For all four years of his tenure at Cal State Fullerton, Head Coach Bob Burton has had star point guard Bobby Brown to rely on. This year, though, during Burton’s fifth year as head coach, he will finally have to make do without Brown. If early results are any indication, his Fullerton squad will be just fine.
After last year’s team started 16-4, hopes were high that it would be the squad to take the Titans to their first NCAA tournament in 29 years. But the Titans sputtered to a 4-6 finish, including a loss to Cal Poly in the Big West semifinals. This year’s squad has talent too, though, and fans are beginning to wonder if Burton’s boys could finally win the Big West and make it to the “Big Dance.”
As the Big West season approaches its third week, Cal State Fullerton (10-5 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) is in position to be a serous contender for the league title. A huge amount of their early success can be attributed to junior guard Josh Akognon, who is averaging 20.5 points per game. A dangerous outside shooter, the guard from Petaluma, Calif., is on a tear this season from three-point range and is currently hitting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc. He is no slouch from the free throw line either, hitting 90 percent from the charity stripe. Akognon is a transfer from Pac-10 power Washington State, and while there he demonstrated the ability to play at a big-time level. In his sophomore season, 2005-06, he led the defensive-minded Cougars in scoring at over 10 points per game. He also proved just how clutch he can be that year, scoring 16 points in a three-minute span in a win against the University of Southern California. Akognon is clearly the player to watch on this Fullerton team, and a huge amount of the team’s success rides on his performance this season.
Akognon is not the only Titan who can shoot, though. Fellow junior guards Marcus Crenshaw, Junior Russell and Marcio Lassiter are all hitting above a .400 clip from three-point range. Throw in senior guard Frank Robinson, and this sharp-shooting backcourt will be a tough assignment for any defense they go up against. Crenshaw, Robinson and Russell in particular see a lot of minutes at the guard position, generally alternating their time in the game. Crenshaw’s ability to come off the bench and sink shots makes him a very scary player for opposing coaches to game plan against. In fact, Big West coaches will be very inclined to guard heavily against the three-pointer, and that should open up space inside for the Titan big men to operate.
Anchoring the interior line for Fullerton are senior forwards Marcus Morgan and Scott Cutley. Cutley is the more offensive-minded of the duo, scoring 13.3 points per game, while Morgan is more of a defensive presence, leading the team with seven blocks on the season. Although undersized when compared to traditional forwards – each stands at 6’5″ – the duo pull down over six rebounds each per game. Despite their size disadvantage against the conference’s taller players, expect to see both Cutley and Morgan get a lot of points in the paint. Each of them is shooting over .500, due to open looks from opponents overplaying the long-ball. However, their Achilles’ heel is their free throw shooting. Cutley is shooting at a mere .491 clip from the line, and Morgan is an even worse .457. If Fullerton is going to be able to put away games in Big West play, their big men are going to have to start hitting the freebies.
If the Titan forwards get into foul trouble, expect contributions off the bench from seniors Kenneth Alexander and Andrew Green. These two reserve forwards get their share of minutes in most games and can put points on the board and grab rebounds if called upon. Most importantly, they are much more reliable at the foul line than their starting counterparts.
On the whole though, teams cannot game plan for Cal State Fullerton without focusing on the outside shot. This Titan squad is as good as they come from long range, shooting .420 from beyond the arc as a team. Their total field goal percentage is over 47 percent, and they score 82.5 points per game. The Titans are unafraid to play a fast tempo game, and if they are making shots, they will be a stiff challenge for any Big West team.