The Cal Poly men’s basketball team has been playing ugly, and I wouldn’t expect that to change just because the Mustangs have finished playing Pac-10 and nationally ranked programs.
Yes, the size mismatches they’ve faced in the past three games — losses to UCLA, Cal and No. 11 San Diego State — are a big reason for the team’s 33.6 percent shooting mark during that span.
Knowing that Cal Poly would not be able to match those teams shot for shot or compete in a fast-break battle, head coach Joe Callero has opted to play the slow-down game, limiting possessions, conceding on the offensive glass and shutting down the paint on defense.
That’s led to some pretty paltry point totals, no more than 45 points in each of the past two.
The Mustangs have one more non-conference game with Pepperdine before starting Big West Conference play, but even though the big-name opponents have passed, that doesn’t mean the offense will necessarily open up.
Callero said there will be room for some changes, “but we’re not going to deviate into an all full-court pressing team. This style does allow us to play our starters most of the minutes and sub in with a sixth man like Jordan Lewis.”
And there you have it. The other reason why the Mustangs are “mucking things up.” Depth. More accurately, a lack of depth caused by injuries and illness.
I was at some early Cal Poly scrimmages, when the Mustangs were working on a full-court press, and at that stage, it looked pretty advanced. But with the attrition the team has experienced, there’s no way Callero can implement an attacking, high-energy defense.
Already without Amaurys Fermin, Kyle Odister, Drake U’u and Ben Eisenhard and with Ryan Pembleton limited by strep throat, the Mustangs lost another guy Saturday.
Callero said Dylan Royer, a 6-2 sophomore guard, woke up with a stiff neck and sat out the entire 51-41 loss to Cal in a neck brace.
Though the injury did not appear too serious, it’s unclear how long Royer will be unavailable. And even though the walk-on from Morro Bay High has only played in three games for a total of 7 minutes this season, it’s just another bad break to add to the pile.
But how long are people going to put up with unappealing play from the Mustangs before staying home on game nights?
Callero won a lot of fans with a hot 5-2 start in Big West play in his first season at the helm last year. That came in spite of an 0-5 start to the season.
Consider all of this talk about playing style moot if Cal Poly goes on a similar run in the Big West this year. People will pay attention if the Mustangs are in the running for a top-half conference finish.
Callero and Cal Poly know low-scoring and losing aren’t going to mix well for an extended period.
“People say they like the uptempo game,” Callero said. “I’ll tell you what people like: The chance of winning. The people who came to our (past three) games — it might have been low-scoring and ugly — but they were pretty happy because we could have won every game.”