With Fresno State set to open Mountain West play Wednesday against New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque and forward Karachi Edo back in the mix for the Bulldogs, coach Rodney Terry had a chance to tinker a bit.
Edo has played the four and the five, starting games last season at the four early and the five toward the end of the year.
Cases could be made to get him into the lineup at either position 12 games into the season.
At the four, Cullen Russo has been inconsistent since opening the season with a double-double in a win over Texas-San Antonio. Over the past three games, he has hit just 27.6 percent of his 29 shots, including 3 for 8 against a Division II team, Holy Names. Bryson Williams and Terrell Carter II, meanwhile, have continued to progress at the five, giving the Bulldogs a legitimate inside presence and converting a high percentage of shots, 67.2 between them, and improving their rebounding and defense.
Karachi just brings another element that gives you an older, proven scorer and rebounder. He does execute things at a high rate because he knows what he’s doing. It’s just a matter of getting him reps and back to game speed.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry, on Karachi Edo
At the five, Edo brings a more veteran presence at both ends of the floor and last season was one of the best in the conference at snaring offensive rebounds, ranking second with 3.2 per game. And Russo, while struggling with his shot selection, is one of the Bulldogs who contributes in many ways. He is averaging 6.5 rebounds and is second on the team with 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals. His plus/minus is plus-69, second best as well.
But rather than tinker at this time of year, Terry is going back to what worked so well for the Bulldogs at the end of last season, which ended with Fresno State in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
“We won eight games down the stretch last year with Cullen and Karachi starting at our forward spots,” said Terry, who has improved the Bulldogs’ win total every year they have been in the Mountain West, from 5-11 in 2013 to 9-9 to 10-8 and to 13-5 and a second-place finish in the MW regular season a year ago.
“Karachi is a guy that can do both of those, but he gives us a versatile guy that we know can do both. We know we also can play big with him and Terrell or him and Bryson. He brings some versatility for us and he’s a guy that can make a shot and rebound. I think the biggest thing he brings to the table for our team is being a vocal leader. We know he can do those other things, but the part where he’s a vocal leader is a big piece.”
Fresno State has won its Mountain West opener just once in four years in the conference – the Bulldogs beat UNLV on the road last season.
The Bulldogs last season had a fitful start to conference play before putting the pieces together in February – Russo at the four and Edo at the five were two of them, along with a senior backcourt of Marvelle Harris, Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero meshing, the addition of sharp-shooting guard Jahmel Taylor and the return of Paul Watson from an ankle injury.
When Edo came back from a three-game absence due to a wrist injury and Terry had all of his pieces in place, the Bulldogs’ field-goal percentage (45.7 from 41.1) and scoring (78.9 from 71.8), went up, their rebounding margin improved and they won eight games in a row through the conference tournament championship.
“That was a pretty good lineup, the way we ended the year,” Terry said.
Edo was ineligible through the fall semester after falling short of NCAA continuing eligibility requirements and debuted in a 75-63 loss at Oregon five days before Christmas, scoring 12 points with seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
Cullen has a lot of intangibles that he can bring to the table, some of them that are not measured by a stat standpoint. His versatility is something that you have to deal with as an opposing team and if he’s on to where he’s really engaged in the game, then he really becomes a major factor.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry, on Cullen Russo
And while Russo has struggled with his shooting, he along with Williams and Carter gives the front line depth and options.
That is how the Bulldogs will go after the Mountain West, which appears to be more wide open than in past seasons. Nevada, Wyoming and San Diego State are in the Top 100 in the RPI through Monday, at 35, 59 and 96. But there are seven teams between 117 Boise State and 209 Utah State, with Fresno State eighth at 194.
New Mexico (7-5) has the preseason conference Player of the Year in Elijah Brown and another first-team selection in Tim Williams. But the Lobos are ninth of 11 in the MW in field-goal percentage defense and 10th in scoring defense. They enter conference play off a 77-46 loss at No. 18 Arizona.
“I think our league, on any given night anybody can beat anybody,” Terry said. “I think that’s crystal clear. Anybody can beat anybody, whether you’re at home or on the road. Top to bottom, everybody can play.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS.
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at The Pit in Albuquerque (15,411)
- Records: Bulldogs 8-4, Lobos 7-5
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940)
- Of note: New Mexico enters Mountain West play 6-0 on its home floor. The Lobos have had some issues defensively, ranking ninth in the conference in scoring defense (72.3 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (43.9).