Preview of Humboldt State

The Jacks are D-II, but they're no pushovers, being ranked 6th in the pre-season D-II rankings, and they could probably beat a couple of Pac-10 teams this year, so this is not your garden-variety exhibition when Humboldt State comes to Pauley Pavilion tonight...

Pomona was truly a tune-up. They were a fairly young team and the Bruins had their way with them. Now, as much as some want to say the sky is falling (Darren Collison didn't penetrate enough; Luc Mbah a Moute still has no outside shot; the Bruins get nothing in the post), the fact remains that the Bruins didn't have to really show anything against the Broncos. However, on Thursday, the Bruins do take a major step up in competition when they host the Humboldt State Lumberjacks.

The Jacks (hey, that's what they like to be called), are returning an intact team that has been given a pre-season ranking of #6 in the nation in Division II. Now, while some of you may be saying that a D-II school, no matter how good, is still just a D-II school, need to take a closer look at teams like HSU. These high level D-II teams have a tendency to have high-caliber athletes that for one reason or another (academics, discipline, etc.), are not playing at a D-I school. The biggest knock on a team like the Jacks is that they simply don't have the horses inside, both in true size and depth, to match up with a good D-I school. But make no mistake, with its current roster, HSU would finish no worse than 8th in this year's PAC-10, and considering they are a veteran club with a good head coach (Tom Wood, who's been at HSU for more than 2 decades), they could finish even higher than that. In short, HSU is a D-II team with some mid-major D-I talent…and George Mason proved how far you could go with that last year.

HSU's talent begins with their frontcourt and the team's best player, senior forward Kevin Johnson (6'7" 215 lbs.). Johnson finished last season as the Jacks' leading scorer at 18.6 PPG and rebounder at 9.7 RPG. Johnson averaged over 30 MPG, was the team leader in blocks with 27 (more than double his next nearest teammate) and even averaged 3 APG. If there is an area where Johnson struggles, it's outside shooting. Johnson only averaged 27% from behind the arc last year, which is bad for a SF/PF. And Johnson did take 100 3s. Coach Howland will probably match up Luc on Johnson because of his height. At 6'7", Johnson might present a bit of a length problem to Josh Shipp. The only problem is that by defending Johnson it may pull Luc away from the hoop, thus hurting UCLA's rebounding.

At the other forward spot, the Jacks will start junior Devin Peal (6'4" 230 lbs.). Peal really is the big body of the HSU frontcourt, having logged minutes last year in the low post both offensively and defensively. He averaged 10.3 PPG and was second on the team with 6.3 RPG. While not the biggest guy on the team in terms of girth, Peal does remind some of a poor man's Charles Barkley. He gets into very good rebounding position and knows how to use his 230 lbs. to gain space and limit the problems he faces as an undersized post. The thing about Peal is that he is a horrible free-throw shooter, averaging less than 43% last season. Imagine what his stats would be if he even averaged 60%. Howland will probably match up Josh Shipp on Peal as Josh is tall enough and probably strong enough to deal with Peal. Plus, it would be a nice subliminal way of telling Shipp that this is what the coaching staff expects of him on the defensive end this season.

At the center spot the Jacks should start their one player with size, junior Cy Vandermeer (6'9" 255 lbs.). Vandermeer averaged only 6.4 PPG and incredibly only 1.4 RPG but only played about 16 MPG. He certainly has the size to bother the Bruin post players but not the athleticism. As a post defender and rebounder, Alfred Aboya should be able to match up well with Vandermeer. As has been stated previously, Aboya is only about 6'8", and that's on a good day, but what makes Aboya special, besides his athleticism, is his wing span. Aboya does have longer arms that let him play bigger than his listed height. Vandermeer could give Aboya and Ryan Wright some problems if the game starts to grind and slow down. But don't expect that to happen.

Junior Grayson Moyer (6'5" 205 lbs.) also sees time in the frontcourt, although he did see time at the point last year. Moyer was the 2nd leading scorer for the Jacks last season at 14.2 PPG. He shot a respectable 35% from behind the arc last year on 127 attempts. He also tied for the team lead in assists with 3.4 APG. Depending on where Moyer starts, it's a good bet that Arron Afflalo will be matched up against him. Arron is bigger and stronger than Moyer and if Moyer has an advantage in quickness, it won't be enough to offset Afflalo's tenacious defense. This may be the match-up of the game, especially if Moyer is running the point. If Afflalo or Collison are able to disrupt Moyer then HSU will find it difficult to get any offensive rhythm going in their half-court sets.

There are two other solid players at the guard positions for the Jacks in senior Jeremiah Ward (6'2" 195 lbs.) and junior Will Scheufelt (6'2" 185 lbs.). Both are proficient three-point shooters, with Ward hitting 44 last season and Scheufelt making a team-high 51. Scheufelt tied for the team lead at 3.4 APG. It will be more than likely that Darren Collison will be given the responsibility of defending one of these players. Collison is smaller than both Lumberjack players, but he is certainly quicker.

On offense, the Lumberjacks proved last year that they can win by running, wining games in the 100s and 90s, or by slowing it down, winning one game with only 57 points. Based on last season's scores and the athleticism of the players, HSU appears to want to run more than get caught in a half-court grind. This will drive the score up, but it will also prove to be their undoing. HSU may be good, but they probably haven't faced a team with the kind of discipline the Bruins should be able to display. Defensively, the Jacks haven't faced players like Afflalo, Collison and Shipp, not to mention Luc's athleticism.

This will be a difficult game. In fact, HSU will better than most of UCLA's early season opponents outside of those they face in Hawaii. HSU is a veteran team with a good coach and a system in place. But they are a D-II team and that fact alone will hurt them. The program just doesn't faced a team like UCLA and that will force them to ratchet up their defensive effort. Plus, the Jacks will find it more difficult to score than at any time last year against a Bruin defense that Howland will have ready to go after the Pomona game. The individual match=up to watch is Johnson being defended by Luc. If the Prince shuts down Johnson, then HSU is dead in the water. If Johnson gets going then it will open up shooting and driving opportunities for the HSU guards and make the game very close. It will be close, but D-I is not D-II, no matter how good HSU is at their level.

UCLA 90 Humboldt State 75

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