By Sandeep Chandok (@sandeepchandok):
Autumn is in the air. Halloween decorations are lining suburban homes. Candy is in nearly every aisle of your local convenience store. And college basketball is just weeks out.
I can already hear the soothing sound of basketball sneakers squeaking on the freshly swept hardwood.
For San Jose State men’s basketball, it’s a new car with a new driver as head coach Jean Prioleau was given the keys to a roster hungry to make some noise in the Mountain West this winter.
Here’s what you should expect this season:
Number 1: Improved defense
Prioleau said this summer that defense would be a major area of focus for his team. Last season, SJSU gave up nearly 75 points a night while allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the floor. Defensive miscues contributed heavily to the high-volume production from Spartan counterparts, as the 2016-17 squad often allowed uncontested baskets at the rim and had trouble securing defensive rebounds, leading to second-chance points. And with the Spartans’ leading shot-blocker Brandon Clarke out of the picture, big men Oumar Barry and Keith Fisher will likely serve as SJSU’s last line of rim protection. But stopping the ball starts on the perimeter, and preventing guards from penetrating into the paint and breaking down the defense will require quick feet, fighting through screens and anticipative hands from the wings. Look for junior swingman Jaycee Hillsman to draw tough defensive assignments on the regular.
Number 2: Easy baskets
Points can be hard to come by in the half court against able defensive teams — pushing the ball off made or missed baskets can make that a bit more simple. Along with putting on the clamps, Prioleau wants to play an uptempo style of offense to get some easy baskets. In order to quickly get the ball up the floor, SJSU will have to grab boards and its wings will have to run their lanes, staying wide to space the floor while a big man runs down the middle and the point guard advances the ball with the off guard trailing the play. Easier said than done, but that’s what a typical fast break looks like. Senior Jalen James and sophomore Isaiah Nichols will render a majority of point guard duties and be responsible for leading the Spartans. What Prioleau doesn’t want on offense: a montage of threes. Attack the basket, backdoor cuts, move without the ball — an inside-out style of play. Threes will come, but once the floor opens up, not running down and jacking up the first open look on a three-on-two break.
Number 3: Balanced scoring
It’s a safe bet that no Spartan will average 20-plus points this season. But expect to see a handful of guys between the 7-17 point range with upperclassman like Ryan Welage and Hillsman pacing SJSU and the freshman Fisher right there behind them. Welage is a mid-post monster who can also stroke triples at the stretch-four position while Hillsman gets to the hole and finishes above the basket. Fisher’s offensive arsenal remains to be seen, but he will dominate the offensive glass and be a drop-down target for guards looking to dish the ball to their ravenous big men.
Season preview coming soon.