Saturday, January 12, 2019

UCR vs. UCSB Game Preview, by Gaucho Freg

UCSB vs. UC Riverside Preview, Game 1 of Season Series
Saturday, January 12, 2019, 7 PM PST
The Gauchos are coming off a tougher-than-expected conference opening victory over Cal Poly while the Highlanders suffered a one point loss at home to rising CSUN.  UCR is the second consecutive 300 range opponent the Gauchos will face to open the conference season, representing the softest home stand of the season for UCSB.

By the Numbers                                                             
UCR logo.png
UCSB logo small.png
Record 6-11 12-3
Home/Away 0-8 (A) 7-0 (H)
Big West Conference 0-1 1-0
Composite National Rankings
DCI 1&2, BPI, KP, Massey, NET, RPI, Sagarin 310 130
NET 306 142
SOS (ESPN BPI) 333 343
CBS Preseason Rank 281 288
SI Preseason Rank 271 185
Preseason Poll Pick 7th 4th
Efficiency Rankings (Pomeroy) 
Offense 295 105
Defense 297 204
Scoring 68.0 76.9
FG% 44.3 47.6
3Pt % 36.9 34.5
FT% 72.0 70.8
PPG Allowed 67.4 63.7
FG % Defense 44.5 39.
3Pt % Defense 36.8
Rebounding Margin  -2.2 +9.8
Best win (NET):  vs. LMU (114)
Worst Loss (NET):  vs. CSUN (275)

UCR-UCSB History
This will be the 44th meeting between the schools with the Gauchos holding a commanding 34-9 advantage.  UCSB swept the series last season and has won three straight vs. the Highlanders.
Head Coach:  David Patrick is in his first season as head coach and in his first season leading a program anywhere.  He is most famous for recruiting Ben Simmons while at LSU.  He is doing a good job of bringing in some better talent to Riverside so we could see their program improve.

The Highlanders start two upperclassman and three underclassmen. Their primary reserves are all underclassmen.   I’ve added comments from Highlander’s fan, Blocked Freethrow, in italics.

Probable Starters
Guard Dikembye Martin  #15  6’1”, 170 lb. Junior 16.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 32 mpg
Riverside’s best player and an All-Big West candidate.
Already a good shooter, Martin has become a deadly outside shooter in year 3.  He is averaging career-highs in shooting percentages across the board (48.2%, 46.3%, 86%) and has carried the offensive load for this team.  Due to his offensive responsibilities this season, his defensive has slipped slightly, but he is still a sneaky off-ball defender that looks to get in passing lanes.
Guard Dominic Pickett  #22  6’3”, 210 lb. RS Sophomore 3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 20 mpg  
Pickett has been the biggest beneficiary of the transfers of DJ Sylvester & Eric Rwahwire.  From walk-on, to spot minutes last year due to numerous injuries, to starting at point guard mid-way through this season, it would be hard to find a harder working player in the Big West.  Since becoming a starter 6 games ago, he is averaging a team-high 4.3 assists.  Not a great athlete, but a smart player that can run offense and hit the occasional outside shot.

Wing Dragan Elkaz   #0  6’5”, 205lb Freshman  7.9 ppg, 28 mpg.
The Aussie Frosh may be the best pure shooter to ever wear a Highlanders uniform (Jaylen Bland has a great argument), and he has nailed 40% of his outside shots so far this season.  He’s an eager defender and has good size, but at this point, he is fairly one-dimensional. 

Forward Zac Watson  #11  6’7”, 210 lb, Freshman 7.3 ppg,3.9 rpg  22 mpg.
Watson is a fairly athletic face-up forward and has looked a lot more confident as of late.  He probably needs to add a bit more weight to compete at the 4 spot, but he’s got a soft touch around the rim (59% FG).  The former Dartmouth pledge has Gabe Levin-esque potential.

Center Menno Dijkstra  #32  7’0”, 235 lb, Senior 8.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg  22 mpg. Shoots .455 from the field.
He has attempted 39 threes, making 10 of them.  Leads team with 9 blocks.
Big Red is a senior now, and he has been the biggest disappointment to this point.  He’s put on some weight and learned a few post moves, but he’s still a 6’0” guard trapped in a 7’0” body.  He has been utilized in a ton of pick-and-pop plays this season, but he hasn’t hit nearly enough outside shots to be deemed a threat, leading to Martin getting doubled mercilessly.  His shooting numbers have dipped across the board, and he hasn’t protected the rim at all.  He played better against CSUN, so there may be hope yet.

Key Reserves
Forward Ajani Kennedy #10  6’8”, 200 lb Sophomore 8.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 21 mpg  Plays starter minutes
and leads team in rebounding & three point %, 18/32.
Kennedy is the team’s best athlete and is another player that has been playing far better in his past few outings.  He’s more of a jump shooter than I’d like him to be, but he can do a lot of damage from the perimeter (54.3% from outside on 2.5 attempts per game).  He could probably get to the line a ton by using his quickness and athleticism to get to the rim, but perhaps that is the next stage in his development.

Guard Jordan Gilliam  #2  6’5”, 160 lb. Sophomore 7.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 23 mpg Was a starter
most of the season, recently coming off the bench.  Leads team in assists and turnovers.
Shooting .349 from the field, .320 from deep.
The JUCO transfer struggled mightily early in the season but has played far better as of late.  Gilliam is a gifted passer with good vision, and has been the only guard on the roster other than Martin that had demonstrated any ability to get to the rim.  Unfortunately though, because of his lack of strength, he can’t seem to finish when he gets there.  He is very long and is the Highlanders’ best on-ball defender.  Hopefully he can pack on some pounds this offseason to become a more effective player.

Center Callum McRae  #25  7’0”, 270 lb, Freshman 4.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg  15 mpg. 28 turnovers on the
The Kiwi frosh is a bigger, more skilled version of Alex Larsson, who graduated after last season.  He’s got surprisingly good footwork for a guy his size, and can finish over either shoulder.  With that said, he needs to get in better shape to keep up with more mobile bigs at this level.

Guard DJ McDonald  #3  5’11”, 175 lb. Freshman 12 mpg
McDonald is another beneficiary of the Rwahwire transfer, and has been getting spot minutes since entering the second half of OCC play.  He’s a solid outside shooter and a pesky on-ball defender that likes to pick up full court.  In some ways, he reminds me of Martin his freshman season, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops.
View from a Highlander FanWith big thanks and credit to Blocked Freethrow who knows his stuff and provides great detail & insight:
As expected, the David Patrick era has been a bumpy ride to start; not quite off-roading, but more like driving on a street with numerous, unavoidable potholes (much like driving in Riverside itself).  UCR returned just one starter (Martin) and two other players (Dijkstra, Kennedy) that played over ten minutes per game last season.  Fortunately, Patrick was able to put together a decent recruiting class despite getting a late start, and he has done a solid job implementing a playing style that suits the roster.  As a fan, Patrick is very refreshing because he is so unlike his predecessors.  He is energetic, constantly moving and talking on the sideline, high-fiving and encouraging his players when they leave or enter a game.  Perhaps more importantly, he has implemented a more modern offense predicated on spreading the floor and moving the ball, something not seen from Riverside teams as long as I’ve followed along.  If teams do indeed take on the personality of their coaches, I think UCR is in good hands.
UCR’s strength this season is its outside shooting.  The Highlanders have never had more competent outside shooters on one roster in the Division I era.  Everyone other than the Kiwi behemoth McRae has hit a three-pointer this season, and the outside attack is led by Martin and Elkaz, who have hit a combined 72 threes at a 43.1% clip.  What has limited the offense, however, is the fact that only Martin, and to a much lesser extent Gilliam, can create their own shot off the bounce.  Because everyone else is mostly limited to catch-and-shoot type plays, the offense tends to become a stand-around-and-watch-Dikymbe-dance show if shooters aren’t open once a play is run.  Until other guys can create their own shot or at least attack the paint, this offense won’t reach its full potential.
This team’s glaring weakness is its inability to rebound and protect the paint.  It gets pretty hard to watch at times as opponents score at will in the paint, but it feels inevitable with such a young team lacking in size and strength.  Coach Patrick clearly recognized this weakness, as nobody in the 2019 recruiting class is shorter than 6’9”.  That doesn’t help the team this year though, and I don’t see it getting any better in conference play.  UCR is going to have to try and outscore teams, and I don’t know if that is going to be a successful game plan, especially considering how the opener against CSUN turned out.  One thing I haven’t seen from the team yet that may help is to press and try to force more turnovers.  This team isn’t the deepest with only nine scholarship players available, so that may prevent such a high-energy style of play.
The Highlanders also lack a natural leader.  Dikymbe’s play speaks for itself, but he isn’t a vocal leader that takes command of the team.  Dijkstra is a senior and the only other elder statesman, but he lacks that characteristic as well.  This is particularly noticeable when the team flounders late in the second half.  UCR had a lead or were tied in the second half of road matchups against Oregon State, Valpo, and UTEP before falling apart.  When CSUN blitzed UCR to open the second half in the conference opener, erasing a 7-point lead, none of the players were leading an effort to regroup.  Past UCR squads have had a definite leader, like Chance Murray, Jaylen Bland, Taylor Johns, Phil Martin, etc.  I suppose the good news is that it is an opportunity for one of the young guys to step in to that role as the season progresses.
Despite its flaws, this team plays hard and competes.  It’s been easy to see the improvement of the team as the season has progressed.  Team chemistry is getting noticeably better after some rough 20+ point losses to UNLV and UoP early on, when the team appeared absolutely clueless.  Turnovers have decreased considerably too.  Most importantly, the young guys are getting valuable minutes, and that should bode well for next season and beyond.
The Highlanders have never won in the Thunderdome, and I don’t expect that to change on Saturday.  I anticipate the Gauchos to have their way in the paint and get plenty of second chances off of missed shots.  It’s a tall task for a young team to win on the road, which is why the home loss to CSUN to open conference play hurts that much more.  My guess is a final score of around 79-65.
Fun fact:  Mateen Hirbod, a walk-on at UCR, is the brother of Gaucho walk-on Mobeen Hirbod.
Match-up overview:
As mentioned, UCR is ranked low by the computers but unlike Poly, Riverside has at least one game that indicates they could be dangerous with their easy victory over then 11-1 LMU. Dikembye Martin is one of the best players in the league and is the type of player that can carry a team.  They shoot the ball well and have the potential to light it up from outside but are weak defensively in the post. By KenPom, curiously, they are equally bad on offense & defense with nearly identical ratings for both, 296 & 298.  Like the Gauchos, this is a young team and improving so the computer rankings may underestimate them.  

Keys to the game for the Gauchos
·       Gaucho inside-out game:  Sows speed and athleticism plus Gaucho front court depth vs. Highlander size in the post. I expect Sow will come back strong from his stinker vs. Poly and feast down low. As GauchoDan observed, he needs to do a better job of recognizing the double teams and kick it out when they come.  Ami and Idehen did a great job vs. Poly and should get ample opportunity in this game as well.
·       Containing Martin. I expect Ramsey will have this task but perhaps McLaughlin will. 
·       Davis and Blackmon on the wing/forward position vs. Elkaz & Kennedy.  After Martin, these two are key players for Riverside. 
·       Max integration project, continued. He played more passive than his usual self vs Poly.  Still working on getting his legs back, especially on defense.  I would be perfectly happy seeing the Max that played against Idaho State where he was dicing through their defense and dishing the ball, 8 assists.

Prediction:  UCSB’s offense was not executing as efficiently as it has been vs. Poly, credit to Callero still having some good defensive schemes.  I think they will improve in this regard vs UCR.  Should be a double-digit victory.
Gauchos 79 Highlanders 64

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