Play Fresno State, and you better bring your A game. Anything less and you will leave the arena with a loss.
The Bulldogs have turned into one of the toughest, most physical squads under the tutelage of coach Rodney Terry, who has been at the helm since the 2012 season.
Terry has 105 wins, which ranks him third on the Bulldogs’ all -time list, and he’s made the postseason three of the last four years.
Fresno State was picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll behind Nevada, San Diego State and Boise State.
“Our expectations are going to be the same that they always been since I got here,” Terry said at October’s MW Media Summit at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. “We are going to put a team out there that is going to play hard as they can every night. We are going to try to compete for a regular-season championship and have success in postseason play.”
Fresno State, which swept Nevada last season, is one of eight programs in the West that has played in either the NCAA or NIT the last two years. The Bulldogs are already off to a 2-0 start this season.
Fresno State returns eight players — Jaron Hopkins (13.2, 5.5), Deshon Taylor (12.5, 2.4), Jahmel Taylor (10.5, 3.5), Bryson Williams (7.7, 4.4), Terrell Carter (5.6, 2.7), Nate Grimes (1.7, 1.8), Sam Bittner (1.3, 1.8) and Johnny McWilliams (1.2, 0.5). It’s a solid nucleus to build on.
“I think it’s a good thing to show our guys that you can be really good on offense, but you need defense as well if you want to win championships,” Terry said after the Bulldogs’ season-opening win. “Our guys are working hard and continuing to get better and better as it goes along in terms of getting consecutive stops and being more consistent. We need to put more stretches together.”
“We are all excited about playing defense this year,” Hopkins said after a recent game. “We are picking up 94 feet and it isn’t always easy but everybody is involved with what we are doing defensively and offensively. We all know what we are capable of, so just playing to our strengths, getting out and transitioning is working for us right now.”
With Hopkins, the Taylors and Bryson Williams, the Bulldogs have some offensive weapons.
Hopkins shot 48 percent from the floor overall, and Jahmel Taylor was a 45 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Another player to keep an eye on is Pacific transfer Ray Bowles Jr., a graduate transfer. Bowles averaged 13 a game last year.
“We have guys that can score,” Terry said. “This is a very unselfish group.”
Jahmel Taylor said he’s noticed one big thing that wasn’t there last year.
“I would say the energy,” Taylor said after a recent game. “Each guy is extremely excited each time we get on the floor.
“We are starting the games off a lot better, which is allowing people to come off the bench to have that same energy on the floor. Each guy is keeping a high motor. We are trying to do everything we can to keep building and keep everybody involved.”