As the Bulldogs near the midpoint of the conference schedule, they find themselves positioned as one of the top teams in the Mountain West with an opportunity to make a statement Friday.
Fresno State men’s basketball will host Boise State, the Mountain West’s top team, Friday evening at the Save Mart Center.
At 14-5 overall and 4-2 in conference, the Bulldogs currently sit in fourth place in the Mountain West, but the Broncos come into Fresno with a 7-0 record in conference play to go along with a 13-game win streak.
“They’re going to be a heck of a challenge,” Fresno State Head Coach Justin Hutson told reporters Thursday. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re smart, they’re old. That’s what everybody wants to get to. So they have length at every position. It allows them to do a lot of different things there. They’re old, so there’s nothing they haven’t seen. They’re mature, they’ve played through certain things. And they’re very smart, they’re coaching staff always does a great job on that end too.”
While a fourth place position in years past likely would have precluded Fresno State from advancing to the national stage in the postseason, the situation could be quite different this year given the depth of the Mountain West.
A win against Boise State would go a long way toward positioning the Bulldogs for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March.
But the ‘Dogs will have to play better than they did in Boise at the end of December when they left Idaho with a 65-55 loss.
“We know this team, they know us,” Hutson said. “So it’s going to be exciting to come in and play these guys. They’ve got 13 straight wins, right? Thirteen straight wins, and they’re playing really well, a couple big ones in on that one. It’s going to be a nice challenge for us. Our guys are going to be ready to go.”
That loss to Boise State, however, may not have been indicative of Fresno State’s quality in 2022 since junior guard, and key contributor, Anthony Holland had to stay home due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
This time around, Holland – who is second on the team with 9.7 points per game and is shooting from beyond the three-point arc at a .468 rate – is available and ready to go.
“We’re going to be much better with him out there just on the defensive and offensive end, whether that translates to a win, the game comes down to making shots and executing – each game is different – but we’ll be better with Anthony in the lineup,” Hutson said. “He’s our best defender. He rebounds the ball really well, and that’s going to really help.”
Whether Fresno State makes a run to close out the latter half of the conference schedule before heading to Las Vegas for the Mountain West Tournament may come down to the play of star forward Orlando Robinson, who has taken his game to another level in his third year as a Bulldog.
Robinson took a beating in Tuesday’s 65-60 win at New Mexico as he sustained a right ankle injury, but Hutson said his star forward is returning to full health and expects Robinson to be ready to go, albeit facing the possibility of playing limited minutes if the injury persists.
If Robinson is feeling 100 percent, the Bulldogs will have their leading scorer (19.2 points per game) and rebounder (8.6 per game) on hand.
While Robinson shined in his first two years as a Bulldog, including being honored as a Second Team All-Mountain West selection, he has gained national recognition this season.
Robinson was recently named to the Mid-Season Watch List for the 2021-22 Lute Olson National Player of the Year award, which honors the best player in the nation.
Advanced analytics show Robinson as one of the nation’s best. Through Wednesday, the KenPom 2022 Player of the Year Standings placed Robinson in fourth.
“It’s definitely gratifying, fun,” Hutson said. “Proud of him because he deserves it. It’s a team. If we don’t win, and we don’t share the ball, we don’t play good defense, and Orlando’s not getting those recognitions. But he’s definitely our leader. We all should be proud of that from the coaches to the staff to the administration. Everybody should be proud of Orlando.”
Photo: Fresno State Athletics