Fresno State has had some purposeful matchups to this point in the season, including the ones in the Roundball Showcase, a multi-team men’s basketball tournament played on campus sites. The Bulldogs got Rice, which is similar to Mountain West Conference opponent Air Force with its offense. San Francisco plays at the defensive end like Wyoming and New Mexico, packing it inside. Lamar is an athletic team, maybe not to the same degree as those in the Mountain West, but a reasonable challenge.
Delaware State, which visits the Save Mart Center on Friday night in the last of four games the Bulldogs will play in the tournament, fits as well and not just for the better-than-average odds at adding one to the number in the left-hand column against a team that lost its top four scorers from a year ago.
The Hornets are 0-5 after losing at UC Riverside in the first of a three-game West Coast swing, and while there is little similarity to any team the Bulldogs will see down the line in Mountain West play, Delaware State will present some challenges to an improving defense.
“They’re an athletic group, similar to Lamar,” coach Rodney Terry said. “They do a really good job trying to execute their half-court offense. They’re going to spread us out, run a five-out motion along with some sets that they run. But they do a good job in the half court, so we’re going to have to sit down and guard and really keep them off the glass. If it was up to them they’d grind you up a little bit.”
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Fresno State has been able to avoid that through a 4-0 start, its best since opening the 2006-07 season 7-0. The Bulldogs have forced 16.5 turnovers per game, second-most in the Mountain West. They are averaging 9.5 steals per game, which is the most in the conference.
We’re always in the gaps and every guy is always helping out the next guy. It’s a team effort to deny guys the ball.
Fresno State’s Marvelle Harris on his team’s defensive success
They gave up some easy baskets last out at Rice, an 82-65 victory. The Owls scored 26 points in the paint, but also had 16 turnovers and hit only 38.9 percent of their shots.
“I think we can always improve defensively,” said Marvelle Harris, who is leading the Bulldogs with 10 steals, one ahead of Lionel Ellison and three ahead of Julien Lewis. “I think a lot of our steals have come from playing defense, staying together. We’re always in the gaps and every guy is always helping out the next guy. It’s a team effort to deny guys the ball.
“We’re focusing on the gaps more. A lot of the times last year the floor got spaced out, so I think we’re making it harder for teams to drive us without getting the ball knocked out or us getting a steal.”
“It will be a good test,” Terry said. “Five-out motion with a big guy that can step out and make shots. (Joseph) Lewis is a good player for those guys – 6-foot-9, kind of like Cullen Russo. But it’ll be a good matchup for us, not getting spread out defensively.”
Moving the ball – It’s very early, but through four games Fresno State has an assisted basket percentage of 53.0 (53 assists on 100 made baskets), a trend that Terry obviously would like to see continue.
“I think guys are working together,” he said. “We probably had in the last game three of the best possessions in the five years that I’ve been here in terms of sharing the basketball. We had a couple of phenomenal possessions at Rice where the ball started over there, went all the way back around over there … one time we had a shot clock violation where we overpassed it, but guys were whipping that ball around and sharing the ball at an unbelievable level.”
The Bulldogs last season had an assisted basket percentage of 46.3. In 2013-14 it was 49.5, in 2012-13 it was 45.1 and in 2011-12 it was 50.1.
Et cetera – Kids attending the game at the Save Mart Center can receive a free ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket. … Delaware State, like Fresno State, got Lamar on its home court in the Roundball Showcase and lost 77-66. Fresno State beat Lamar 80-72. … The Hornets, who end their road trip on Sunday at San Francisco, have hit only 37.6 percent of their shots, including 28.7 percent at the 3-point line. … Harris, the reigning player of the week in the Mountain West, goes into the game at No. 14 on the all-time Fresno State scoring list with 1,390 points. If he hits his season average – 21.0 points per game – he will crack the top 10. Just ahead are Gary Alcorn (1957-59) with 1,401 in 13th place, Rod Higgins (1979-82) with 1,402 in 12th, Roy Jones (1973-76) with 1,407 in 11th and Dominick Young (1995-97) with 1,408 in 10th. … The Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer is Melvin Ely (1999-2002) with 1,951 points.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada