The 2006-2007 Bruins open their season on Thursday night against the Broncos of Cal Poly-Pomona. While the game is an exhibition, it is the start to a season where the expectations of the fans and probably the Bruins themselves are far greater than they were a year ago. While everyone knows that fans can be, well, fans, (which is short for fanatic), you can feel through reports that this team is exuding a strong confidence. Is it misplaced? Are they being cocky? Only time will tell. And the time begins on Thursday.
Cal Poly Pomona has been built into a bit of a regional Division II power under the tutelage of Greg Kamansky, who is beginning his 7th year with the Broncos. Over his previous six years, he has guided the Broncos to some of their greatest seasons, including two D-II Elite Eight appearances. The past year was a down year for CPP, and this year's team appears to be of like ilk.
Up front, the Broncos return several players who saw significant minutes last season. Junior Kaelen Daniels (6'6" 260 lbs. center) is the leading returning post scorer, but he only averaged 7.5 PPG. Even more, he only grabbed 4 boards per game. His large size on a short frame seems to indicate that quickness is an issue for him. Sophomore forward Larry Gordon (6'5" 200 lbs.) saw quite a bit of action last year and averaged a respectable 6.7 PPG and 5.7 RPG (which led the team). He hit 50% of his 3s last year and shot over 60% from the floor.
Other than those two, though, the Broncos appear to have very similar players that will man the three forward/post positions. Their tallest player is a skinny 6'9" freshman from Germany, and they have 5 more players between 6'5" and 6'8". About the best that can be said for the Bronco front line is that they had 5 players that averaged over 50% from the field.
The CPP backcourt has more talent than the frontcourt, but they aren't as deep. The Broncos return essentially their two starters in the backcourt in senior Dion Cook (6'4" 205 lbs.) who was the leading scorer for the Broncos last season, and senior PG Billy Hofman (6'1" 170 lbs.), who led the team with 4.6 APG. Both players averaged over 30 MPG last season and that only figures to increase with the lack of depth in the backcourt.
The guess is that the Broncos will show both man and zone defenses to the Bruins, but that probably won't make much of a difference. The Bruins are, on paper anyway, one of the best teams in the country and while CPP may be a "power" in the western realm of D-II, they are a D-II team.
If you are a Bruin fan, there are certainly things to look for. First, the question of the frontcourt rotation will be somewhat answered. Although Lorenzo Mata is out and Ryan Wright is on a bum ankle, the interesting thing will be to see how freshmen James Keefe and Nikola Dragovic fit into the scheme. Will Keefe see time at the 5? Will Dragovic shoot as well as we've been led to believe? And finally, will we see an expanded offensive game from the Prince?
In the backcourt, many Bruin fans are waiting anxiously to see Darren Collison run the team for the first time this year. We've all read how on this site how much of a leader he's become, how his shot has improved and how well he's playing defense. Now we can see for ourselves if it's all true. We'll also get to see Arron Afflalo and whether he's added to his game both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. And it will be time to start answering questions. Will Russell Westbrook be able to provide minutes at the point? Has Mike Roll's game improved to where he's more than an outside shooter? But the biggest question to me, however, will be the play of a healthy, (finally), Josh Shipp. His play, more than any other, may dictate the success of this year's team.
There are more things to look for, such as whether the Bruins will push the ball and whether or not the standard of defense and rebounding set last year can be sustained. But that's why they play the exhibition games, to get these things ironed out. I don't think any fan should be concerned with a score as much as they should look to see which questions will begin to get answered starting Thursday night. But for those who want it, look for the Bruins to win by more than 20.
Man, it's good to be back.