Roller Coaster Ride Nears Nadir

OPINION: D.J. Seeley led all scorers with 25 points. Kwame Vaughn and Omondi Amoke added 21 and 20 points, respectively, but it wasn't enough as Cal State Fullerton dropped an 88-83 decision to Houston Baptist in the Beryl Shipley Classic in the Cajundome.

So we just finished up a tournement where we played two teams who would likely finish dead last in the Big West (Houston Baptist and Nicholls State) and one that would finish 8th (LA-Lafayette). The good news is we won the tournament (yea!), but the bad news is we didn't appear to play particularly well in any of them.

If we actually did play well then this is going to be a long season.

Losing to HBU does sting but what the loss -- and this tournament -- really did was temper expectations a bit. Right now contending for a Big West seems a little premature so we simply need to focus on the cliche: improving game-by-game.

What Went Right

D.J. Seeley, Kwame Vaughn and Omondi Amoke can all score. They are pretty good, offensively. You would think that when all three of these players score 20 or more points, this game is a blow-out win, especially against a team with the talent of Houston Baptist.

The loss was good enough to win the tournament and D.J. Seeley was anointed the MVP. Orane Chin and Kwame Vaughn also received tournament honors. Congrats to all.

What Went Wrong

Defense. So many things went wrong not sure where to start. In no particular order...

We now know 6-7 (closer to 6-5) Amoke can not guard 6-10, 275 pound Steve Jurich-type players. John Underwood is foul prone, no question about that, but he still had two fouls left and he should have played more than 8 minutes to try to cause a little havoc. If not him, Bernard Webb could have been given a shot.

In addition to Amoke, Seeley, Vaughn, Isiah Umipig, Perry Webster and Orlando Brown all had trouble covering guys. This was a team issue for sure. HBU has maybe one guy who could play in the Big West (Ronald March, great player)  but, other than that, this is a team we should be able to defend against and not allow 50% shooting for the game and 53% from long-range. This is actually a very poor three-point shooting team but that's assuming you guard them.

Free Throw Shooting. If you play basketball for a living, or a scholarship, you should be able to make 70%. You simply have to make this a priority. Omondi, don't let this become the reason you don't play the last five minutes of every game we are winning.

Turnovers. 15, that's not too many, right? Wrong. Most of those turnovers were unforced. Webster trying to pass before he gets the ball. Webster trying to pass to no one under the basket. Seeley fumbling the ball to a defender. Six offensive fouls is six too many.

Zeke. Tough to single him out but he had a poor tournament shooting the ball. It's going to happen, and he only took five shots in this game so wasn't an awful performance, but he needs to step up in other areas when he's not hitting the three and he didn't do that.

Dictate the flow. We didn't do this very well the whole tournament. We finally played a team who wanted to run but we decided not to push the ball as much as we could have and should have. We played too timidly throughout and we also let the game get away in the first five minutes. After that it was catch up, which we did, but then decided that good enough for a win.

Where We Go From Here

Practice, practice and practice.

We have talent and now it's just a matter of putting all the pieces together. May need to consider changing it up a bit and try some new lineups. Our ultimate goal is to beat Long beach State and UCSB for the conference title but, at this point, our immediate goal should be to beat the Big West bottom feeders. We are not yet at this point as evidenced from this tournament of no-names.

Start with defense. We need to learn to play with our feet and not our hands. We can blame the refs all we want for ticky-tack fouls but we simply did not play good defense in this tournament. We need to find that defensive stopper. Omondi, Kwame and D.J. are certainly capable but just need to make them believers.

Up next is Bakersfield at home and then we are on the road for our three toughest non-conference games of the year. Bake is another team we should easily beat. Yes they beat Cal Poly SLO and yes they beat Pepperdine, but that's fool's gold. They are another low-level DI team who would likely finish 8th or 9th in the Big West.

This is the downside to playing a poor schedule when you have a talented team. You are expected to blow these guys out and when you don't, it's more demoralizing than losing to a Pac-10 team (which may not have happened as the Pac-10 looks to be down this year).

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