The Drake University men’s basketball team opens up competition in the DIRECTV Classic Thursday evening in Anaheim, Calif., against California on ESPN2 at 10:30 p.m. CST.
The Golden Bears will be the first of three opponents in four days for the Bulldogs in the eight-team event. Drake plays either Rice or Georgia Tech in its second game at the tournament.
California, which was picked to finish third in the Pac-12 preseason poll, is 3-0 on the season with wins over CSU-Bakersfield, Pepperdine and Denver. The Golden Bears are led by a pair of players that average more than 20 points per game in Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs.
“They are going to be talented and I know Crabbe is a terrific player,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said of Cal. “They are going to be well coached and they come from a great league. It's going to be a heck of a challenge for our basketball team.”
Thursday’s tourney opener has the potential to pit two high-scoring offenses against each other as Drake has averaged 87.5 points per game in its two games this season while Cal has scored 76.3 points per game. Additionally, the Bulldogs are shooting 52.6 percent from the field while Cal has converted on 49 percent of its attempts.
The Bulldogs have five players averaging in double-figures with senior Ben Simons’ 18 points per game leading the way followed by Richard Carter’s 14.5 points per game and Jordan Clarke’s 12 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. In the team’s last outing, an 85-79 loss at Detroit, Clarke scored 17 points with 10 rebounds and was 6-of-7 from the field. The senior has hauled in 10 or more rebounds in four of his last five games.
Thursday’s meeting is the fifth between the two programs, but the first since 1985. Cal leads the all-time series by a 3-1 margin.
In addition to providing a great early season challenge against a talented field, the DIRECTV Classic also allows a few Bulldogs to play in familiar territory. Junior Gary Ricks, Jr., is originally from the Los Angeles area and attended Sylmar High School before enrolling at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. Freshman Daddy Ugbede, a native of Nigeria, played his high school senior season at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif. Assistant coach Chris Brazelton is from Highland, Calif., attended UC Irvine and Fresno State before coaching five seasons at UC Riverside.
Drake’s second game of the tournament will tipoff at either 8:30 or 11 p.m. CST with television clearances to be determined. The team’s final game in Anaheim will come against either Xavier, St. Mary’s, Drexel or Pacific on Sunday at a time to be determined.