Only a handful of Division I men's basketball teams can wrap up the season on a high note by playing into April, and, ultimately, hoisting a trophy. This spring, the Siena Saints (18-17, 11-9 MAAC) and Fresno State Bulldogs (20-16, 9-9 MW) will go head-to-head in a best-of-three series for the 2014 College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament title.
The Saints, who were below .500 when the tournament began, have reeled off three straight wins, including a two-point win over Penn State in the quarterfinals to reach the championship series.
Meanwhile, Fresno State is fresh off of its 20th win of the season, knocking off Old Dominion in the semifinals to secure a spot in the series.
Following the win, Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry discussed what it will take to finish the job next week, per The Fresno Bee's Robert Kuwada:
I think from here on out, anybody that is playing right now, they're a really good team and at the end of the day the team that imposes their will at the end in terms of getting stops and executing on offense, those are the ones that finish the games out. You have to finish.
With the championship series set to tip off on Monday, here we'll break down the matchup and get you set for the remainder of the 2014 CBI.
|2014 CBI Championship TV Schedule|
|Mon, March 31||Game 1: Siena vs. Fresno State||10 p.m.||CBSSN|
|Wed, April 2||Game 2: Fresno State vs. Siena||7 p.m.||CBSSN|
|Sat, April 5||Game 3: Fresno State vs. Siena*||11:30 a.m.||CBSSN|
|*if necessary. Schedule info courtesy of GazelleGroup.com|
|How They Got Here|
|1st Round||Def. Stony Brook, 66-55||Def. UTEP, 61-56|
|Quarterfinals||Def. Penn State, 54-52||Def. Princeton, 72-56|
|Semifinals||Def. Illinois State, 61-49||Def. Old Dominion, 71-64|
Siena Player to Watch: Rob Poole, G
The Saints haven't made it this far by being a one-man show, but they will certainly need junior guard Rob Poole to deliver if they are going to be successful.
According to New Jersey-based sports reporter Josh Newman, Poole was among the five MAAC players to earn All-Conference third team honors this season:
The 6'5" perimeter star is averaging 14.7 points per game in 2013-14, and exactly 15 per game in CBI play. Poole, who leads the team with 67 made threes this season, has also buried eight shots from beyond the arc in this tournament.
He's missed plenty as well, but first-year head coach Jimmy Patsos won't mind, considering he's hitting at a clip of 36.4 percent.
You'll also want to keep an eye out for Poole on the glass. He's averaging 5.1 rebounds per game this season and ranks second on the team behind forward Brett Bisping. Poole has 18 total rebounds through three games in the CBI tournament.
Fresno State Player to Watch: Tyler Johnson, G
While Siena is led by a talented perimeter star in Poole, Fresno State operates in similar fashion with senior guard Tyler Johnson running the show.
Johnson has steadily improved throughout his four years with the Bulldogs and will be looking to close out his college career with a championship.
Averaging 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, the 6'4" Mountain View, Calif. native leads Fresno State in scoring and rebounding. His three assists per game rank second on the team.
In January, Johnson joined elite company at Fresno State, per the university's official Twitter account:
But Johnson is no ball-dominating guard who jacks up shot after shot, instead, he's a remarkably efficient scorer, who's sinking 48.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, 43.4 percent of his long-range shots and connecting from the foul line at a clip of 81.1 percent.
All three of those percentages have increased every year in Fresno.
You'll find that when Johnson struggles to score it's typically because he hasn't taken enough shots. The 21-year-old has yet to attempt more than 19 shots in a single game this season and is averaging fewer than 12 field-goal attempts per contest.
A strong case could be made for either team if this were a one-game, winner-take-all championship showdown. However, the unique best-of-three series should produce the best possible champion.
Look for that champion to be Fresno State, who will open up the series with Game 1 at home before heading east to Siena for the final two (Game 3 if necessary). Like the Saints, the Bulldogs have won three straight CBI games, including one on the road. But the difference is that Fresno State boasts a much more explosive offensive attack.
Led by Johnson and sophomore Marvelle Harris, watch for a deeper Fresno State team, one that features four players who average double figures scoring, to win at home in Game 1 and wrap up the tournament two days later in Game 2 at Siena.
Fresno State defeats Siena, 2-0