RTC Conference Primers: #17 – Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2010

Ryan ZumMallen is the RTC Correspondent for the Big West Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. UC Santa Barbara (13-3)
  2. Long Beach State (12-4)
  3. UC Davis (11-5)
  4. Cal Poly (9-7)
  5. Pacific (9-7)
  6. UC Irvine (8-8)
  7. Cal State Fullerton (5-11)
  8. UC Riverside (3-13)
  9. Cal State Northridge (2-14)

All-Conference Team

  • Casper Ware (G) – Long Beach State
  • Orlando Johnson (G) – UC Santa Barbara
  • James Nunally (F) – UC Santa Barbara
  • T.J. Robinson (F) – Long Beach State
  • Eric Wise (C) – UC Irvine

Sixth Man

Mark Payne (G) – UC Davis

Impact Newcomer

Kareem Nitoto (G) – UC Riverside

Casper Ware and the 49ers are ready to unseat UC Santa Barbara. Is this their year?

What You Need To Know

The Big West is a conference perennially striving to cross the threshold into the higher tier of mid-major leagues. Only they never do. The Big West has struggled to produce teams that attract any attention with their quality of wins, and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since Pacific did so in 2005. But last year, both Fullerton and Long Beach State defeated UCLA for the first wins against the Bruins in conference history (How did the Big West respond? By scheduling FIVE non-conference games with UCLA this season). This year, the top two squads have a lot of people excited for their chances of making a national splash, especially with marquee games like Long Beach State entering Chapel Hill. But top-to-bottom, it’s not a stacked year for the conference. Still, there is potential and some teams are clearly making a Gonzaga-style push while others are more stagnant.

Predicted Champion

UC Santa Barbara (NCAA: #12 seed): With all five starters returning from the team that won the conference championship last season, the Gauchos are the clear favorite to rep the Big West come tourney time. Last year’s POY, Orlando Johnson, exceeded sky-high expectations, and the pressure will be on the 6’5 guard to keep it up despite constant double teams.

Top Contenders

  • Long Beach State – The 49ers return 79% of their scoring from a team that rode a furious late-season rally into last year’s conference championship, only to fall to UCSB. Four stellar juniors – including conference leaders in rebounds and assists – return to face a brutal non-conference schedule. The big question for Long Beach is depth on the bench; it may not be enough to overcome the Gauchos.
  • UC Davis – With a likely down year for Pacific and other teams dealing with unexpected departures, a void is left near the top of the conference that the Aggies are poised to snatch. UC Davis would likely have finished better than a three-way tie for third last year if guard Mark Payne hadn’t missed eight games to injury. The 6’8 slasher is a terror on the wing and fellow senior forward Joe Harden remains one of the conference’s most consistent scorers. They’re surrounded by a supporting cast of lethal guards, and if they get bench help, look for this squad to pose a threat for the title.

Top 5 RPI Boosters

  • Nov. 14 – UCSB vs Oregon  9:00pm ET
  • Dec. 4 – Pacific at Texas A&M  8:00pm ET
  • Dec. 11 – Long Beach State at UNC  7:00pm ET (FS South)
  • Dec. 13 – UC Davis at UCLA  10:30pm ET (PRIME)
  • Dec. 18 – Long Beach State vs St. Mary’s  2:45pm ET

Key Conference Games

  • Dec. 28 – Long Beach State at UC Santa Barbara 11:00 pm ET (ESPNU)
  • Jan. 12 – UC Davis at Long Beach State 11:00 pm ET (ESPNU)
  • Feb. 3 – Pacific at UC Santa Barbara 11:30 pm ET (ESPNU)
  • Feb. 5 – Pacific at Cal Poly 10:00 pm ET
  • Feb. 12 – UC Davis at Pacific 10:00 pm ET

Digging Deeper

The bad teams are bad. Really bad. But looking at the top half of the standings, I see the team that played a more competitive non-conference schedule taking the upper hand. UCSB has games against Oregon, San Diego State and UNLV, but Long Beach State has games against Clemson, Washington, North Carolina and more noteworthy squads (Note: Long Beach tried this strategy last year too and got blown out by Notre Dame, West Virginia, Duke and Texas, and it didn’t seem to do them much good, so you never know). Pacific also plays above themselves at Texas A&M and in the Preseason NIT. I still think Santa Barbara is the best team, but it won’t do them much good in the long run if they continue to be hesitant in their non-conference scheduling.

NCAA Tournament History

The Big West has compiled a 40-52 (.435) record in the NCAA Tournament. Not too bad for a mid-major, right? Think again. The conference is just 6-21 since former member UNLV‘s Final Four run in 1991. To the Big West’s credit, a pair of teams have pulled the reliable #12-over-#5 upset over the last ten years: Pacific over Providence in 2004 and Utah State over Ohio State in 2001. The Aggies almost changed the course of history in 2003 when, as a #15-seed, they lost a three-point nailbiter in the first round to eventual national runner-up Kansas.

Final Thoughts

In a regional climate that includes USC football, Pac-10 basketball, the Lakers and all of Hollywood, it’s hard for the Big West to gain any attention. We often have to judge the quality of the conference with a lot of weight given to performance outside the conference schedule. There’s just too much local competition and the Big West needs to make a splash to get any play in a hyper-competitive market. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t fantastic players and hard-fought battles happening every night. This probably won’t be the season that the Big West makes that big leap into national relevance or even reaches the heights that Pacific brought in the mid-2000’s, but it’s one rung in the ladder and it’s going to be plenty of fun watching a lot of talented kids and coaches take to the hardwood every night.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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7 responses to “RTC Conference Primers: #17 – Big West Conference”

  1. gauchosean says:

    UCSB has been trying to schedule up but could not find majors willing to play them. The Gauchos are caught in the scenario where they are too good to take a chance on so the big boys refuse to play them.

  2. AlwaysAGaucho says:

    Gauchosean is exactly correct. You can’t fault the Gaucho athletic department and coaching staff because they have tried. The Gauchos are having a tough time getting high major programs to schedule them even if they are willing to go with a 2 away to 1 home game arrangement.

    It will only get tougher for them next year (2011-12) because nearly the entire squad will be returning again and they have already received verbals from 5 standout preps to reload. The team could be the most formidable Big West team in since the departure of UNLV. Long Beach is also very talented and a dangerous OOC matchup for high majors.

  3. Andrew says:

    Well, that’s part of the problem, expecting high major programs to accept the 2-for-1 arrangement. The reason LBSU has been successful in getting matchups against many of these high majors is they are willing to just take the guarantee game for the most part. That’s one of the things we talked about in the “Life at the Mid-Major Level” series: especially when a team is returning a bunch of players and is expected to be good, the chances of getting a high major program to come and play at a mid or low-major program are slim.

  4. Ryan ZumMallen says:

    That argument almost makes sense, expect that Long Beach State has an incredibly lofty non-conference schedule for the third consecutive year so I don’t see how it was possible for them to do it but not other schools in the Big West. A year after playing Duke, Kentucky, West Virginia and Clemson they get North Carolina, Arizona State, St. Mary’s, San Diego State and Clemson again. Pacific ha also always been able to get impressive non-conference schedules. Seems like if you want to schedule good teams, you can always do it.

  5. Andrew says:

    The difference is LBSU is willing to play just about all of those games on the road. Sure, just about any team in the country, if they want to go out and schedule a ton of road losses, they can do that. The problem is getting people to come and play at your place, where most high majors won’t go to a mid-major, even in a 2-for-1 situation…

  6. Ryan ZumMallen says:

    So what is better: Scheduling really difficult road games, or taking an easy schedule because high profile opponents won’t play in your gym? I’ll take the former.

  7. Andrew says:

    I don’t think either is necessarily better. It’s up to each program to do whichever they choose, or some combination of both… But, in the end, it really doesn’t matter who they play in the nonconference. They still need to win their conference tournament to get to the dance.

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