Heading into the Wooden Legacy tournament at Cal State Fullerton this Thanksgiving, Titans Head Coach Dedrique Taylor will be thankful if his team can accomplish one simple goal.
“We just want to get better,” Taylor said. “We feel like if we can get better, once conference play comes around we can win some games.”
Taylor said the Titans have highlighted four things on each side of the ball they want to improve going into their first match of the tournament against the Georgia Bulldogs Thursday.
On offense, the Titans want to slow down. space the floor better, move the ball and play inside-out, and even after a blowout victory over Bethesda University, CSUF’s tough early slate has left the Titans’ offensive stats looking ugly.
Fullerton ranks dead-last in the Big West in field goal percentage (35.8 percent) 3-point percentage (20 percent) and points per game (58.7), something Taylor chalked up partially to returners like Khalil Ahmad, Jackson Rowe and Kyle Allman adjusting to expanded roles offensively.
“If they’re getting open looks, I believe in their talent, their skillset and their work ethic and that they will eventually make shots for us,” Taylor said.
Making shots won’t be easy against Georgia, the 69th ranked team in the country, according to NCAA Advanced Statistics site Kenpom. The Bulldogs have made their bones on defense this season, boasting the 39th best defensive efficiency in the country so far while accounting for strength of schedule, strangling opposing offenses while allowing just 94.9 points per 100 possessions.
Due to that success defensively, Kenpom gives the Titans a 19 percent chance to upset the Bulldogs, but the Titans’ might be able to make things harder on Georgia’s offense as well.
CSUF has allowed opponents to shoot just 36.7 percent (best in the Big West) and 26.9 percent on threes (also best in the conference). All that has left the Titans allowing the fewest points per game of any Big West team (65).
“We just work on it every day,” said freshman point guard Daniel Venzant. “We’ve got really good defenders and we’ve got really good team defense, and coach Taylor just preaches it, so that’s just what we do.”
Despite that success, Taylor isn’t satisfied with the defense, and he wants to see the Titans improve their transition defense and rebounding while getting better at containing penetration and contesting shots more effectively.
The Titans will need their defense to do all that and more if they want a shot to win in their home gym, as the four-day tournament also features teams like St. Mary’s (who beat up on the Titans in their second game of the season), Harvard, Saint Joseph’s, Washington State, San Diego State and Sacramento State.
But even in the face of those teams, Venzant says the Titans like their chances.
“We’re going to go into every game trying to win it,” Venzant said. “I think we have the talent to do it, we’ve just got to go and compete.”