Fresno State Basketball

Bulldogs will be without one of their returning starters in basketball opener at No. 15 Oregon

Fresno State opens season No. 2 under coach Justin Hutson on Tuesday at Oregon without a key piece and building block for a young, but talented men’s basketball team.

Senior point guard Noah Blackwell, who started 22 games a year ago, will not play against the Ducks due to a violation of institutional policy.

Blackwell also will miss the Bulldogs’ home opener on Sunday against Winthrop at the Save Mart Center when Fresno State will retire the No. 24 jersey of Paul George, leaving some questions for Hutson as he tries to set playing rotations with a group that returns only two players who started 20 or more games a year ago.

“We’re getting closer, but we’re going to have a while to fill it out,” Hutson said. “We have to get Noah and (Oregon State mid-year transfer Jordan Campbell) on the floor, then we’ll figure it out. They’ll be in that top seven, eight or nine.”

The Bulldogs, who were picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West in a preseason poll of media members who cover the conference, would have had a challenging opener against the No. 15 Ducks even with Blackwell in the lineup.

Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 for a second year in a row and is led by guard Payton Pritchard, who was the most outstanding player at the conference tournament a year ago and is on pace to set school career records for assists and steals.

Fresno State guard Noah Blackwell, right, and the Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West in a preseason poll of media that covers the conference on a regular basis. The Bulldogs last season went 23-9, their fourth 20-win season in a row and the fifth in six years. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

The Ducks also have a deep roster that includes two Mountain West transfers in forward Shakur Juiston (UNLV) and guard Anthony Mathis (New Mexico) – Juiston (0-2) and Mathis (1-3) were a combined 1-5 playing against the Bulldogs the past two seasons.

“You would probably like to hit the ground running with a couple of games before you’re on the road at a top-15 team, but we’re going to be ready to go,” Hutson said.

Fresno State, which went 23-9 last season when Hutson was honored as the Joe B. Hall coach of the year, will have to lean on returning forward Nate Grimes and guards New Williams and Aguir Agau while Blackwell is out.

Grimes last season was one of the most productive players per 40 minutes in the Mountain West, averaging 18.4 points and 14.4 rebounds.

Williams scored 8.2 points per game last season, playing an average of 25.8 minutes.

Agau as a freshman last season averaged 3.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game and had a season-high 16 points in a victory over Air Force in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Utah transfer Chris Seeley, the Central High grad, is expected to play major minutes along with freshmen guards Jarred Hyder, Niven Hart and Anthony Holland and forward Orlando Robinson.

“We have a lot of guys, so we’ll see,” Hutson said. “We’re learning how to play together, learning how hard you have to play and how to share it.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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