Washington (4-2) vs. Cal State Fullerton (6-1), Sunday December 6th 6:00pm, Pac-12 Networks.
The Bahamas were a bit of a reality check for a very young team. If the opening loss to Gonzaga wasn't rough enough, losing to a Texas team the Huskies had defeated only weeks earlier in Shanghai was extra humbling. A closing win over Charlotte prevented the trip from being rendered a total loss.
If Washington had beaten one of Gonzaga or Texas, it would have been a far more successful trip on paper. As is, the Huskies will have to settle for having gained a ton of experience against high-level competition.
As for the fans? Time to settle in for a very underwhelming remaining non-conference schedule. We won't truly know what we have in this team until Pac-12 play rolls around in January and the level of competition picks back up. But that doesn't mean we can't have fun watching young talents like Chriss and Murray go off at HecEd.
The rest of the non-conference slate consists of six games at home against relatively underpowered programs. First up: Cal State University, Fullerton out of the Big West conference.
Projected Starting Five: G Tre' Coggins (Jr., 6-2, 185), G Lionheart Leslie (Jr., 5-10, 165), G Malcolm Brooks (Sr., 6-5, 185), F Jamar Akoh (So., 6-7, 240), C Kennedy Esume (Sr., 6-10, 245).
Key Bench Players: G Lanerryl Johnson (Sr., 6-1, 165), G Khalil Ahmad (Fr., 6-4, 185), G Sheldon Blackwell (Jr., 6-5, 175), F Malcolm Henderson (Sr., 6-8, 250).
Cal State Fullerton improved to 6-1 last night with a 70-61 win at Seattle University. They have also defeated Nevada, San Diego (not State), and Pacific, with a lone loss at Loyola Marymount in their first game of the year.
Overall, it's a really nice start to the year for a program that has finished 11-20 and 9-22 in its first two years under the leadership of coach Dedrique Taylor.
Coggins leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per game. He is a low-efficiency scorer, converting 38% of his 13.7 field goal attempts per game.
The team's second leading scorer, Malcolm Brooks, has picked up his 12.9 ppg on more efficient 45% shooting, including 46% from beyond the arc.
Rounding out the backcourt is the appropriately named Lionheart Leslie, who at 5-10 leads the team in assists (2.7) and steals (1.5) per contest. He also chips in 8.2 points a night despite possessing very little shooting range.
The front court is where things get a little rough. Akoh is a 6-7 sophomore who has averaged only 4.1 points (on 30% shooting!) and 4.6 rebounds in 19 minutes. On paper the presence of 6-10 center Kennedy Esume should be a difference maker against Washington's relatively undersized bigs, but beyond leading the team in rebounding (6.6 per game), he has been a limited contributor in terms of scoring (3.4 points on 36% shooting) and shot blocking (0.4 blocks).
For the first time in several games we may see Marquese Chriss and Noah Dickerson enter the second half without having found themselves in serious foul trouble. Both players have struggled to limit fouls to such an extent that it is hurting their ability to play the kind of non-conference minutes they need in order to prepare for the Pac-12, and that needs to stop now that the competition is no longer Gonzaga and Texas.
Fullerton's bench features CSUF's breakout player of the first two months: Khalil Ahmad. In 20 minutes, Ahmad has managed to average over 12 points on 56% shooting from the field (55% from three-point range) along with 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
When factoring in the solid bench contributions of senior guard Lanerryl Johnson, this team has five quality guards capable of giving the Huskies some trouble while rotating in order to keep each other fresh. The problem is the presence of only three forwards/centers in the regular rotation, with none of them contributing much outside of grabbing some boards.
CSUF actually played very much in line with early-season patterns in defeating Seattle U last night. Coggins tied the team lead in attempting 12 shots, but only converted 3 of them for 8 total points. Brooks poured in 20 points while Lionheart added an inefficient 8 points on 9 shots that were more than balanced out by his team-high 5 assists and 2 steals. Starting bigs Akoh and Esume combined for 2 points while Johnson and Ahmad combined for 21 off the bench.
Tons of guard scoring, especially from beyond the arc with little help from the big men inside the paint. Against a Husky team that features the hyper-active Chriss, Dickerson and Dime, that lopsidedness is likely to be exploited early and often.
The only way I see Cal State Fullerton keeping this one close will be hot shooting from beyond the arc. The key for the Huskies will be to mantain pressure out on the perimeter shooters without racking up cheap fouls. Even if they fail, Romar's young team has shown an ability to defeat overmatched opponents even with key players in foul trouble.
My Prediction: Washington 85, Cal State Fullerton 68