CIO… the Big West ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2012
John Hurwitz is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
Many predicted the Big West conference to have a down year after key departures from previous championship contenders such as Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. While the loss of two of the conference’s top playmakers last year in Casper Ware from Long Beach and Orlando Johnson from Santa Barbara may tone down the excitement going into conference play, it opens the door for fresh faces to become marquee names among Big West fans.
- Hawaii In The Mix: The Hawaii Warriors are set to begin conference play this season as the Big West’s only school located outside of the state of California. At 4-3, the Warriors have already proved they can hang with anyone (especially on their home floor), after nearly upsetting Illinois on November 17. Senior center Vander Joaquim led the way with 22 points and 11 boards, while junior guard Brandon Spearman contributed 20 points before D.J. Richardson of Illinois hit a three at the overtime buzzer (below) to win the game.
- Can Pacific Make A Return To The Top? Head coach Bob Thomason’s Pacific Tigers are making noise in the early going, having already secured wins over Xavier and Saint Mary’s in Anaheim at the DirecTV Classic on Thanksgiving weekend. This will be Thomason’s 22nd year at the helm in Stockton and there is no reason not to believe this year’s group is capable of capturing the program’s first bid to the Big Dance since 2006. What makes the Tigers so dangerous is their potent combination of depth and experience as ten players average over 10 minutes per game, four seniors and six juniors. If there is one individual to watch on the 2012-13 edition, it is senior point guard Lorenzo McCloud, who leads the team in points and assists per game at 12.4 and 4.0 respectively.
- Race Wide-Open: At this point in the season it is almost impossible to rule out any team from conference championship contention. The field is about as wide open as it gets and every team has high hopes as conference play begins at the end of the month. How will former top dogs Long Beach State and Santa Barbara recover after losing so many important players? Can Hawaii challenge for a top seed and a potential automatic bid in their first year in the Big West? Every conference game, little by little, will help piece together and solve the puzzle that is the 2012-13 Big West.
- Pacific (5-4) – Despite a small sample size, the Tigers already are putting together an impressive portfolio with their wins over the Musketeers and the Gaels. Any team traveling to the Spanos Center this season will have their hands full and should be prepared to battle for the entirety of the game. If I were a coach in the Big West, I would have my matchups with this squad circled on the calendar.
- Cal State Fullerton (3-5) – After the quiet resignation of nine-year head coach Bob Burton the Titans are looking to get back right back into the thick of things, this time under interim coach, Andy Newman. Newman has some pretty big shoes to fill as Burton led the Titans to 20 wins or more four times during his tenure. The Titans will once again be looking to play small ball this year, but there’s no denying they play it well. Fullerton relies heavily on their trio of senior guards composed of Kwame Vaughn, D.J. Seeley, and Sammy Yeager, despite none of them being taller than 6’4”. It will be interesting to see what these guys can do in their last year together.
- Long Beach State (3-6) – Unable to simply replace the conference’s most electrifying player from last year in graduated point guard Casper Ware, coach Dan Monson has his work cut out for him to mold a squad with four new starters. Monson once again has put his team through a brutal gauntlet of a non-conference schedule, and this new-look 49ers team is learning to play together against the best of the best. It will be interesting to see if Monson’s aggressive out of conference scheduling pays off once again. So far, however, the team is clearly nowhere near the level they were at this time last year.
- Hawaii (4-3) – The Warriors should benefit from their opponents having to make by far the longest road trip of the Big West regular season to the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. With the 6’10” Joaquim shoring up the middle, Hawaii stands to be one of the better rebounding squads this season. The question is how many wins at home can the Warriors snag, if any, due to their opponents’ jet lag and extended traveling.
- Cal Poly (3-4) – Poly notched a huge win with their 70-68 upset of UCLA at Pauley Pavilion last month. The potential is clearly there, but the Mustangs must continue to be one of the country’s premier teams in ball control in addition to relying on their experience and deep bench.
- UC Santa Barbara – Coach Bob Williams and his Gauchos will have to somehow find a way to make up for the loss of perhaps the conference’s most effective 1-2 punch last season in guard Orlando Johnson and forward James Nunnally. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Gauchos won’t fall off as far as many people expect, but right now they are a young team that relies heavily on the three-ball. They’ll have to continue doing a good job of working together to move the ball and find the open man as Ken Pomeroy currently ranks them tenth nationally in assists per field goal made.
- UC Irvine (4-6) – Ranked tenth in the country in percentage of minutes played by the bench, Irvine will be able to go the distance with any team in the conference. The Anteaters nearly pulled off a second Big West upset of UCLA at Pauley, but fell short in overtime 80-79. Irvine does well in defending field goals, but surrender 28.6% of their opponents’ points from the free throw line, so they will have to keep things cleaner on the defensive end. If they can accomplish this, however, they could easily be the conference’s most complete and efficient defense.
- Northridge State (7-3) – The Matadors’ three losses have come against big-time programs (UCLA, BYU, Arizona State), but they aren’t going to “wow” anyone either with seven wins against cupcakes like Pepperdine and Northern Kentucky. This year, Northridge has excelled in getting to the line with three players who draw at least five fouls per 40 minutes played.
- UC Davis (1-5) – The Aggies will be able to hang around in any game they play this season solely based on their ability to shoot threes. While it’s hard to like their chances of any major accomplishment this season, they will pull off a big win or two before the end of the season.
- UC Riverside (2-7) – Riverside has a big problem this season in that they have one of the nation’s most horrendous offenses. They do a decent job of rebounding the ball, but I’m not sure how many more 11-point halves (see Fresno State game) Highlander fans can stomach.
- 12/19/12 – St. Mary’s vs. Pacific (7 PM PST) – This will be a rematch of the DirecTV Classic semifinal that Pacific won, 76-66. If Pacific can beat St. Mary’s on the road and for the second time in less than 30 days, it would certainly get every Big West squad focused on the Tigers.
- 12/20/12 – Washington vs. Cal Poly (6 PM PST, PAC 12 Network) – Cal Poly already beat UCLA, but if they could notch two wins against Pac-12 teams before they get into Big West play they would no doubt be on the conference championship radar.
Player of the Year Prediction
Lorenzo McCloud, Pacific: Check out McCloud’s ability to find his teammates and get to the hole in this short highlight film from last season.