#66 Fresno St: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #66
Conference Rank: #3 Western Athletic Conference
2009-10: 15-18, 7-9
2009-10 postseason: none
Coach: Steve Cleveland (78-71 at Fresno State, 216-189 overall)
It is not often that a team loses their top two scorers and expectations go up, but that is the case this season with Fresno State. Coach Steve Cleveland weathered a very disappointing season last year, but with a bevy of talented newcomers, Fresno State finally has something they have not had in a while…depth. The competition for playing time will be fierce and that can only be a good thing.
Key Losses: G Paul George, G Mike Ladd, F Sylvester Seay, G Brandon Sperling
It is in the backcourt where the most talent is coming. Junior college transfer Tim Steed is a quality combo guard who will battle for a starting spot at both the point and shooting guard spot. The same can be said for incoming freshman Kevin Olekaibe. His lack of experience may leave him on the bench for now, but that could change sooner rather than later. Bennie Rhodes, a 6-5 shooting guard, will push the returning players as well. Tyler Johnson could even work his way into the mix if he can stay healthy. Among those four newcomers, no returning perimeter player has a safe spot in the starting five. The frontcourt needs depth and Fresno State hopes Bracken Funk and John Ryan can provide it. Neither may be ready for major minutes, but this is a team that needs somebody new to provide 15 minutes or so off of the bench.
Steven Shepp started at the point most of last season and averaged 5.5 points and 4.6 assists per contest. Shepp is not the greatest playmaker in the world and his offense and defense need to get better. However, Shepp is an upperclassman now and he will not give up his job without a fight and has the potential to emerge as a better all-around player and a leader. The good news is Fresno State should not have to run a point guard due to lack of other options. This year whoever is playing best will run the show. Taylor Kelly barely played last season, but the sophomore could battle it out with newcomers for minutes off of the bench. Garrett Johnson played more during his freshman campaign and the 6-7 wing will probably be asked to do a lot this season. He will not need to start, but Johnson could emerge as a very valuable and versatile player off of the bench.
The frontcourt has far fewer options. Greg Smith will start again after averaging 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks as a freshman. Smith quickly turned into a dominating presence in the paint and the NBA is taking notice. At 6-9 and 240 pounds, Smith can clog the paint on both sides of the floor and should be this team’s best scorer. The big question is at the power forward position. Nedeljko Golubovic was a key reserve last season, but was once a starter. For now he will likely start again, but he is not a great athlete and certainly needs to improve on his overall production. The other option is the more athletic Jerry Brown, Jr. At 6-7 and 195 pounds, Brown does not have the girth to be a traditional power forward, but he is an aggressive and athletic player. Those two will probably mix and match at the four spot depending on the competition, but Brown could be a pleasant surprise if he can overcome some injury concerns.
Who to Watch:
The Bulldogs have a lot of newcomers as it is, but the most experienced at this level is Jonathan Wills. The 6-6 junior started 19 games over two seasons with New Mexico and is a proven shooter. His experience will likely earn him the starting role at the small forward position and his ability to hit the long ball will be very important on a team that will rely on a ton of newcomers in the backcourt. With Wills having the experience and the familiarity with the system, he will have to be this team’s main shooting threat until the newcomers come around.
Losing Paul George and Sylvester Seay will not make this team better immediately, but overall this team has more potential. As long as they can find a leader and a way to win the games they should win, Fresno State will be in the mix for a Western Athletic Conference championship. By February and March this should be a team with a lot of talent and players who know their roles on the team. That may not be enough to beat out Utah State or New Mexico State, but it should be enough for a postseason berth.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Steven Shepp, Junior, Guard, 5.5 ppg
Tim Steed, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Jonathan Wills, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Nedeljko Golubovic, Senior, Forward, 3.0 ppg
Greg Smith, Sophomore, Center, 11.5 ppg
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