Cal Poly finished second in the Big West last season, posting a 19-11 mark. They beat the Vikings in a BracketBuster game 92-87 last year in San Luis Obispo. This season, they have had trouble shooting, and as a result, trouble winning. So far this season, they are .500, and 2-4 on the road. The Mustangs are coming off an 85-51 loss to NAU on Sunday. In that game, they shot 32% to bring their season average to 38.5%. The Mustangs distribute the scoring very evenly with 7 players averaging 6 points per game, and none averaging more than 10. They are lead by sophomore Lorenzo Keeler, who only plays 19.6 minutes per game, but averages 9.6.
The Vikings are happy to return to the “friendly” confines at the Stott Center after the water damaged court left them without a home for the last two weeks. In the last week, the players went from a solid team that had won two road games in a row over teams it was supposed to beat to one that barely held on against a team they should have beaten by 40. Sunday night’s game against Washington State saw the team take some steps back in the right direction, especially on the part of D-Huff. He returned to the form of late last season, which could spell doom for opponents. He was already a complete player save for on the ball defense, but with a shooting touch he is next to unstoppable. Jeremiah Dominguez also showed some life after a terrible performance against the Pioneers. On the other hand, some players were nowhere to be found. Scott Morrison only had 5 points on three shots, leading many Viking fans to question Coach Bone’s play calling, and Morrison’s positioning. Sunday was his second opportunity against a bigger opponent, and both opportunities have shown Scott’s weakness. Both Kevin Love and Aron Baynes have been able to get inside and score, as well as keep Scotty away from the basket with their wide bodies, and he’s been unable to answer. The other major question is whether or not Justynn Hammond will be available for his first action as a Viking on Wednesday. He arrived as a recruit last fall, but was unable to qualify academically, so he’s been working the last year to do it.
CP: Titus Shelton PSU: Scott Morrison
Shelton scored a career-high 20 points in the game against the Vikings last year. He went on to become the Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, averaging 1.48 blocks per game. If he is to replicate that success against the Vikings, something will have to go wrong. If the team speed of the Mustangs or foul trouble forces them to go small, it could happen. Otherwise, Morrison should win this match-up. He should be strong enough to deal with Shelton down low, and has a 4 inch height advantage. Morrison has done well against smaller defenders this season, scoring in double figures in every mismatch contest except IUPUI. Shelton’s production has dwindled in the last two games, but he should get the nod here with his success last year, and his larger size.
CP: Matt Hanson PSU: Alex Tiefenthaler/Tyrell Mara
This is an interesting position choice for the coaching staff: Do they go with the bigger guy to save back-court depth against a guard-heavy team, or do they go with the guy who’s been starting all year? I think they go with Mara to start off because Tief didn’t play big minutes against Wazzu. However, if he doesn’t wear down, he may see a majority of the minutes, especially if Hammond is eligible. Hanson has been very inconsistent this year for the Mustangs. He began the season averaging double-figures, but hasn’t done much recently. His production on the boards has also seen a significant decline over the same time period. When he’s on, Hanson can be a difficult match-up because he has a good shooting touch outside, and soft hands inside. He is also a tough defender. I doubt we’ll se much point production from this position on Wednesday because neither team will have much of an advantage.
CP: Dawin Whiten PSU: Deonte Huff
After a solid beginning to his career at Poly, Whiten’s production is down significantly. Across the board, he’s worse at everything. 3 less points per game, 1 less rebound, and a 3 point percentage that’s gone down from 36 to 27%. He will need to find his touch from the outside, and make better passes if the Mustangs are going to have a chance in this one. What can be said about Deonte Huff? Eventually you knew he’d find his stroke. Unlike Lucas, he is able to get to the rim and free throw line, so he’s been scoring 10+ without jump shots. With the jump shot, he’s a very dangerous player. Look for the Vikings to try to run the high-low with Huff and Morrison and create some fluidity, because they should both have success on Wednesday.
CP: Chaz Thomas/Lorenzo Keeler PSU: Dupree Lucas
Though he probably won’t start, Keeler’s scoring ability warrants him mention as part of the starting lineup. Like Whiten, Thomas has seen a drop-off in the numbers as the team shooting percentage has gone down. He was a very important part of the offense in the first 5 games, and has been less utilized since. If he is ineffective, the Mustangs will go with Keeler who got stuck with the bagel on Sunday night on 0-6 shooting. The production here can only go up for them, so the Vikings better be prepared. Until Andre Murray’s ankle allows him to play, this is once again Dupree’s position. He was very good in Alaska, but dreadful after that until Sunday. With improved shot selection and patience he can be a very effective player, especially when others are shooting the ball well. I expect Lucas to have a good game after the success Huff and Dominguez enjoyed on Sunday. If eligible, Justynn Hammond will probably see some minutes here. Hopefully he can get a few looks at home.
CP: Trae Clark PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Clark is the one guy for Cal Poly who has really stepped up his game this year. He has taken on an increased scoring load while passing and rebounding better too. Like JD, he’s a small guy who likes to shoot the 3. Jeremiah is back after a bad game against Lewis & Clark. He should excel in a game like this because he likes to run and snap off quick passes.
The two guys who see a lot of minutes off the bench for the Mustangs are Keeler and Dreshawn Vance, a 6’7″ forward. In this game, they may also give wide-bodied center Zach Thurow some minutes. He has only seen action in two games, but as the only center on the roster, might warrant some time against the sizable Morrison. At 6’9″, 270 you have to wonder why he chose basketball over football after high school. For the Vikings, Julius Thomas will definitely see considerable minutes, as will Tiefenthaler. Depending on the need for shooting, Kyle Coston may also see extended time. With their newfound depth, the Vikings should have some really serviceable guys available at every position.
The Mustangs are prone to turnovers and bad shooting. On the road, these problems should only be accentuated. Add this to the fact that they’re not a particularly good defensive team, and this should be a contest that favors the Vikings. The outcome will depend on how well the teams shoot, and whether or not Poly can defend Morrison inside. I think that they may do well at the 2 guard, but I don’t think this team is built to win on the road.
Prediction: PSU 78-66