This weekend the Lancers of California Baptist host the Dixie State Trailblazers in Riverside in a meeting between two recent Division I newcomers. It is also a matchup of former PacWest conference opponents.
This is a matchup between two interesting guard-forward combos. CBU features Reed Nottage and Gorjok Gak. And Dixie State counters with the inside-outside scoring threats of Cameron Gooden and Hunter Schofield.
In a series that both teams look to gain some momentum, the Lancers hope to keep up their 4-game winning streak whilst the Trailblazers look to get their season on track after being swept by GCU last weekend.
Perhaps the bigger storyline is the renewal of a former Division II rivalry. The last time Dixie State and California Baptist met on the hardwood was in 2018.
The Trailblazers and Lancers met for the PacWest tournament championship. Dixie State was the top-seed and CBU was the second-seed. The Trailblazers got the best of the Lancers on March 3, 2018, 66-65, to earn the PacWest automatic berth to the NCAA Division II regional.
Keys to the Game
DIXIE STATE TRAILBLAZERS
The Trailblazers have had an up and down first season in the WAC. Last weekend’s series against GCU personified that. On Friday night. Dixie State was in control for the majority of the contest. However, the game slipped away in the final minutes. And then the next day getting blown out. Friday was Dixie’s chance to steal one in the series but GCU proved to be too tough. Now Dixie looks to finish at least once in the upcoming series against California Baptist.
Cameron Gooden needs to get teammates involved
Gooden was his usual self even against tougher competition. The guard put up 22 points against GCU on Friday and then another 14 on Saturday, all whilst shooting 48% from the field over the course of the series. But, despite being a consistent scoring threat, defenses tend to know he will try to score when the ball is in his hands. Even with just three assists on Friday, Gooden made GCU aware of where the rest of the team was, as he was able to create a few good looks for his teammates. This helped Friday’s game be as close as it was. Saturday saw limited ball movement from across the Dixie State roster. And thus GCU’s defense was able to stop the Trailblazers pretty easily. If the Trailblazers want their first conference win, they will need Gooden to not only score, but help the rest of the team be able to contribute.
Hunter Schofield needs to establish consistency
Almost every time Schofield has scored in double digits, Dixie State has either won or kept the game close. The same applied against GCU. Schofield scored a season-high 23 points and helped Dixie State have a level of offensive depth that made Grand Canyon work hard a little harder. But then Saturday he disappeared for stretches, only attempting four shots. Schofield has been a great 6th man for Dixie State this year. Schofield’s bench scoring is what will help out Gooden and the rest of the starters keep the defense on their heels. They need that for this weekend as they face a California Baptist squad that will punish you on the inside if you’re not creating good opportunities.
CALIFORNIA BAPTIST LANCERS
Aside from a blemish in Orem, the California Baptist Lancers are looking to have yet another strong season since joining the WAC. Since their first season in the conference back in 2018, the Lancers have repeatedly been one of the most competitive teams in the WAC. After sweeping Tarleton State, the Lancers have had non-conference wins over NAIA school San Diego Christian and fellow LA Metro opponent Long Beach State. With their four-game win streak on the line, the Lancers not only look to keep up momentum, but increase their seeding in their first ever WAC Tourney appearance.
Spread the Floor
The Lancers’ bread and butter is spreading the floor and getting open looks from 3. Almost half of their attempted shots are 3-pointers. An extended 3-point line helps (the NCAA changed the Men’s Basketball 3-point line from 20’9” to 22’1.75” back in 2019) and California Baptist runs their offense almost like many G League and NBA teams do, with spacing the floor and one in the center. As a result, guards are seven of their eight top scorers. If their ball movement can be sharp and find holes in Dixie’s defense for open looks from 3, CBU will be able to keep up their win streak and score points in a hurry.
Win the Battle in the paint
Gorjok Gak has become one of the top rebounders in the WAC. With such a focus on guard play it really is up to Gak to control the boards and get second chance opportunities. Dixie State really struggled getting rebounds against the size of GCU’s Asbjørn Midtgaard and Gabe McGlothan. It will be up to Gak to make sure that the Trailblazers have the same problem against CBU. If Gak and CBU control the paint, they will continue to move up in the win column.
Last time I predicted Dixie would steal one against GCU, and they came oh-so-close to fulfilling that. But, the Trailblazers let it slip away in the end.
This would be a better chance to get their first conference win against a smaller CBU squad. But, the Lancers are coming into this game hotter than a summer day in St. George. If Dixie State is going to overcome that momentum they will have to do so with good, tough defense, especially on the perimeter.
Somehow I feel that despite Dixie State’s defense, California Baptist will be able to keep up momentum, and turn their four-game winning streak into a six-game winning streak. Look for the Lancers to sweep.