By rolling out a smaller starting unit in the past two games, head coach Wyking Jones and the Cal men’s basketball team (3-5) have finally addressed the issue of a poor 3-point defense. Against Central Arkansas (4-4) and one of the nation’s elite snipers, Cal’s revamped defense will have its hands full in the battle of the Bears.
After allowing opponents to knock down 43 percent of 3-pointers in its first six games, Cal’s past two opponents have only hit 31 percent of their shots beyond the arc. Swapping out 7’1” senior big man Kingsley Okoroh for 6’5” freshman guard Juhwan Harris-Dyson has given Cal more defensive versatility around the perimeter.
Central Arkansas has played two premier opponents in previously ranked No. 24 Baylor and No. 18 UCLA, but the program has had one of the easier schedules among Division I teams. According to ESPN, Central Arkansas has one of the weakest schedules in the nation up to this point, ranked 312 out of 351 Division I schools. Among Central Arkansas’ opponents have been Alcorn State, South Carolina State and University of the Ozarks, a Division III program.
Regardless of the opponent, Central Arkansas’ star senior Jordan Howard has been enjoying a career year in his last go-round with the Bears. Central Arkansas’ head coach Russ Pennell has effectively given Howard the keys to the Bears’ offense, and the 5’11” guard has more than willingly taken up the task of being the team’s primary offensive weapon.
Being utilized on offense now more than ever, Howard has been averaging 23.1 points and 3.6 assists per game, both of which are career highs. Surprisingly enough, Howard is putting up these totals on amazing efficiency despite shooting a noticeable uptick in his usage rate. Howard’s 3-point percentage of 40 percent is a couple ticks down from his career average of 42 percent, but the senior’s true shooting percentage — a statistic that considers 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws — is almost identical to his career best.
Howard’s best performance of the season thus far came during Central Arkansas’ marquee matchup against UCLA. The Bears ultimately fell to the Bruins 106-101 in overtime, but the senior finished the game with 35 points, hitting eight of 15 shots from beyond the arc.
One of those 3-point bombs was of the go-ahead variety, when Howard drained a three in the corner off an inbounds play to put Central Arkansas up by one with a little over three seconds remaining. Even in defeat, Howard, who holds the school record for most 3-pointers made in a season, may have put himself on the radar of NBA teams.
Figuring out a way to stop Howard will be one of Cal’s main priorities on the defensive end of the floor. Cal struggled to defend the 3-point shot in its first six games, but head coach Wyking Jones’ transition to a small-ball lineup has yielded instant results.
With Harris-Dyson and fellow freshman Justice Sueing on the perimeter and senior Marcus Lee down in the paint, as well as Okoroh’s presence with the second unit, Jones may have found a winning defensive formula.