Checking In On… The Big West ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012
The Week That Was:
- Long Beach State Draws Creighton At Home: The 49ers’ last chance to boost their nonconference slate and RPI through the ESPN BracketBuster couldn’t have turned out much better, as they drew a ranked Creighton team on national TV. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well for the Bluejays since the announcement as they have lost three straight including a blowout loss to Wichita State. Regardless, the away game in Omaha on ESPN2 will be a great opportunity for Dan Monson’s team to make one last statement on national TV before the end of the season. If Long Beach is to entertain any notion of an at-large bid, this game is a must-win.
- Titans, Tigers Surge: With the Big West Tournament less than a month away, the standings are beginning to stabilize. Cal State Fullerton, aka Transfer U, has really gelled over the last month. They have won six of their last seven, thrusting themselves into talk of being the second-best team in the league, ahead of UC Santa Barbara. Likewise, Pacific has improved vastly under the legendary coaching of Bob Thomason, winning five of its last seven. The Tigers find themselves tied for fourth at 6-6 with Cal Poly, much better than their early season struggles would have predicted.
- Davis Finally Gets First Win : Eighteen losses in a row was enough for UC Davis, as the Aggies finally pulled out their first Division I win of the year on Feb. 9 against Cal State Northridge. With a 1-11 mark in conference play, the Aggies are only a game down from the 2-10 Matadors, but are automatically in the Big West Tournament due to Northridge being ineligible for post-season play. That virtually guaranteed first round matchup between UC Davis and Long Beach State should be a real nail-biter.
- Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0) – It has been more smooth sailing in Long Beach over the past two weeks, with four more wins to keep the 49ers unbeaten in Big West play. Although all of their opponents have geared up for better than usual performances against Long Beach State, it seems like Casper Ware and crew have been able to turn it up a notch down the stretch, putting away games comfortably in the end. It was also a record-setting week for Ware and T.J. Robinson with Ware became the all-time career assists leader at Long Beach State and Robinson becoming the all-time career rebound leader in the Big West Conference.
- Cal State Fullerton (16-7, 8-3) – Things are coming together for the offensively explosive Titans, as they posted big victories over Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara to share second place with the Gauchos. They get ranked above UCSB here because of the Titans’ explosive offense, which is seemingly coming together at the right time. Their 17 3-pointers in the 99-86 win against UCSB was a school record for CSF and tied a Gaucho opponent record. The only problem is a defense that seems less interested in guarding anyone and more interested in turning every game into a track meet. If Amondi Omoke can stay healthy after injuring his ankle against Cal Poly and missing a game against UC Irvine, the Titans are as good of an upset candidate as anyone.
- UC Santa Barbara (13-8, 8-3) – The Gauchos held serve against the teams they were supposed to beat, but was simply blown away by Fullerton’s hot shooting in a loss to the Titans. Jaime Serna returned from his injury in grand fashion, earning Big West Player of the Week for his performance in UCSB’s road sweep over UC Davis and Pacific. The problem for UCSB is a lack of bench depth. Nate Garth continues to disappoint, allowing offenses to hone in on James Nunnally, Orlando Johnson, and Serna. When freshman Alan Williams isn’t playing well, the Gauchos are a known trick and may have peaked already. That being said, no one is counting them out in the Big West Tournament. They came from a worse position last year to win it all.
- Pacific (10-14, 6-6) – Somehow, some way, Pacific is finding a way to not only compete, but to win games in the Big West. In a busy stretch of action over the last two weeks, Pacific has gone 3-2, with their two losses both close affairs against UCSB and Long Beach State. Against the Gauchos, Pacific rallied back from a 13-point deficit to tie the game with just under a minute to go, but a buzzer beater attempt from Lorenzo McCloud was just short. Against Long Beach State, only a gargantuan 38-point night from Casper Ware was able to put away a team effort from Pacific, who was neck-and-neck until about five minutes left in the game. Three of their last four wins have been against teams that have been right there with Pacific in the standings—Cal Poly, UC Irvine, and UC Riverside. This earns them a spot in the top half of the conference standings.
- Cal Poly (15-11, 6-6) – Two weeks ago, I warned that Cal Poly may be ready for a run. While they it didn’t exactly fail to deliver, Cal Poly is holding onto a tie for fourth by the skin of their teeth. The Mustangs were blown out against CSF, while wins against UC Davis, UC Riverside, and UC Irvine were by a combined seven points. Not exactly inspiring efforts. It’s possible that the lack of offense is finally catching up to the Mustangs. Chris Eversley has taken the majority of Drake U’u’s minutes, which may have sacrificed something on the defensive end as well.
- UC Irvine (9-16, 5-7) – The Anteaters continue to struggle to put together two halves of solid play. Encouraging wins against UC Riverside and UC Davis that saw the Anteaters prevail despite poor team shooting were dampened by losses against Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly, where UCI shot the ball well but couldn’t finish out either game. Redshirt junior center Adam Folker has been a steady force down low, adding an improving offense touch to his rebounding skills. After sitting out all of last season with a variety of injuries, Folker may finally be at a point where he can stop playing catch up and instead work on improving from where he left off. After a career high 20 points on 9-13 shooting against Cal Poly, Coach Russell Turner praised the efforts of his Canadian center, challenging the other guys on the team to follow Folker’s example.
- UC Riverside (11-14, 5-7) – The Highlanders have lapsed into a highly disappointing slide since their peak effort two weeks ago. Besides a win against UC Davis, UCR lost their other four games, adding to a slide of losing six of their last seven. Phil Martin has cooled down a bit, and the Riverside offense has lost some of that mojo which made them effective before. Against UCSB, UCR was able to keep it close before losing steam with a depleted roster. David Chavarria missed the game with a leg injury while Kevin Bradshaw missed the game due to the death of his grandfather. BJ Shearry also missed the entire second half after going down hard going for a rebound late in the first half. UCR cannot afford to miss too many of their players for the rest of the season, especially given their proclivity as a team to pick up fouls.
- Cal State Northridge (6-17, 2-10) – Although four straight losses looks pretty bad for the Matadors, I actually believe that CSUN should be getting some kudos for putting up good efforts night in and night out. They’re simply playing for pride at this point, since a post-season ban already rules out the Big West Tournament and any chance at going on beyond the regular season. Still, CSUN has shown that they won’t just lay down for any opponent, playing Long Beach State relatively close in a single-digit affair and only losing to Pacific by one on a last-minute tip-in. They also were one of the few teams to best pesky common Big West foe Cal State Bakersfield. Still, being the team to end UC Davis’ streak of D-I losses can’t be a good feeling. Coach Bobby Braswell probably can’t wait for next season.
- UC Davis (2-22, 1-11) – The aforementioned win over Cal State Northridge was definitely a case of getting the monkey off your back—now we shall see if UC Davis can win again before the season ends. Senior Eddie Miller has shown improved play recently, while sophomore Josh Ritchart has proven himself as a three-point shooter that coach Jim Les can build on next year.
Besides finishing out the last four games or so of conference play for each team, the BracketBuster weekend coming up will be a nice break from the usual opponents.
- Long Beach State gets the headliner with Creighton on ESPN2 (Saturday, February 18, 7 PM PT)
- UCSB faces off against old Big West foe Utah State.
- Cal Poly travels to Northern Colorado while UC Davis hits the road against Northern Arizona.
- Cal State Fullerton hosts Montana State, Northridge draws sister school Fresno State, UCI takes on Eastern Washington, UCR plays Southern Utah, and Pacific will play Idaho State.
Caught on Film
The wheels on the #Casper4Cousy bus continues to pick up steam.