As the number of undefeated DI college teams continues to shrink, the Gaels’ 6-0 mark will start receiving deeper scrutiny. Most of the big shot analysts will probably wait until after the Saint Mary’s-Cal game next Saturday (Dec. 12) to give a proper assessment, but why wait for them?
Competition: Not great, not so bad. Three of the Gael opponents were given a chance at winning or competing strongly in their respective conferences: Manhattan (MAAC), which seems a stretch based on what the Jaspers displayed in Moraga; Cal St. Bakersfield in the WAC, which seems legit; and UC Irvine, picked, rightly I think, to win the Big West.
Another, UC Davis, will be a solid Big West competitor, and Stanford is a Pac 12 school with a roster stuffed with 4-and-5-star recruits. San Francisco State does not need to be categorized other than “cannon fodder.”
That’s not a bad out-of-conference slate, and the Cal game will raise it to good.
Performance: One doesn’t want to use the term “spectacular” injudiciously, but the Gaels have been pretty close. The confidence in facing Stanford, the execution in dispatching Bakersfield and the unflappability in dealing with Irvine and its 7-6 monster Mamadou Ndiaye were the highlights.
The Gaels’ national scoring ranking might fall after scoring only 70 points against Irvine, but their stellar field goal (55%) and three-point percentages (44%) will hold up pretty well. They lost the rebounding battle to Irvine (32-30), but that was the only time in six contests and I don’t see any other 7-6 centers on their schedule.
Overall, having faced both zone and man-to-man defenses, strong front courts (Stanford, Bakersfield, Irvine) and quick back courts (Irvine), the Gaels have proven resourceful and efficient. Still to come is a road contest, of course, and that will be their biggest challenge so far. All those beautiful three-pointers may not fall in Haas as they have in McKeon, and the Gaels will have to deal with that if it happens.
Standouts: Where to begin? Probably with the back court of Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar, which has been a thing of beauty. Their stats — 16.5 PPG and 6.1 APG for Naar, 11.3 PPG and 7.6 APG for Rahon — are nice, but don’t tell the whole story. Their combined assist-to-turnover ratio (83 to 23) is nearly 4-to-1, which speaks volumes.
The Gaels’ two-headed monster in the post — Dane Pineau and Jock Landale — is providing 23 points and 12 rebounds a game. Pineau had a breakout effort against Irvine (14 and 8 in 23 minutes), and sank two three-pointers for the first time in his Gael career. If Pineau’s confidence holds up, and the pick-and-pop with him far outside the key becomes a regular staple of the Gael offense, things will open up down low for the Gael forwards.
The two biggest surprises for the Gaels have been true freshmen Kyle Clark and Stefan Gonzalez. Clark is Mr. Versatility for his ability to sub effectively either for Calvin Hermanson at the 3 or Evan Fitzner at the 4. He has the height (6-7) and quickness to defend either position, and his three-point shot — now up to 45% with 9.2 PPG — is outstanding on a team of outstanding three-point shooters.
Kyle Clark, shown in the photo by the Gaels’ Tod Fierner, is no tyke, but his 6-7 frame is dwarfed by the massive body of Mamadou Ndiaye of UC Irvine.
Gonzalez has the bearing of someone who just woke up and found himself as a savvy veteran on a good college team. There seemingly has been no adjustment period from lighting it up in Pocatello, ID (Player of the Year) to lighting it up in McKeon. Told his three-point percentage is 52%, most Gael fans would doubt he has missed that many.
Fitzner Funk: Okay, one downer in a young season, and it’s one I think will fade quickly from memory. After shining brightly in a 16-point performance against Bakersfield, Fitzner, the 6-10 redshirt freshman from San Diego, has fizzled in consecutive games against Davis and Irvine. Fizzled as in 0-2 from the field in 7 minutes against Davis and 0-4, plus two missed free throws, in 14 minutes against Irvine.
That’s a lot of goose eggs for a shooter as talented as Fitzner, and his quick benching in both games tells me his errors in the eye of coach Bennett have more to do with defensive positioning than shooting. Bennett knows that shooters have to shoot, and wouldn’t sit someone down for a couple of missed jump shots. A week off to work on his defense and confidence should have Fitzner back in the saddle for the Cal showdown.
Next up: What about those Bears?