Checking In On… The Big WestPosted by Brian Goodman on February 25th, 2012
The Week That Was
- Long Beach State Falls on Buzzer Beater: After leading Creighton for most of the game including the entire second half, Long Beach State had their hearts broken when Bluejays guard Antoine Young hit a go-ahead fade away jumper that swished through the basket with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game. There were many positive takeaways from the effort including 49ers point guard Casper Ware drawing more national attention with the game being televised on ESPN2. The Creighton crowd even rushed the court (prematurely, as it turned out), showing a certain amount of respect for Long Beach. Nonetheless, it’s a devastating loss on paper for Long Beach, who would have been a likely at-large with a win in Omaha. Now, they most likely have to win the Big West Tournament to go dancing.
- Big West Goes 6-3 in BracketBusters: Even including Long Beach State’s late disappointment, the Big West all in all had a pretty solid collective effort in this year’s BracketBuster match-ups. Other notable wins included UCSB’s 72-64 triumph on the road at Utah State, where the Aggies are notoriously tough to beat (even in a down year), Pacific’s 66-64 win against Idaho State on an overtime buzzer beater, and UC Davis battling back from a 21-point deficit to take down Northern Arizona 69-65. Most of these games had little actual impact on each team’s 2011-12 remaining season, but a win for conference pride and RPI benefits is still a nice extra credit.
- UCI Alum to Coach NBA All-Star Game: This one is a bit removed from current Big West play, but still worth a mention nonetheless. Former Anteater Scott Brooks, the current Oklahoma City Thunder head coach, has been named the coach for the West squad for the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. Brooks and his staff earned this honor due to the Thunder owning the conference’s best record at the break. Hopefully, Brooks can continue to bring glory to UC Irvine and the Big West through his successes in the NBA.
- Long Beach State (20-7, 13-0) – The 49ers officially clinched at least a share of the Big West regular season title after beating UC Santa Barbara soundly for the second time this season. Despite the loss to Creighton which could have been the icing on the cake in terms of an at-large bid, Long Beach is clearly playing like they can smell blood. Call it a second peak or just a season-long determined effort, but it’s clear that Long Beach State is playing as well as they have played all season with the finish line in sight.
- Cal State Fullerton (18-7, 9-3) – The Titans are now firmly in second place in both the real Big West standings and in these power rankings. After beating Montana State convincingly in the BracketBuster, the Titans rallied from an eight-point deficit with 4:29 to play against Pacific to win 69-68. Coach Bob Burton’s deep squad is the one group of offensive talent in the Big West that can give Long Beach State a run for their money. Their 14th in the nation PPG at 78.8 and 11th best field goal percentage at 49% will be put on the line in an epic regular season finale against Long Beach State at Titan Gym.
- UC Santa Barbara (15-9, 9-4) – In case we haven’t touted Gaucho senior Orlando Johnson quite enough in this space, let us be abundantly clear: Johnson is a superb talent, the Big West’s best NBA prospect by a comfortable margin. Johnson is about to break the UCSB all-time career scoring record, despite the fact that he will only have played three season in his Santa Barbara career. In other words, no other Gaucho player has scored more in four years than Johnson’s total after three. Quite impressive. That being said, UCSB’s second disappointing loss to Long Beach State this season has many fans and critics doubting Bob Williams’ ability to guide his team to a third straight NCAA Tournament. Then again, UCSB fared poorly against the 49ers in last year’s regular season as well, before beating them in the Big West Tournament.
- Pacific (11-15, 6-7) – The divide between the top three teams and the bottom six in the Big West has never been greater. The Tigers became the second team to lose to lowly UC Davis this season, putting up a putrid effort in a 73-64 loss that highlighted how ineffective Pacific could be on an off-night. Granted, the Aggies are finally turning things around a bit, but one of the top three teams in this league would never lose to this year’s Davis team. At the same time, the Tigers do have their good nights, including the near upset against Cal State Fullerton on Thursday. Another example: Trevin Harris’ epic OT buzzer-beating three-pointer against Idaho State. Which Tiger team will show up in March is anyone’s guess.
- Cal Poly (15-13, 6-7) – The Mustangs are my pick for most disappointing team in the Big West this season. The worst thing is that over the last couple games, the Mustangs have appeared to completely lose their defensive identity that served them so well earlier in the year. They allowed the Matadors, the worst shooting team in the league (below 40 percent) to shoot at a 57 percent clip in a bad 94-81loss at Northridge. The Mustangs followed that up with an 81-73 defeat at the hands of a mediocre Northern Colorado team in the BracketBuster. In that game, Bears freshman guard Tevin Svihovec, who averages about 10 points per game, exploded for a career-high 34 points. David Hanson and Chris Eversley keep scoring at a steady pace, but something is obviously amiss.
- UC Riverside (13-15, 6-8) – It seems like ages ago that a surprisingly competitive Highlander team came a free throw short of beating Long Beach State. After being beaten by Cal State Fullerton in a game that wasn’t close, UCR managed to pull out a grind-it-out win against Southern Utah in the BracketBuster despite missing starters Robert Smith and BJ Shearry, both whom were out with concussions. UCR followed that up with another ugly game which saw them squeak by Cal State Northridge, with an offense that UCR head coach Jim Wooldridge described as “like pulling teeth.”
- UC Irvine (10-17, 5-8) – The Anteaters reached the ten-win mark on the season when they defeated Eastern Washington 78-73 in their BracketBuster game. At the beginning of the season, some fans would have been satisfied with such a mark for this young group, but it’s clear that coach Russell Turner demands more. Turner has refused to sugarcoat things in postgame interviews, stressing the need for UCI to establish a winning culture. Still, an ugly 85-62 loss to UCSB suggests that UCI has pretty much reached their peak on the season. They were able to beat EWU despite turning the ball over 23 times and shooting 48 percent from the foul line, but such a sloppy effort will not cut it in the Big West Tournament.
- Cal State Northridge (7-19, 3-11) – The Matadors keep on grinding and falling short at the end. The Matadors actually owned a 32-23 lead at halftime against Fresno State in the BracketBuster game before faltering in the second half, losing 62-49. The aforementioned loss to UCR was a close game throughout as well. At least CSUN can hang their hat on a solid win over Cal Poly, where five different players scored in double digits and the team as a whole shot 57 percent from the field.
- UC Davis (4-23, 2-11) – Don’t look now, but the Aggies are finally showing some signs of life. After losing 21 of their first 22 games on the season, Coach Jim Les’ group has won three of their past five. A nine-point win over Pacific is definitely UC Davis’ best win on the season, avenging an ugly 16-point loss earlier this season. Davis even snapped a 15-game road losing streak when they charged back from a 21-point deficit against Northern Arizona to beat them 70-65. Harrison DuPont was the catalyst in that game, scoring 19 points off the bench for UC Davis.
The two most interesting things left on the Big West conference schedule are Long Beach State’s last three games in their quest for a perfect 16-0 conference slate and the battle for 4th through 7th place in seeding. The 49ers face UC Riverside and UCI, two teams that have stepped up to the plate against Long Beach in recent times, as well as second place Cal State Fullerton, which promises to be an entertaining conclusion to the regular season.
Cal Poly, Pacific, UC Riverside and UC Irvine are all within one game of each other in the battle for mediocrity. Fourth and fifth place get to play each other in the first round of the Big West Tournament, while sixth and seventh are doomed to likely face Cal State Fullerton and UCSB. An extra day in the postseason means an extra game to play in the Honda Center.
Caught on Film
This week, we bring you a pair of buzzer beaters from the BracketBuster weekend:
- Creighton’s Antoine Young working on Casper Ware and TJ Robinson to get the game-winning bucket.
- Trevin Harris’ epic hanging-in-the-air three to beat Idaho State.