What we learned about Fresno State men's basketball in November

After enduring the months of September and October Fresno State fans were anxious to switch gears to basketball, but the excitement of a coaching change has kept football on center stage. The men’s basketball team, which comes off a trip to the NCAA Tournament, has started to take shape after six games and an exhibition.

November resume

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Record: 4-2

Best Win: 63-58 at Oregon State

Worst Loss: 84-78 to Prairie View at home

Leading Scorer: Jaron Hopkins, 14.8 points per game

Leading Rebounder: Paul Watson, 6.5 rebounds per game

Biggest Surprise: Jahmel Taylor, 12.2 points per game, 53 percent 3-point percentage

Sixth Man: Deshon Taylor, 5.7 points, 2.5 assists, 21 minutes per game

Top Freshman: Bryson Williams, 6.2 points, 4 rebounds per game

Rotation (Minutes per game)

PG: Jaron Hopkins (30) / Deshon Taylor (21)

SG: Jahmel Taylor (30) / Johnny McWilliams (8)

SF: Paul Watson (33) / Sam Bittner (11)

PF: Cullen Russo (28)

C: Terrell Carter (18) or Bryson Williams (14) / Nate Grimes (6)

Eligible for Redshirts: Jacob Holland, Lazaro Rojas

Out, but it expected back in late December: Karachi Edo, William McDowell-White

What we’ve learned

Even though Fresno State lost three impact senior guards, including the Mountain West Player of the Year, the belief was that the Bulldogs had reloaded with talent thanks to eligible transfers a big class of freshmen. That viewpoint has shown its flashes throughout November, but comes with the realization that the team still needs to mold and grow together.

Fresno State Head Coach Rodney Terry preaches defense first and has stated that this year’s team has the potential to be one of his best on that end of the court. The length on the roster from top to bottom is impressive and starting to take shape on that end of the court.

“In November you’re really trying to establish your identity,” Terry said. “The identity we’re trying to have is to know every night we’re going to be a team that… guards hard. Our rotations have gotten better. Now we just need to finish possessions.”

Overall, he feels comfortable with the team’s progression.

“We’re getting better,” Terry added. “I think our defense is a little further ahead than where it was last year from an energy and activity point. The last phase for our defense to really have a chance to put it in the good category, and we’d love to get to great, is to finish out possessions. We have to finish and play possessions out all the way through. That’s the one area we’re continuing to place an emphasis on. Whether that’s a physical block out, running down a loose ball, getting a 50-50 ball - finishing possessions. That’s the next step for this team

“I think our offense will be fine. We’ll be able to play with pace of play, be able to drive the basketball and be able to get some things done.”

Jaron Hopkins is for real

We’ve learned that Jaron Hopkins is the real deal. The combo guard has filled much of Marvelle Harris’s void by both initiating the offense and creating his own points - becoming the team's leading scorer so far. His length is an advantage he drives past smaller guards and takes up a ton of space defensively. He’s not a 3-point shooter by any means, but is an efficient shot-taker, making 52 percent from the field on the season. He has 9-for-12 and 9-for-14 performances on the season - a type of impact that made Tyler Johnson so invaluable. Hopkins scores primarily with his midrange jumper and floater from a few feet behind the rim. He can also throw down impressive dunks if given the lane.

Jackson Moore - Scout

Hopkins is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, while his assist-to-turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired - 16 to 15.

Jahmel Taylor is not slowing down

The 41 percent that Taylor shot from 3-point range last year was impressive, but his 53 percent this year has been even more so. In fact, his six makes on 10 attempts at Oregon State was likely the biggest reason the Bulldogs left PAC-12 territory with a win. Fresno State’s biggest question mark was at the shooting guard position and we’ve learned that Jahmel Taylor is an impressive solution.

Welcome Bryson Williams

Bryson Williams’s first three games were a struggle statistically. Most of his impact came through hustle, but just two points and two rebounds per game were less than expected.

However, one of the most overlooked aspects of Fresno State’s last three games is Williams’s step up. He has shaken off the freshman nerves and now in the last three games he has averaged more than 10 points per game on 14-of-18 shooting and has grabbed six rebounds per game. If Williams can do that on a regular basis, it would be a big boost to the four upperclassmen already scoring double digits per game.

By the numbers

How Fresno State is performing in its six-game sample size compared to last season.

2015-16 2016-17
Points per game 75 73
Steals per game 8 10
Turnovers per game 11 14
Field goal shooting percentage 43.6% 45.8%
3-point shooting percentage 34.3% 32.4%

The Bulldogs' 10 steals per game ranks eighth in the nation.

Still to learn

How good is this Bulldog team?

The competition that Fresno State has played has been primarily subpar to date. Though a Pac-12 win on the road was a big accomplishment, Oregon State appears to be one of the lesser teams in the Pac-12. The Bulldogs’ toughest test, a road trip to Cal State Bakersfield, went miserably. The Bulldogs are a deep and talented on paper, but we need to see some more quality performances before expectations rise.

When will Edo and McDowell-White join the team and how will they mesh?

You can pinpoint the days that Karachi Edo and William McDowell-White will theoretically join the team, but those dates haven’t lined up exactly for players in past years. Edo is practicing with the team and is expecting back by Mountain West play. William McDowell-White still has to make his way to campus as he is currently in prep school. He might have an earlier return date than Edo, but a tougher time being OK’d.

William McDowell-White is a rare 6-foot-6 point guard, something the Bulldogs already have in Jaron Hopkins. Hopkins can play shooting guard, but at the expense of forfeiting a 3-point threat at the position. Ranked as high as a five-star recruit, there is no questions that the incoming freshman would have an immediate spot on the rotation, but how does the rest of the rotation adjust?

Meanwhile, Karachi Edo could fill a definite need for a big-man. Terrell Carter has been solid in spurts, but cannot handle the center minutes himself. Bryson Williams and Nate Grimes may be more suited for the power forward position or to spell more veteran players like Edo and Carter at center. For now, guards and wings are dominating the rebounding numbers, but Edo should clean up missed shots in the paint when he returns. This is a team full of combo guards and wings that could really come together with a key player in the post.

College teams typically need time to mesh and hit their stride after the new year, but the Bulldogs will have more figuring out to do beyond the start of Mountain West play.

December Prognosticator

Fresno State’s schedule will take a big step up in December. The Bulldogs travel to Drake (1-6) on Saturday, followed by a trip to Marquette (5-2). The Bulldogs return home for games versus Cal Poly (3-4) and Holy Names. Fresno State finishes up non-conference play with trips to Pacific (2-3) and No. 23 Oregon (6-2).  

Prediction: 4-2 - The Bulldogs take care of business at home and split their two road trips. That would make the ‘Dogs 8-4 going into Mountain West play on Dec. 28 at New Mexico.

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