RTC Conference Primers: #17 – Big West ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2010
Ryan ZumMallen is the RTC Correspondent for the Big West Conference.
- UC Santa Barbara (13-3)
- Long Beach State (12-4)
- UC Davis (11-5)
- Cal Poly (9-7)
- Pacific (9-7)
- UC Irvine (8-8)
- Cal State Fullerton (5-11)
- UC Riverside (3-13)
- Cal State Northridge (2-14)
- 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
Mark Payne (G) – UC Davis
Kareem Nitoto (G) – UC Riverside
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.