The Fresno State Bulldogs boarded a flight to Albuquerque on Tuesday for their Mountain West Conference opener at New Mexico without point guard Cezar Guerrero, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA before the start of the season after not meeting continuing eligibility requirements.
The 6-1 junior, who was third on the team last season in scoring and led in assists, sat out the fall semester and missed the Bulldogs’ first 13 games. But, though in good academic standing at the university, his status has not changed and he is now enrolled in winter intersession courses to try to regain his eligibility. “There’s not a whole lot to say, other than it is all course-related stuff that we’re having to work through,” Coach Rodney Terry said.
There is no timetable for Guerrero to return, but the winter intersession at Fresno State runs between Dec. 26 and Jan. 9 and the deadline for grades to be posted is Jan. 16.
After a New Year’s Eve matchup against the Lobos, the Bulldogs return home for games on Jan. 3 against San Diego State and Jan. 7 against Utah State. They play road games at Nevada on Jan. 10 and at San Jose State on Jan. 14 before returning to the Save Mart Center for a Jan. 17 game against Wyoming.
It is possible Guerrero could return before the game against the Cowboys.
Terry after practice on Tuesday was focused more on New Mexico and the lineup the Bulldogs will take into The Pit, where the Lobos have won 48 of their past 56 conference games.
With Guerrero out Marvelle Harris, Emmanuel Owootoah and Darnell Taylor all have played minutes at the point. Harris, who was second on the team in scoring last season when playing the two and three, has been the most effective and is more comfortable melding the positions than he was at the start of the season. Over the past five games he is averaging 18.8 points and 4.8 assists and had 10 of the Bulldogs’ 22 assists in a rout of Saint Katherine College on Sunday, though the level of competition was several notches below what Fresno State will face against even a banged up New Mexico.
The Lobos (8-4) will be without their starting point guard in Cullen Neal, who averaged 17 points and 3.7 assists in the first three games before going down with an ankle injury, and has lost starters or top reserves for a total of 23 games due to injuries.
But New Mexico will test the Bulldogs’ physicality rebounding and defending, both of which have been questions in winning just five of their first 13 games. Two of those victories are over Saint Katherine College and Bristol University, a team from the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
At plus-0.8 in rebounding margin and allowing opponents to hit 42.7% of their shots through its first 13 games, Fresno State ranks ninth and 10th of 11 teams in the Mountain West Conference.
Take out those 31- and 38-point victories over outgunned non-Division I opponents and the Bulldogs’ rebounding margin drops to a minus-2.6 and their field goal percentage defense rises to 43.5%.
“I think it’s just really understanding the urgency of getting stops, because we are at our best when we’re able to get a stop and get out and push the ball in transition,” Terry said. “But going into this game and like many of the games, the transition defense, because they play faster at home, they’ll look for some run-out stuff at home and look to score some easy transition baskets.
“But getting stops will be critical. This game will be really physical. They’re a really good offensive rebounding team. They rebound the ball really well, so it’s going to put a premium on us finishing possessions, staying in front of the basketball and then when that shot goes up we have to really block out because they’ll send four guys down there (to rebound) and their guards are physical guards and they rebound. We’re going to have to rebound. It’s going to be a big part of the game.”