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2018 NCAA Tournament Round 1: Purdue vs. Cal State Fullerton Preview

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The Big West Champions must find a way to defend a monster 7’2” center.

NCAA Basketball: Big West Conference Tournament_Fullerton v. Irvine Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

If this were baseball I would be very concerned. Cal State Fullerton is a college baseball blueblood with 19 College World Series appearances and 4 National Championships. As for basketball, not so much. This is only their third ever appearance in the men’s basketball tournament and first in 10 years. They got here by winning the Big West Conference tournament as a 4 seed. UC-Davis was the favorite, but Fullerton defeated them three times this year then beat UC-Irvine in the title game for the automatic bid. Let’s take a look at them.

Cal State Fullerton Titans

From: Fullerton, CA

Date : Friday, March 16, 2018

Tip Time: 12:40 pm ET

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Arena: Little Caesar’s Arena (20,491)

Television: TruTV

Online: March Madness On Demand

Radio: Purdue Radio Network

SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)

Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats

Odds: Purdue by 20

KenPom: 153

RPI: 131

2016-17 Record: 16-15, 10-6 Big West (lost to Weber State 80-76 in CIT First Round)

2017-18 Record: 20-11, 10-6 Big West

Opponent Blog: Daily Titan

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Cal State Fullerton Win: None

Last Purdue Win: None

NCAA Tournament History: 3 appearances, last in 2008. Reached 1978 Elite Eight

Coach: Dedrique Taylor (67-88 in 5th season at Cal State Fullerton)

Just getting this far was definitely a surprise for the Titans. UC-Davis was the favorite in the Big West after winning the league a year ago and reaching its first NCAA Tournament. They even won a Dayton game before losing to Kansas in round 1 100-62. UC-Davis won the regular season title with a 12-4 record and had a major conference road win at Washington State, but Cal State Fullerton was their kryptonite.

Fullerton handled Davis 85-70 at home on January 10th, then won at Davis 68-66 a month later. Facing them again in the conference tournament Fullerton earned a 55-52 win, then beat local rival UC-Irvine (the campuses are about 20 miles apart) for the automatic bid.

Here is more on how they built their team:

There were times during the 2015-2016 season when the first thing a spectator at Cal State Fullerton basketball games would do is count heads on the bench.

By the end of a 10-20 season, there were nine players left on the active roster after the program and three players parted ways. The Titans were 3-13 in conference play, and only made the eight-team Big West Tournament because Cal State Northridge was ineligible.

There were many games with only seven players dressed because of injuries. One particularly memorable game, there were eight players dressed, but one was a redshirting freshman, and another wore a boot on one foot.

Things have changed. Two years after Coach Dedrique Taylor didn’t have enough players for a 5-on-5 practice, the Titans convincingly won the Big West Tournament title and earned the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2008, and just its third appearance overall. The 15th-seeded Titans are headed to Detroit to play No. 2 Purdue on Friday in a first-round game of the East Regional.

The only two teams from tier one that Fullerton played this season were USC and St. Mary’s. Those came in the first two games of the season and they lost by 42 at USC and 19 at St. Mary’s. They had major conference losses to Georgia (64-57) and California (95-89), but neither team was exactly good. By RPI their best win was either at UC-Davis or at home against Utah Valley. They haven’t seen anything even remotely resembling Purdue since November.

Fullerton is led Kyle Allman, a 6’3” junior guard that averages 19.4 points per game and shoots 43% from three. He gets to the line about 8 times per game too, so he is more of an attacking guard. Khalil Ahmad, a 6’4” junior guard averages 15.3 points per game and has more than 1,000 in his career (1,140). Jackson Rowe, a 6’7” sophomore forward averages 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. He also shoots 41% from three, meaning he and Allman are the only two regulars over 40% from outside.

Also in the back court is Austen Awosika, a 6’3” sophomore ,point guard who averages 7.4 points and 2.7 assists. As a team Fullerton turns the ball over 14 times per game and only gets 13 assists, so it is very much one-on-one basketball.

The biggest question is how will a team like this defend Isaac Haas. The answer is they won’t. Their tallest player is the 6’10” Josh Pitts. He only plays 4.6 minutes per night and has 22 points on the season. Rowe is their best rebounder by a wide margin, so most of the job will go to 6’9” 230 pound Arkim Robertson. Robertson averages 5.4 points and 4.3 rebounds, but he has his hands full.

Fullerton does not get much out of its bench. No one outside the top five averages more than 4 points per game. Jamal Smith and Davon Clare are the two best options, but this is a thin team without a lot of size.

I respect that Fullerton made the tournament, but barring a complete disaster I just don’t see them hanging with Purdue. This is a team that ranks 187th in scoring at 73.2 per game, 184th in rebounding at 35.1 per game, and 242nd in assists. They also haven’t seen anything even close to Purdue in terms of size and talent for months. For one game at least, Purdue should have a relatively easy win. If not, the Ainters deserve to dish out any criticism because it will be earned. Purdue 95, Cal State Fullerton 72