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Fresno State senior guard Jaron Hopkins drives to the basket (1) against UC Merced on Nov. 3, 2017 at the Save Mart Center. The Bulldogs won 79-39. (Alejandro Soto/The Collegian)

A new identity for men’s basketball

Prime time, here come the ‘Dogs. Fresno State kicks off its 2017-18 men’s basketball campaign on Friday against UC Santa Cruz.

The ‘Dogs finished 2-1 in exhibition play, which featured routs of 43 and 40 points over Pacific Union College and UC Merced. Saint Mary’s was responsible for the one loss, beating the Bulldogs 85-76 in a game that raised $6,400 for the Northern California Fire Relief efforts, according to Fresno State Athletics.

Head coach Rodney Terry has made the most of the team’s three exhibition games, stating how important that time was in establishing the team’s identity.

“It is not so much about the opponents that we play,” Terry said. “It is about us having a staple for what we are doing on defense and a staple for what we are trying to do on offense.”

An identity is important for a team that has lost three major contributors from last season. Forwards Karachi Edo, Cullen Russo and Paul Watson have graduated. Together they averaged a total of 26.9 points and 16.2 rebounds per game.

“It’s a new team. It’s a new season – new opportunities for other guys to step up,” Terry said. “Bryson Williams I think is going to be a guy that grows all year long in what we’re asking him to do.”

Williams averaged 17.2 minutes per game last season, but his role on the the team will be more prominent this time around. Terry said he hopes to see the same amount of scoring and rebounding output from Williams that Edo gave them.

Terry also hopes his team commits fewer turnovers. The Bulldogs ranked eighth in the Mountain West in turnovers last season.

“It’s something that we’ve stressed all spring and summer. We knew it was something we needed to build on from a year ago,” Terry said of the team’s turnover struggles.

Terry wants fewer turnovers and more assists. He expects the ‘Dogs to move the ball each and every game, and hopes to see that reflected in the statistics with 16 to 17 assists per game.

Free throws are another point of emphasis for Terry and his team. The ‘Dogs shot 69.7 percent last year, which ranked ninth in the conference. He said his guys have worked and will continue to work on that aspect of their game, adding that they need to “trust the process.”

But most of all, Terry wants the Bulldogs to be defensively oriented. That is a mentality the team has already adopted, as made evident by guard Jahmel Taylor.

“The team is constantly excited about learning. Each game we’ve tried to improve and get our defense better and better,” Taylor said. “As we get along during the season, we know it is going to be tough. We need to gel now so that when we get into those really tough games, we understand each other, and we won’t have any problems with communication.”

The ‘Dogs ranked second in opponent field-goal percentage and first in turnovers forced last season. Terry wants to make sure those trends continue into this season.

“Everything is on the defensive side for me,” Terry said. “We will figure out ways to score the basketball, but we are stressing the importance of making stops and getting the defense set on that end of the court.”

The ‘Dogs were picked to finish fourth in the conference in a preseason coaches’ poll. But for now, they are zoned in on their matchup with the Banana Slugs, Terry said. The coach wants his team to approach the season one game at a time.

The game against UC Santa Cruz tips off at 5 p.m. on Friday at the Save Mart Center.