Checking in on the… Big WestPosted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2009
Ryan ZumMallen of LBSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
Let’s be very honest about the Big West for a minute: The conference will only send one team to the NCAA Tournament that will probably be seeded 13th or 14th in their region, and there isn’t a single can’t-miss NBA prospect in the conference.
Here’s why you should watch the Big West, anyway.
1. It’s Been A Great Race
Long Beach State jumped out to an early 5-0 conference record behind the fresh legs of their four freshmen, but were hit with an injury to leading scorer Donovan Morris and have stumbled ever since, going just 2-4 in their last six. The most recent loss, a double-overtime thriller at UC Riverside, put the ball in Cal State Northridge’s court. The Matadors, picked in October by both media and coaches to win the conference title, beat that same Riverside team to snatch a full-game lead on Long Beach State. But beware as five teams trail Northridge by 2.5 games or less.
1) Cal State Northridge 12-10 (8-3)
2) Long Beach State 12-11 (7-4)
3) Pacific 14-9 (7-5)
4) Cal State Fullerton 13-12 (7-6)
5) UC Riverside 14-10 (6-6)
6) UC Davis 11-14 (6-6)
7) UC Irvine 8-17 (5-7)
8) UC Santa Barbara 10-13 (4-7)
9) Cal Poly SLO 6-16 (3-9)
2. The Games Have Been Fantastic
What more could you ask for, right? Last week alone, UC Santa Barbara squeaked by Cal Poly SLO, the nets were on fire as Fullerton and Davis combined for 201 points, and Riverside topped Long Beach in a 2OT marathon – and only because the 49er freshmen finally broke down after 141 combined minutes between the four of them. Northridge also finally regained its footing to capture the conference lead. But as long as Pacific has both talent and coach Bob Thomason (and they have copious amounts of both), the Tigers are a title contender. They currently sit a half-game behind Long Beach and a half-game ahead of Fullerton, who could go for 51 points one night and 106 the next – as they did in back-to-back games last week. This year, you never really know what’s going to happen next.
3. Future Stars Are Emerging
Heading into this year, there was a lot of uncertainty around the league because so many seniors graduated after last season. Many teams were starting over with completely new rosters or would be relying on undoubtedly unproven underclassmen. Meanwhile, the few elders we expected to dominate have faced their own struggles: Morris has been derailed by an injury, Northridge’s Tremaine Townsend was largely ineffective for large stretches, and Fullerton’s Josh Akognon has looked not like the raw NBA prospect we last year, but as a James White-essque talent who deserves a pro tryout but doesn’t have enough to garner a deal.
The upside? A new crop of players have grabbed the reigns, and figure to stay in the picture for several years. As was mentioned, Long Beach State fields four freshmen – shooting guard Larry Anderson has averaged 21.0 in his last three games while classmate T.J. Robinson snatched Player of the Week honors with averages of 24.0 and 11.0 in two games. UC Davis has emerged from the Big West cellar on the shoulders of sophomores – 6’5″ guard Mark Payne and Notre Dame transfer Joe Harden, who average 11.0 and 14.4 respectively. Payne shoots 67.5% from the field (as a two-guard!) and Harden is second in conference with 7.4 boards. Speaking of banging, UC Irvine’s Eric Wise has played beyond his 18 years, pouring in 13.3 per game while also grabbing 5.7 boards. It’s turned into a young man’s league, and the Big West expects another stellar crop of recruits next season.
It wasn’t heavily reported, but three Big West coaches reached career milestones last week alone. Thanks to the Big West’s Twitter feed, we learn that Pacific’s Thomason reached the 300 win plateau in his career with a victory over Irvine, whose Pat Douglass earned his 100th career W just a few nights earlier. The exact same night, Fullerton’s Bobby Braswell counted win No. 200. So the problem is not on the sidelines.
The talent is not always there, but like I said, it’s coming – just take a look at the underclassmen in the stat leaderboards. In two or three years time, with better recruits and a Tourney run or two, we could look on the Big West as the Little Conference That Could.
Games To Watch This Week
- Long Beach State at Cal State Fullerton (02/18)
- Pacific vs. San Diego (2/21) ESPN-U BracketBuster Game
- UC Davis vs. Fresno State (2/21) ESPN-U BracketBuster Game