom for the Bulldogs.
Guard – Tyler Johnson – Junior, 6-2, 180; 2012-13: 12 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.8 2.1 apg
Johnson is the one member of Fresno State's current starting five who was also a starter on Jan. 30 at Clune Arena. His scoring is up 0.1 points since then (11.9 per game). His rebounding average is up 0.8 boards per game (it was 3.2 on Jan. 30), and his assists are up 0.3 per game (from 1.8 on Jan. 30). Small but real improvements from a team's top player will keep that team competitive in the stretch run of a season. If you want to look at the Bulldogs' problems in 2013, don't look at Johnson, who hits a respectable 45.2 percent of his field goal attempts and brings more efficiency to FSU's offense than any other player on the roster.
In the reworked Fresno State rotation, three former starters – Jerry Brown, Kevin Foster, and Marvelle Harris – now come off the pine for the Bulldogs, with big man Robert Upshaw and guard Garrett Johnson offering support. Brown had been averaging 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game on Jan. 30; he's now averaging 5.1 points and 4.5 boards per contest. Foster had been averaging 8.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on Jan. 30; he's now at 8.3 and 6.2. Harris had been averaging 8.4 and 2.2 on Jan. 30; he's currently sitting at 7.6 and 2.6. Upshaw had been averaging 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per game on Jan. 30; he now averages 3.4 boards and 1.9 blocked shots per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Battle with Braeden (Anderson). The new matchup issue Fresno State poses for Air Force is Braeden Anderson. The Canadian (from Edmonton, Alberta) has not been an imposing presence to this point in the season, but if he tried to qualify for eligibility at the University of Kansas, there has to be something more to his game. Maybe that "something" won't manifest itself this season; Air Force can't make assumptions, however. The Falcons have to contain him on the glass and attack him with intelligence on offense.
2) Take smart shots. Air Force needs to know that Fresno State's three-point field goal defense – which forces opponents to hit only 28.9 percent of their long-distance tries – rates ninth in the United States and first in the Mountain West Conference. The Falcons have to make sure that their threes – if taken – are quality threes, shots that flow from passes and catches instead of dribbles and stand-around situations. Wisdom at the offensive end of the floor, translating into an ability to get to the foul line if threes don't fall, should give the Falcons enough scoring punch to overcome the Bulldogs.
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