Checking in on the… Big WestPosted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2009
Ryan ZumMallen of LBSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
It’s been a trippy, trippy ride through the Big West Conference thus far, with everything seeming to be so upside-down that I can’t help but wonder if I accidentally ate some of those mushrooms my mom warned me about. Everything I once thought to be right in the world is now uncertain. Nothing makes sense anymore, and we’re all just along for the ride.
If, back in September, you would have told me that Long Beach State would be undefeated in conference play while UC Santa Barbara boasted a .250% winning percentage, I would have told you to go back to Jupiter. Because that’s the only place that a situation like that would have made sense. And yet here we are in January, with a senior-laden, defensive Gaucho team standing at 1-3 while the 49ers ride four (count ’em, four) freshmen to a 4-0 record (9-7 overall).
The prospect of having teams defy conventional wisdom within the conference is not so unusual. Big West Conference standings are often in stark contrast to its preseason rankings because, frankly, even those who pay close attention to the conference have little idea of what any team is really capable of. Rising teams sneak up on their opponents all the time because there’s just not a whole lot of information out there to base an accurate opinion. If the Tar Heels started running the Triangle Offense tonight, every ACC assistant coach worth his salt would have five different ways to shut it down by dawn. Information travels slowly in the Big West, and so it’s not unfeasible that a team can be selected to finish eighth in the Big West only to be undefeated through four conference games (including two on the road).
No one realized how much talent was lurking on the campus of Long Beach State, how much turmoil was about to explode in Northridge, or how an injury to a freshman could cripple Santa Barbara. And that’s why the Big West Conference standings are currently all topsy-turvy, and also why I would not rank the teams in order of their current conference standing.
Long Beach State – They have to be considered the best team in the conference at this point, after a rigorous preseason schedule that featured a win against Temple followed by a four-game romp through quality comp. We’ll see who’s really real on Saturday when they host the preseason favorites…
Cal State Northridge – Not a deep team, but their best players are the conference’s best. The Matadors are going through a midseason resurgence after disastrous pre-conference losses to subpar competition and the arrests of four players in a Best Buy theft scheme gone wrong. That’s enough to cripple any team, but CSUN pulled off a thrilling comeback win against UC Riverside and could right the ship with a win in the LBC.
UC Davis – My preseason darkhorse pick is ranked higher than even I expected them to be at this point, pretty much thanks to the futility and inconsistency of everyone else in the conference. The Aggies’ strength is in their backcourt size and free-throw shooting (tops in the nation) – two things that can carry a team a long way in the Big West. They allowed Long Beach to go on a 40-13 run in their own house, but battled it down to a respectable total before taking their anger out on the Titans in Fullerton. They’re mean and smart, and that in itself makes them better than most.
Pacific – Long Beach’s Dan Monson may be the popular new kid on the block, but Bob Thomason is still the best coach in the conference and I will never bet against the Tigers for that reason. This is still the guy that took a team of role players into the Sweet 16 and rattled off a 22-game winning streak. This team doesn’t have that talent or enough consistency, but has enough to give Thomason the weapons he needs.
UC Irvine – On paper they have the conference’s third best record, but the Anteaters got to their 2-2 mark by beating a hapless Cal Poly and defeating Pacific by one after squandering a fifteen-point lead. Their overall record hovers around .500 and haven’t even gotten to the meat and potatoes of the conference yet. This is one of the teams that will drop as the Big West season goes on.
Cal State Fullerton & UC Riverside – The Titans and Highlanders have identical 2-3 records through five games, both having lost to semi-decent competition and both having beaten the conference’s worst. Fullerton has the conference’s best pure scorer in 5’11” Josh Akognon, so they get the nod.
UC Santa Barbara – The Gauchos were picked to finish second in the conference, and should be ranked much higher than this by any measure. But Santa Barbara has suffered since losing leading rebounder Jesse Byrd, an injury that left this team with obvious problems in the middle and serious toughness questions. All that said, they’re still better than Fullerton or Riverside (despite having lost to both). Byrd will be back soon, but UCSB will have to make very quick improvements if they expect any shot at a good seed in the conference tournament.
Cal Poly SLO – The Big West has a team like this every year (sometimes two or three!). Unfortunately for the Mustangs, it’s their turn. They’ve been utterly pitiful, winning three cake non-conference games and losing convincingly against their Big West peers. They shoot erratically and allow opponents to take quality shots. Nothing is for certain this season but the Mustangs are definitely the team with the least potential for improvement.
Top 5 Players Worth Your Attention:
- Josh Akognon (CSUF) 5’11” G – 23.8 ppg, .386 FG, .349 3PT
- Casper Ware (LBSU) 5’9″ G – 9.6 ppg, 3.8 assts, .407 3PT, 1.3 stls
- Mark Payne (UCD) 6’7″ G – 12.3 ppg, 6.7 rebs, 4.9 assts, 1.9 stls
- Tremaine Townsend (CSUN) 6’9″ F – 12.5 ppg, 7.5 rebs, .507 FG
- Donovan Morris (LBSU) 6’3″ G – 16.7ppg, 3.6 rebs, .440 FG
Top 5 Games To Watch:
Sat. January 17
- UC Irvine vs. UC Davis (FSN PT)
- Long Beach State vs. CS Northridge
- CS Fullerton vs. Pacific (ESPN2)
Wed. January 21
- CS Northridge vs. CS Fullerton
Thurs. January 22
- UC Davis vs. UC Santa Barbara