Checking In On… the Big WestPosted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011
The Week That Was:
- Thomason Sets Big West Win Record: Pacific coach Bob Thomason won his 406th game with the Tigers on December 3, surpassing former Long Beach State and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian as the all-time winningest coach in the history of the Big West Conference. Pacific defeated Utah State 65-57 in the landmark win, the Tigers’ third of the year. Thomason is in his 23rd year as Pacific coach, and has perhaps his most difficult task before him this season with a team of newcomers and very little returning experience. So far, the Tigers are 3-3, but their win against the Aggies is their only win against a Division I opponent.
- San Diego State Hangs On: Amidst rumors of San Diego State potentially joining the Big West in non-football sports due to its likely move to the Big East in football, the Aztecs went to overtime against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara before beating both in a possible foreshadowing of match-ups to come. The 49ers, coming off their upset of #9 Pittsburgh, led by three at halftime and then battled back to force overtime before succumbing to the Aztecs 77-73. A similar storyline unfolded in Santa Barbara, when the Gauchos built up a lead at halftime before losing it and then forcing overtime with a late free throw. San Diego State came through in overtime once again however, defeating UCSB 76-75.
- Growing Pains: The Big West is quickly sorting out into a top four and bottom five infrastructure, with the bottom five struggling mightily against some underwhelming opponents. Besides Pacific’s aforementioned one D-I victory, UC Irvine is 1-6 after going 0-3 in the Great Alaska Shootout including a loss to D-II Alaska-Anchorage by 14. UC Riverside is 2-4 with only one D-I win as well, albeit a decent win in the 76 Classic against Washington State. Worse off are Cal State Northridge and UC Davis, who together are a combined 2-13 with zero D-I wins on the year.
- Long Beach State (4-3) – The Big West darlings have yet to follow up on their triumph against Pitt, instead losing to Montana and #6 Louisville. While losing to the Cardinals is understandable, decent but unspectacular teams such as Montana have to be wins for Long Beach State if they want to make this season not merely good, but great. Interior defense has slipped as of recent, and turnovers and free throw percentage need improvement as well. A lot of that comes down to maintaining a high intensity throughout each and every game, regardless of whether it is in Pittsburgh or Missoula.
- UC Santa Barbara (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, UCSB has suffered two gut-wrenching losses to two very tough opponents in SDSU and UNLV. The SDSU game slipped away in overtime partly due to a timeout call when the team had none left, while the UNLV game went into a thrilling double overtime before the Rebels, fresh off their triumph over then #1 North Carolina, pulled out a 94-88 win. Any perceived gap between Long Beach State and UCSB has narrowed over the last two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if Orlando Johnson keeps up his torrid play. As a team, the Gauchos are at the top or near the top of every major statistical category.
- Cal Poly (5-3) – The Mustangs had a good showing at the Las Vegas Invitational, knocking off Morgan State and Mississippi Valley State, which was preceded by a solid win over USC in Los Angeles. The Mustangs look like the same defensive-minded bunch that can methodically suffocate a team on some nights and then not be able to score enough on others. Saturday, they had a chance to beat Saint Mary’s down the stretch, but turned the ball over with four seconds to go and a chance to tie the game. Cal Poly has shown the ability to beat inferior teams but seem to lack the firepower to even entertain the idea of moving up in the power rankings.
- Cal State Fullerton (4-3) – The capital of transfers in college basketball, Cal State Fullerton has as expected endured the inconsistency of a bunch of different guys that have not played with each other very much. Rebounding has been a strength thus far for this group, while turnovers and assist/turnover ratio have not. It’s interesting to note that Division I transfers D.J. Seeley, Omondi Amoke, and Kwame Vaughn have displaced last year’s key players Perry Webster and Andre Hardy, relegating them to bench minutes. The Titans have one of the easiest schedules in the Big West, so it will be interesting to see how they fare once conference schedule time comes.
- UC Riverside (2-5) – UCR recently unveiled a new primary logo, casting aside the old roaring bear for a much more pedestrian “U” hooked to a “C”. The new logo looks more classic and simple, but the Highlanders probably could use some of that old ferociousness. After a solid win against Washington State in the finale of the 76 Classic, UCR only managed 35 points in a rough home loss to USC. Leading scorer Phil Martin posts more than 14 points per game, but he’s doing at it at a highly inefficient clip. Second-leading scorer Kareem Nitoto isn’t fairing much better, and no one else on the team has been able to chip in consistently. With both guards shooting below 34% from the field, UCR will struggle to find any consistency, despite a veteran team that methodically abides by coach Jim Wooldridge’s slow-it-down system.
- UC Irvine (1-6) – Despite an ugly Great Alaska Shootout tournament where they left the frozen tundra as the only team without a win, the young UCI squad has shown signs of promise. They played Big Sky favorites Weber State close at home, as an eight-point final deficit was actually tied with three minutes left to play. Last Saturday, UCI finally made up for all the poor shooting in Alaska by knocking down over 70 percent of their shots in the first half against San Diego. UCI led by 38 at one point in the second half. It will be interesting to see if this energetic group of youngsters can keep on improving, or if they will falter back to their Alaskan ways. Their front court depth was not helped by the dismissal of redshirt freshman Kevin Mulloy, who never wound up playing a regular season game for UCI.
- Pacific (3-3) – UOP took advantage of an injury-debilitated Utah State team last weekend, posting their first Division I win of the season. Sophomore guard Ross Rivera became the fifth Tiger to lead the team in scoring in six games on the season. In their toughest match-up of the season, Pacific was crushed by Stanford 79-37. Even six games into the season, coach Bob Thomason’s group is still finding their identity. Perhaps they will surprise the rest of the Big West come conference play, or perhaps they will never quite gel as a group of so many newcomers. Despite already having two non D-I games on their slate, Pacific is near the bottom of the league in rebounding statistics.
- Cal State Northridge (1-6) – Coach Bobby Braswell’s group has been plain embarrassed in the last two weeks, being blown out by Boise State, Drake, and Santa Clara, a team that has seemingly vastly improved since being blown out themselves against UC Santa Barbara. If the Matadors can’t pull off a win against Pepperdine this week, they will most likely complete their non-conference slate with zero victories against Division I opponents. Redshirt freshman Stephan Hicks has been one of the few bright spots, leading CSUN with 17.4 PPG and 9.1 RPG. Starting point guard Aqeel Quinn missed the first four games of the season with a quad injury, and has been rusty in his three games back on the floor.
- UC Davis (1-7) – The Aggies continue to struggle mightily, getting blown out by both Eastern Washington and Idaho recently, on top of losses to Stanford and Sacramento State before that. Guard Eddie Miller is finally back from injury, which is a good sign for the offense-deprived UCD. Miller poured in 22 points on 6-8 shooting against Idaho, even though coach Jim Les said that he still didn’t have his “game legs.” It remains to be seen whether a full-strength Miller can boost this team, but right now, the Aggie defense just seems too slow to keep up with opposing teams.
Several big Pac-12 match-ups loom on the horizon for the Big West as we enter finals week and then winter break. UCSB takes on Cal and Washington, where I smell one upset for the close-but-no-cigar Gauchos. Cal State Fullerton should pick up a win against Utah, who has seemingly been losing to everyone this season. Both UC Davis and UC Irvine take on their traditionally bullying big brother UCLA, who is struggling mightily this season. Still, the Bruins should be able to take care of both Big West teams fairly easily. And of course, Long Beach State remains on the upset hunt, going on the road to take on both #14 Kansas and #5 North Carolina. Although I would be surprised if the 49ers can knock off either team, UNLV did show that it could be done.
Caught on Film
Long Beach State’s T.J. Robinson comments on becoming the 49ers’ all-time leading rebounder.
Also, Orlando Johnson makes a nice appearance on this UCSB Public Safety video, and then proceeds to do a little dance.