Checking in on the… Big WestPosted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2008
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
For the casual Big West fan – but really, who’s “only” a casual Big West fan – the conference standings may seem a bit perplexing as we near the end of the preseason schedule. For starters, the current standings look nothing like the predicted order of finish, with UCR all the way at the top and CSUN second from the bottom. A couple of embarrassing losses during the conference’s few televised games certainly did not help its image – but remember, friends, the pre-conference standings can be deceiving. A closer look reveals contenders, pretenders, and a few hidden gems to watch.
Let’s run down the Big West conference, beginning with the top of the standings, shall we?
- UC Riverside (7-2) – Whoa, seriously? No one but no one expected the Highlanders to amount to much this year, including me and my dead-last prediction. Theirs is an interesting story, because the Highlanders don’t shoot all that well from the field at 41.6%, but allow 45.2% from their opponents. Luckily for them, Riverside snares a ton of offensive rebounds and attempts way more shots than their opponents, allowing them to shoot a lower percentage and still come out on top. This strategy has worked so far against powerhouses like Occidental and Colgate, but let’s see how they do on the road at Hawaii – who lost to CSUF this season – next Tuesday.
- Pacific (5-3) – You can always count on a Bob Thomason team to beat the opponents they’re supposed to beat. Losses have come on the road against two PAC-10 teams (Cal and Washington) and home against a talented Fresno State. Wins at Nevada and at Pepperdine are positive steps forward, so let’s see how they do on Tuesday against 8-1 St. Mary’s.
- UCSB (5-5) – Well, that does it for the Big West teams with winning records. On to the “gray area!” UC Santa Barbara is going to do what they always do: rebound, play tough defense, and run a patient offense for good shots. Millionth-year senior Chris Devine ranks fourth in the conference in scoring (13.3ppg) and chips in 5.4 boards as well – no surprises there. I predicted them to finish second in the conference, and I’m not changing it now.
- Cal State Fullerton (5-6) – It’s easy to look at the Titans and be blinded by senior guard Josh Akognon, who leads the conference in scoring and just posted his second 41-point game of the season. But los elephantes have balanced depth behind their star, with four more players averaging between 7.9 and 10.8 points per game, while holding their opponents to a 41.3 shooting percentage. They won at Hawaii and beat Charlotte in OT, but got handled by St. Mary’s, so time will tell how far this team can go. Just don’t miss Akognon.
- Long Beach State (4-5) – The 49ers have run the gauntlet already in this young season – near-wins at BYU and Wisconsin followed by a promising four-game win streak (including two overtime victories), which was promptly followed by a blowout loss at Syracuse. With four freshmen logging serious minutes, Long Beach State is the Big West’s big gamble. They can be wonderful when nearly beating the Badgers and blowing out Pepperdine, or woeful in letting Weber State steal a win. Positives? They haven’t lost at home yet, those freshmen are some of the team’s most consistent players, and Donovan Morris is an early favorite for player of the year. Negatives? Games against Temple and at Oregon remain on the non-conference schedule. With undoubtedly the toughest schedule in the conference, the 49ers will be battle-tested come January. Need video evidence? Here:
6. Cal Poly SLO (3-5) – Some expected the Mustangs to make some noise this season, but if the non-conference is any indication, those people will be sorely disappointed. Cal Poly has beaten North Florida, Portland State and San Francisco – nothing to brag about – while only one of their losses has been within ten points. That was a one point home loss against Seattle University. No, I didn’t know Seattle University had a D-1 program, either. So the Mustangs have some work to do. Three players score around 11 points per game, but as a team they shoot an ugly 39.7% from the field and 66.4% from the line. They’ll need better efficiency and more production from power-post man Titus Shelton if they’re to avoid embarrassment in the conference.
7. UC Davis (4-7) – My dark horse! Yes, I’m sticking to it. Because while the Aggies may not look like much in the wins column, a deeper look reveals a team with heart. Big West fans, you know damn well that heart goes a long way in this conference. Their schedule hasn’t been too rough, but definitely no cakewalk either, falling on the road to Iowa State by just three and beating Cal State Bakersfield (which has given some other Big West teams trouble). Check out my man Joe Harden, who’s third in the conference with 15.2 points per game and second with 7.7 rebounds. Point guard Mark Payne leads the conference in steals and is second in assists. People, the Aggies are going places.
8. CSUN (3-6) – The only good thing I have to say about Cal State Northridge is that both my girlfriend and my mother recently graduated from there (congrats to my ladies!). It’s pretty much downhill after that. The Matadors were selected overwhelmingly to win the Big West this season, and have so far stumbled their way to a 3-6 record with losses to such powerhouses as Rider and Drexel. Wins at Denver and Pepperdine do little to ease the concerns of those who picked them to win the conference. Tremaine Townsend has posted respectable numbers of 12.5 & 7.1, but was expected to dominate and has shown no signs yet. Josh Jenkins leads the conference in assists, which is quite a feat considering their best shooter (Deon Tresvant) jacks ‘em up at a 34.6% clip. This team is going to have to get serious fast if they have hope of living up to their potential.
9. UCI (1-7) – Bringing up the rear is UC Irvine, who have defeated Big West whipping boy Pepperdine and no one else. They’ve played some tough teams in USC and Oregon, but also lost at home to Seattle and was spanked in a 54-point loss to Idaho. The Anteaters allow an unhealthy 54.1% shooting clip from their opponents. Let’s be honest, it’s a down year for the conference. But this is by far the bottom of the barrel so far. They’ll have to either move to NAIA or learn clamp-down defense overnight to finish over .500. With four more games before conference play, that’s just four more chances to lose. It’ll be a long season for the Anteater faithful.
Get your money’s worth with these five
- Josh Akognon (CSUF)
- Donovan Morris (LBSU)
- Joe Harden (UCD)
- Tremaine Townsend (CSUN)
- Chris Devine (UCSB)