MODESTO — Recite the questions today because the answers, at least the first clues, won't be known until tomorrow.
Are the Modesto Junior College women as good as their record (11-3)?
Will the MJC men (8-6) find the identity that best fits them?
How good are the Pirate women when all their players are healthy?
Can the men bypass the flashy play and execute the right play?
Questions galore waiting for responses, which begin in tonight's Big 8 Conference doubleheader against American River. The women start at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men at 7:30 at MJC Gym.
The MJC men tuned up for the opener with a disappointing 66-46 loss last Thursday at Cabrillo. It was the Pirates' first game in 19 days and the rust showed. They yielded 29 straight points during the first half due in part to 17 turnovers and struggled offensively against the Cabrillo zone.
So far, the Pirates have teased their fans with moments of brilliance. Their upside goes undisputed with all-around talents such as 6-foot-7 forward Tashawn Mabry (15.7-point average) and guard Mike Hill (11.9 points).
What baffles coach Paul Brogan and his staff is the inconsistency. Other than 6-5 220-pound forward Brenden Evans (17.7 points, 9.4 rebounds), the Pirates lurch through games and miss seemingly easy fast-break baskets and finishes.
The tough Big 8, which features a powerhouse in Santa Rosa (12-4) and all but two teams with winning records, will identify both strengths and weaknesses.
"We have to realize that it doesn't always have to be a highlight," Brogan said. "If we can just make the simple play, we'll be fine."
American River (6-5) will match Modesto's size. Winning the opener at home will mean a lot to the Pirates.
"They (ARC) like to grind it out," Brogan said. "We'll have an advantage if we get the tempo going."
Meanwhile, the MJC women ranked sixth in Northern California are off to their best start since, well, last year's 9-4. Season-ending injuries to two starters in 2012, however, tumbled the Pirates into a difficult 4-10 in the Big 8.
MJC's all-sophomore starting lineup has clicked. Balanced scoring is the Pirates' calling card with Briona Fontenot (14.6 points), Jode Johnson (11.4), Madelyn Birchall (10.8) and Lexy Posz (10.1)
Problem is, the Pirates seldom have graced the same court. Shotblocking center Jamie Beck (9.5 points) joined the team after the end of volleyball season, and injuries have prevented MJC from showing its best form.
They've been on the court together on game-night only once a 92-42 laugher over Reedley on Nov. 20.
They'll be less than 100 percent tonight for American River (6-5). Birchall nurses an ankle injury and point guard Camille Roberts is slowed by a sore knee. Neither practiced Monday, though Roberts could see action.
Roberts, who underwent surgery to repair her right knee last season, sprained her left knee this time and has missed the last six games.
"We expect them (Birchall and Roberts) to be back with us. Whether it's three days or six days is anothing thing," MJC coach Mike Girardi said. "We've stayed positive and patient."