Summer School in the Big WestPosted by Brian Goodman on August 25th, 2010
Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
Around The Big West:
- Turner In At UC-Irvine: The college coaching carousel is not something that is unfamiliar when the offseason rolls around. The Big West Conference, like a majority of Division I men’s basketball conferences, endured a coaching change this past offseason when Russell Turner left his job as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors to take the job at UC Irvine in April. It will be Turner’s first tenure as a head coach at any level, though he has collegiate experience at Stanford and Wake Forest, where he worked with All-Americans Josh Childress and Tim Duncan, respectively. He replaces Pat Douglass after the Anteaters went 14-18 and finished near the bottom of the conference last season. Douglass had a 13-year tenure with UCI and left the school as the Anteaters’ all-time winningest coach with 197 victories.
- LBSU’s Recruiting Class Gets Props: Scout, Inc.’s Michael LaPlante gave a B- grade to the Long Beach State 49ers’ recruiting class. The 49ers were the only team from the Big West on LaPlante’s list of 12 schools from non-power conferences, which included higher-profile mid-majors such as New Mexico and Dayton. The 49ers were able to get on the list due to the fact that they are bringing in six new faces to fuel what was already a sprouting program under head coach Dan Monson. The list of recruits is split in half between high school recruits and junior college transfers. Highly-touted shooting guard Jacob Thomas will pair with transfer guards Corey Jackson and Khalid Gerard to join what is already a young and athletic backcourt. The 49ers were also able to add Edis Dervisevic, who spent the past two seasons at Western Texas College. Monson chose the 6’8 forward for his shooting ability (48.3% from three-point range in the past two seasons) and his knack for passing the ball. All six players seem to be ready to play now, but may have to sit behind a talented 49ers roster, which includes T.J Robinson and Casper Ware.
- Byrd Returns to Pacific After Woliczko Resigns: While at Pacific as an assistant coach, Calvin Byrd played a key role in the school collecting many wins, and now the man that helped set a school record of 27 victories in 2004-05 will return to the same post to help guide a veteran Tiger club that has several seniors looking to break that very record. In his five years away from Pacific, Byrd rendered his services to Loyola Marymount and the University of San Francisco. His hiring occurred almost two months after Tigers assistant Aaron Woliczko resigned from his job to take the head coaching position at Montana Tech.
- Early Dap For Johnson: The awards keep piling for Orlando Johnson. After leading UC Santa Barbara to the 2010 NCAA tournament, the junior forward was honored as the Big West Player of the Year in addition to being the Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player. Johnson has garnered some preseason attention, and we’ll see if he earns it come springtime. According to Rivals.com, Johnson was selected as one of five players to make up the Mid-Major All-America Team for 2010-11. The selection comes a year after the 6’5 Johnson scored 18 points per game, while snaring 5.4 rebounds per contest. Even more impressive was that Johnson became a leader on an extremely young Gauchos squad that started four sophomores in their 2009-10 campaign.
- UC Santa Barbara Gauchos: Although trampled by Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gauchos seem poised to make another run at the conference’s regular season and postseason championships, which will mean another NCAA berth. They have a pretty complete starting lineup heading into the 2010-11 season. In terms of additions and subtractions, the Gauchos are a team that can’t be really evaluated only because this is a team that is mostly the same from last season. However, they did lose guard James Powell, who was their third-leading scorer in 2009-10. The team landed a transfer, New Mexico’s Nate Garth, who could help them in future seasons, but is ineligible in 2010-11. Also transferring is Colorado forward Keegan Hornbuckle, who will spend the upcoming year on the bench. Despite the new players, the Gauchos shouldn’t need to look forward with their aspirations. The duo of James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson is one of the best the conference has seen in the past decade as both players enter their junior seasons. The time to win games and build the program’s reputation is now, which means both Johnson and Nunnally, who averaged 18 and 14.7 points per game last season, respectively, have a rare responsibility this upcoming year — put Santa Barbara and the Big West Conference on the national map. It is possible for the Gauchos, as they have the experience to play deep into March and again represent the Big West in the NCAA Tournament. However, they will have to ward off Long Beach State and Pacific, who will look to throw off the defending champs.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 23-8 (13-3).
- Long Beach State 49ers: The 49ers are in contention for a Big West crown this season. They bring back a pair of star forwards in Eugene Phelps and T.J Robinson, while only losing a few seniors, most notably Stephan Gilling, who averaged 9.4 points per game last season. Also returning are guards Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and Greg Plater, who make up what could be considered to be the best backcourt trio in the conference. Add in prized recruit Jacob Thomas, a lengthy shooter from Columbia Heights, Minnesota, who turned down Wisconsin and Minnesota to play for head coach Dan Monson, and the 49ers have at least six players who can average nine or more points again. The team will get tested early and often, as they have already scheduled themselves for two tournaments early in the year. Big matchups include games versus Clemson, Washington, Utah State, St. Mary’s and Arizona State, which make the 49ers’ nonconference schedule arguably the toughest in the Big West. However, they do have the talent to pull an upset over a power conference team like Washington on November 30, which would build momentum heading into a big matchup against St. Mary’s in the first round of the John R. Wooden Classic on December 18.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 21-10 (12-4).
- Pacific Tigers: No team in the Big West can sleep on Pacific. They return five of their six top leading scorers from last season and have not only the depth but the size to out play any team in the league. Although they aren’t the best offensive team in the conference, the combination of Demetece Young, Terrell Smith, Pat Eveland and Sam Willard give the Tigers a threat that will be tough to defend. Willard is as good as any post player in the conference and the duo of Smith and Young will be tough for anyone to contain in the open court. The addition of freshman Khalil Kelley, a 6’8 forward from Rancho Cucamonga, California, gives the team even more versatility and some raw talent to work with. Some other key offseason addition include Andrew Brock, a point guard who transferred from Creighton after his freshman season, and shooting guard Spencer Llewellyn, who averaged 26.7 points per game last season playing in Australia. Giving the Tigers even more depth is sophomore guard Allen Huddleston, who averaged 5.5 points per game last season despite playing under 15 minutes per contest.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 21-13 (10-6)
- UC Davis Aggies: With four new recruits, the Aggies bring in one of the conference’s best new group of players. Harrison DuPont, a transfer guard from the Citadel, gives the Aggies even more talent in the backcourt. UC Davis also brought in freshman center Mike Kurtz, who may be able to start from day one. Graduating forward Dominic Calegari certainly hurts the Aggies. and without his scoring presence. it seems hard to think this team could finish in the top half of the conference. However, it is possible, because the Aggies are coming of a season in which they went further in the conference tournament than ever before and return to powerful guards in Mark Payne and Joe Harden. The duo combined to average 30 points per game last season and return to spearhead a team poised to continue in the right direction. Despite a schedule that includes Pac-10 powerhouses California and UCLA, UC Davis will have plenty of opportunities to get big wins early in the season. The Aggies open the season playing Portland, UC Santa Cruz and Boise State. Last seasons, the Aggies beat the Broncos and hope that starting the season with three wins against competitive teams will thrust them in the right direction.
Projected 2010-11 record: 18-14 (8-8).
- UC Irvine Anteaters: The Anteaters have won two Big West regular season titles, but have never advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The task posed at new head coach Russell Turner: get them there. It is a lot of pressure on the 39 year-old head coach, considering that the team’s leading scorer, junior Eric Wise, contemplated transferring in the offseason. However, there is good news. Wise is back, looking again to lead the team in points, rebounds, and assists as he did last year. Junior guard Darren Moore, who averaged 11.2 points per game last season, will pair with Wise to give Turner a formidable pair to work with. Freshman guard Chris McNealy, the 2010 Northern California Player of the Year, is the prize recruit of Turner’s first class and was looked at by Stanford, Boston College, and Temple before signing a letter of intent to play for UC Irvine.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 16-16 (8-8)
- Cal State Fullerton Titans: Playing eight of their first 11 games on the road will not be easy for the Titans, but if they can withstand a trek of away games that include matchups against USC, Arizona, and the University of San Diego, they will be able to play with a pretty good record going into conference play. Last season, the Titans upset UCLA in the Bruins’ season opener and with two more Pac-10 teams on their slate this season, the team will have the opportunity for more big wins. Senior forward Jer’Vaughn Johnson scored 11.3 points per game in 2009-10 and will need to do even more in 2010-11 if the Titans want to be among the top teams in the conference. The team graduated leading scorer Gerard Anderson and the team leader in assists, Jacques Streeter. The team lost six seniors from last seasons roster and will be without three of their transfer recruits, who must sit the season out. In addition to Johnson, the Titanswill have a roster that has a total of five seniors.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 16-17 (7-9).
- Cal Poly Mustangs: The Mustangs finished 2010-11 with four players averaging double digit scoring per game. The loss of guard Lorenzo Keeler will hurt the team, but star guard Shawn Lewis, who exploded in Big West play last year, will return. Lewis pairs with big men Will Donahue and David Hanson, who both finished with over five rebounds per game. Newcomers like point guard Amaurys Fermin and guards Malik Love, and Jamal Johnson will have an opportunity to play off the bench. The Mustangs will play at UCLA and California before kicking off their conference schedule against Long Beach State on December 30. The matchup against the 49ers should be a good measuring stick as to how the team will compare to some of the Big West’s best competition.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 13-17 (7-9).
- Cal State Northridge Matadors: It’s hard to say whether or not the Matadors can replace leading scorer Kenny Daniels, who averaged 15.6 points per game last year and was arguably the best scorer in the conference, especially late in the season. Senior forward Lenny Daniel will need to step up and be the team’s leading scorer as well as its leading rebounder, which he was last season. Daniel will be able to pair with incoming freshman Aqeel Quinn, a 6’4 point guard with special talent that could help the Matadors rise from the cellar of the Big West. Other promising newcomers Frankie Eteuati and Jordan Mitchell are both coming in straight from high school. Eteuati is a versatile 6’9 forward, who averaged 22 points, eight rebounds, and five assists per game last season while playing at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 13-20 (6-10).
- UC Riverside Highlanders: Looking at the UC Riverside 2010-11 schedule, one can’t really feel that there are a ton of winnable games. Riverside may be trapped at the bottom of the Big West for another season. Last year, they challenged quality teams like New Mexico, USC, San Diego State, and conference opponent Santa Barbara, while beating Pacific late in the season at home. Expect the Highlanders to play hard, but don’t expect more than a dozen wins, which won’t be good enough to make the Big West Conference tournament.
Projected 2010-2011 record: 10-19 (4-12).
- Big Games Loom in December: Long Beach State became the first team from the Big West since 1994 to earn an invitation to the John R. Wooden Classic, which will occur on December 18. The tournament features the 49ers as well as UCLA, BYU, and Saint Mary’s, each tournament teams from last season representing the Pac-10, the Mountain West and the West Coast Conference, respectively.
- Honorary Conference Members: Cal Poly, CS Fullerton and UC Davis all have dates with UCLA in the nonconference schedule, while Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State and California will make for other common opponents.