The Cal Poly Mustangs enter Thursday’s match-up 4-5 with perfectly alternating losses and wins. A person who bets simply on patterns would put money on Cal Poly to simply continue the spree. A more statistically minded person would bet on the Dawgs. A Husky fan would put a big question mark next to this game and wonder which Dawg team will take the court. Will it be the complete package seen against Seattle U? Perhaps the unexcited and unreliable team that “performed” against Jackson State will show up. At these point it seems the Huskies toss a coin in the air to decide how hard they want to play that particular night.
While the Mustangs are not a short team, all players standing between 6-0 and 6-9, they certainly do not have anyone quite as big as Aziz N’Diaye. Brian Bennett, 6-9 240lb, should provide a good inside presence for the Mustangs and will most definitely give N’Diaye a run for his money despite the size differential in N’Diaye’s favor. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, N’Diaye just isn’t talented enough basketball-wise to truly utilize his massive, athletic frame. Bennett is second on the Mustang roster in scoring with a 10.4 point per night average along with 4.8 boards per game, also second on the team. Bennett is a strong player with solid foul shooting abilities that hasn’t attempted many shots at the line. What this tell me is that Bennett plays away from contact, something that will play to the Huskies’ advantage as N’Diaye has been known to draw silly fouls against smaller forwards and guards.
Chris Eversley is the man that the Dawgs will need to keep a short lease on. At 6-7 225lb, Eversley is a good sized college forward. With the length and strength to play over and through people, as well as the speed to blow by defenders, Eversley has had a great start to his junior season. Averaging just shy of 16 points and 8 rebounds per game, Eversley has doubled his production from last season despite playing only 50% more minutes than his sophomore year. Transferring from Rice to Cal Poly after his freshman year has turned out to be a great decision for the Chicago native as the limelight is on him and he has embraced the role. Eversley is much more of an inside threat than outside, shooting only 26% from behind the arc with no more than one make per game. Eversley does his damage inside where he is averaging nearly 12 attempts per night. Desmond Simmons will have his work cut out for him and can ill afford to have a sloppy start as he did against Jackson State.
Dylan Royer is the Mustangs’ sharpshooting expert. With 23 makes on 56 attempts this season, Royer is lighting it up from deep at 41%. Royer reminds me of C.J. Wilcox during his freshman and sophomore season due to his outside presence and lack of an inside game. Royer has attempted only 20 shots inside the 3-point line and has made 5 of his 6 foul shot attempts this year. Last season, Royer went 15 of 17 from the charity stripe and of his 184 shot attempts, 155 came from outside the arc. 85% of his shots were from outside, a ridiculously high number that paid off due to his 46.5% average. Royer will really stretch the Dawgs defense to its limits.
Jamal Johnson is the playmaker for the Mustangs’ offense. Averaging 4.4 assists and just 3.8 points per night, the 6-0 170lb junior has never been much of a scorer. Unlike in past seasons where he has attempted just two shots a game, Johnson has begun to elevate his offensive aggressiveness and is now averaging closer to 5 shots per game. The one constant in his game? Johnson’s lack of competitive shooting. The junior is averaging just 26% from the field and one can immediately see why the game plan is to get the ball out of Johnson’s hands and into the deft shooting hands of guys like Royer and Eversley.
The Huskies will need to dominate the glass against Cal Poly to avoid the third home upset of the nonconference season. With a player like Royer on the court and most secondary points coming off offensive rebounds fed out to waiting shooting guards, the Huskies cannot afford to give Royer wide open shots from his favorite location. Abdul Gaddy, Hikeem Stewart, and (hopefully) Andrew Andrews will need to stay home on their man, gain favorable position on the glass and prevent the kick pass out to the wings should Eversley and Co. manage to pull in the offensive boards. N’Diaye and Simmons are doing nearly all a person can ask from a single player with the combo raking in nearly 19 boards a night.
What I would really love to see is consistency from this team. Whether they are consistently good or consistently bad remains to be seen, but my heart cannot handle these extreme up and downs. Scott Suggs and Abdul Gaddy need to take over as seniors and demand their team to play their very best each and every minute of the game. Giving up multiple double digit leads is not acceptable. I also hold the coaching staff responsible for those blow-ups. Too often will the Dawgs get up 14 or 15 points only to squander it to and 6 or 7 point lead and Romar will refuse to call a time-out. If your team has a big lead, a coach must insist on treating the situation as if the game was close. If the opposition is able to make 3 or 4 baskets in a row, while also forcing your team to miss or commit turnovers, the coach must regroup the troops and settle their minds before the 6 point leads shrinks to zero or worse.
C.J. Wilcox is due for another hot night in my opinion. I find that players will often elevate their game if a specific aspect of their skill set is threatened by a player perceived as better. Royer should provide that inspiration for Wilcox and I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of a shooting duel, no matter how much hair I will inevitably pull out when our defense collapses.