Alright, whomever it was that put a curse on Fresno State men’s athletics this year, you’re a jerk. Both football and basketball were besieged by injuries, youth, and insane numbers of close losses. After a 2018-2019 campaign that saw both programs win more than 30 games, the 2019-2020 seasons saw the two combine to only win 15 games, and a swift fall from the top of the conference back to the bottom. Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong for Fresno State basketball this year.
The season began with an acceptable enough loss to No.15 Oregon. Oregon though has proven themselves to be a top program that could easily see themselves in the Final Four, so I don’t think any Fresno State fan felt bad about that loss. They got their first win of the season the next game against Winthrop on a buzzer-beating 3 point shot. This would probably be the best win the Bulldogs would have all season, as Winthrop has won 23 games and 1st place in the Big South Conference.
The next game would be where the true story of the season came to be. Even though it was close, an overtime loss to a bad University of San Diego team is not what was wanted. Yes, it could be partially excused as a young and banged up team finding their footing, but good teams get the job done against bad opponents. A win against CSU San Bernadino would get the Dogs back up to .500, but this was right where the wheels completely fell off for the year. A 5 game losing streak immediately spelled doom, especially since Fresno State suffered their first two 1pt losses, in back to back games to CSU Northridge and UNLV. These were the first two of 6 one-possession losses of the season, and a terrible continuation of the single-possession losses the football team had suffered through all Fall. Two blowout wins over Cal Poly and IUPUI were the only respites in 8 losses from 10 games.
A win against SJSU finally got Fresno State into the conference win column, sandwiched between two losses to SDSU which isn’t too bad given how good the Aztecs were this year (he says while gagging about complimenting those jerks). A good win over Wyoming will help make sure that the Bulldogs stayed out of the bottom of the conference standings, which was about the only thing Fresno fans could hope for by this point in the year. The game on January 25th against Boise State may be one of those games Dog fans remember for a long time, as it was the single worst defeat suffered in Save Mart Center history, as the Broncos demolished the Bulldogs by 25 points. Especially since it’s the only time that the two rivals would meet this season, that loss needs to live in the brains of the coaches and players for revenge next year.
Two wins against Air Force and New Mexico showed signs of life, but also showed how strong players like New Williams and Nate Grimes have been for the Fresno State program, and both seniors will be missed going forward. Not to mention the growth of Orlando Robinson and Jarred Hyder as the potential future of the Bulldogs. Now if only we can avoid those single point losses to UNLV, considering both games against the Rebels this year ended in two 1-pt losses. Seriously, how cursed can one team be to keep losing single possession games? Especially when it’s the SAME. FRIGGIN. TEAM. At least they’re able to beat SJSU, so that’s something right? About the only thing that kept the Dogs from being last in the conference, even climbing as high as 8th before the end of the season.
The conference tournament went about as well as any rational Fresno State fan expected, which means a first round loss to Air Force. It was such a odd season with hot and cold stretches, they were either going to lose in the first round or win the whole tournament, no middle ground.
So now let’s examine where things went sideways for the Bulldogs. especially to go from 23 wins to 11 wins. The season was about to start out well with three good recruits coming in with Orlando Robinson, Jarred Hyder, and Niven Hart ready to play as freshmen. The problem began though on the transfer market. Chris Seeley became eligible this year after coming in from Utah, but injuries sidelined his season before it could really get going, and the other two players never made it on to campus. That left them rather thin to start at the season off, and relying more on youth than they expected, just like the football team went through as well. And when your team is based around youth, not a lot of depth, and expectations from a successful season, things will rarely going to go great.
There’s always something to be said about “luck” in a basketball season, but this year’s Fresno State team was 100% unlucky. Ken Pomeroy even quantifies these things, and the Bulldogs were the 9th most unlucky team out of 351 in Division 1. That will definitely put a damper on any team’s season. For reference, only one team deemed more unlucky than Fresno State even reached .500 on the season, the rest all had losing records. Texas Tech and Purdue were the only teams around them in the luck rankings to have a winning record. Yes, teams can’t rely on luck to get them wins, the best teams find ways to win games despite bad luck. But all of that bad luck really was a drag on Fresno State’s year, and hopefully will bounce back next year to at least better luck. To be honest, they’d be hard pressed to be more unlucky in 2021, and with less bad luck should be a few more wins in the win column.
Looking ahead to the 2020-2021 season, there’s a lot of question marks. Was this year a blip, or the sign of things to come for Justin Huston and his staff? Was this a result of inexperience, injuries, and bad luck, or is Fresno State returning to where it was under Steve Cleveland? I’m ever an optimist though, and hoping that we’ll see Orlando Robinson, Jarred Hyder, and Niven Hart become a force like Marvelle Harris, Paul Watson, and Jaron Hopkins were back in 2015-2016. Getting back above .500 though should be the first job of everyone, and turn those one-possession losses into one-possession wins. Spring football is right around the corner, as is college baseball/softball. More content will be coming from me, as will hopefully more success from Fresno State Athletics.