After Cal Poly Men’s Basketball lost to Long Beach State on Saturday night, the Mustangs (5-17, 1-8 Big West) have lost eight of their last 10 games, with their only wins coming against conference rival UC Riverside and Holy Names from NCAA’s Division II. The team’s current conference record leaves them in last place in the Big West.
It can be argued that the Mustangs’ season has not been one for the ages. With only one conference win so far this season, the team is on track to have their worst in-conference season since joining the Big West Conference in the 1996-97 season. The team has a rough schedule ahead as well. The Mustangs will play six games against the top four teams in the Big West Conference and one game at Long Beach State, who narrowly defeated the Mustangs at home in overtime on Feb. 9.
If the Mustangs lose the rest of their games this season, this will be the second-worst season since transitioning to Division I in 1994; the 1994-95 team went 1-26.
According to college basketball analytics website KenPom, the Mustangs are ranked No. 333 out of all 353 Division I programs. The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, which are used to determine selection and seedings for March Madness, put Cal Poly at No. 332 in the overall field.
The three Division I programs that Cal Poly defeated so far are not powerhouses either; Based on the NET rankings as of Saturday, Feb. 9, Bethune Cookman ranks No. 307, UC Riverside ranks No. 314 and USC Upstate is just below Cal Poly at No. 338.
Two wins in their last 10 games and five wins out of 22 overall games begs the question on many fans’ minds: Why is Cal Poly not good?
Anything but net
Since then, the Mustangs have been doing anything but making buckets.
On average, the Mustangs only score 64.9 points per game. Their opponents, however, score an average of 71.5 points, creating an average point differential of -6.6 points per game.
While the team’s average point differential is telling in itself, the point differential does not account for Cal Poly’s opponents throughout the season.
Based on an adjusted offensive efficiency ranking (aOER) — a model that factors in opponent strength and determines how many points a team scores for every 100 possessions — the Mustangs score 93.4 points per 100 possessions against Division I opponents. Among all Division I teams, the team sits at No. 328 for aOER according to KenPom.
Defensively, things are not looking good either for the Mustangs. While their adjusted defensive efficiency ranking (aDER) – a statistic similar to aOER, but that is based on how many points Cal Poly’s opponents score – is No. 290 in the nation, they still allow 110.1 points per 100 possessions.
The -16.7 point differential between aOER and aDER is how KenPom determines every team’s — including the Mustangs — overall ranking. This explains the difference between KenPom rankings and NET rankings, and why the Mustangs may be higher positioned in one and lower positioned in another.
Cal State Fullerton, who defeated Cal Poly 80-63 on Jan. 26, made a higher percentage of shots from the field compared to the Mustangs (56.5 percent versus 42.2 percent). The Titans also out-rebounded the Mustangs 39-28, allowing for more second-chance points as well (20 points versus 11).
Arguably the most important factor to the Titans’ win, however, was their ability to make it to the free-throw line and score from there. Cal State Fullerton was at the line 26 more times than Cal Poly was in that game and scored 23 more free throws than the Mustangs.
Woes with free throws
In addition to the Mustangs’ troubles making 2’s and 3’s, there has been a significant decline in scoring from the free-throw line.
Currently, the team has been shooting 62.2 percent from behind the line against D-I opponents, which makes them No. 341 in the nation, according to KenPom. This is a stark contrast to the Mustangs’ 78.5 percent team free throw shooting percentage against D-I teams in the 2017-18 season, good for seventh in the nation.
While ESPN also counts Cal Poly’s games against their non-Division I opponents when calculating free throw percentage, the wide gap is still evident. The Mustangs were No. 10 according to ESPN in 2017-18, while they currently sit tied with Binghamton at No. 336 this season as of Feb. 9.
Senior point guard Donovan Fields, the all-time free throw leader in program history, has so far made 78.6 percent of his free throws against D-I opponents this season. Compared to last season, when Fields was fourth in the nation with his 92.6 percent accuracy from the line, he is making 14 percent less.
“[Fields] has been playing excellent, but we need him to be spectacular […],” Callero said in an interview on Mustang Gameday prior to their Jan. 26 game against Cal State Fullerton. “Crazy to say, but we [actually need an] MVP-type performance [from Fields] to elevate everybody else.”
Among the rest of the team, similar free throw shooting trends have appeared as well. Senior forward Kuba Niziol, senior guard Marcellus Garrick and sophomore forward Karlis Garoza have all been shooting worse at the line this season so far, compared to last season’s numbers.
Free throw shooting percentages (against Division I opponents only)
In addition to not making free throws, the Mustangs have also had trouble getting to the free-throw line this season.
Based on a ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts throughout this season, Cal Poly has a free throw rate of 21.9 percent against Division I opponents according to KenPom. This means that for every 100 field goal shots, the team is getting to the line 21.9 times.
A free throw rate of 21.9 percent is well below the NCAA Division I average of 33.4 percent. The Mustangs are last in the Big West in this statistic, and No. 349 out of 353 Division I programs.
If Cal Poly’s nine conference games were the only games factored into their free throw rate, that rate drops to 19.8 percent, which is last between all conference opponents and 13.6 percent lower than the NCAA D-I average.
A one-half team
Besides the Mustangs’ lack of scoring ability and free throw troubles, the team has had trouble remaining consistent throughout 40 minutes of play.
In their 22 games this season, the Mustangs have been outscored in one half after leading or tying in another half in 12 games this season.
Six of the Mustangs’ encounters this season saw them leading at the end of the first half before being outscored in the second half. Only one of these games, Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 8, saw the Mustangs hold on to win, albeit on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime.
In the six games where Cal Poly has been down at the half, the Mustangs came from behind to win only once. The lone instance of this happening occurred against USC Upstate on Nov. 24, when the Mustangs defeated the Spartans 75-74 in overtime.
In the games where the Mustangs were outscored in both halves, four games saw Cal Poly outscored in single digits in one half before being outscored by double digits in another half: Nov. 11 against Arizona, Jan. 23 against UC Riverside, Jan. 26 against Cal State Fullerton and Feb. 2 against CSUN.
In total, that’s 16 games where the Mustangs were either leading or down by single digits in one half and outscored by their opponents in another half.
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Statistics, at the end of the day, only fill one piece of the puzzle as to why the Mustangs are not good. Injuries, like the one to freshman guard Junior Ballard, are obvious detriments to a team’s performance and their calibre of play.
There are some bright spots in this black hole of a season, such as Cal Poly’s offensive turnover percentage rate of 18.7 percent. which is just below the Division I average of 18.9 percent. And while the dismal statistics can tell us a lot about a team’s performance, there’s only two numbers that truly matter at the end of the day: wins and losses.
Those two numbers are the ones that never lie and, with the help of these statistics, they clearly say one thing: The Cal Poly Men’s Basketball team is not good.