There are twelve automatic bids today, so we’ll be updating these as the day moves forward…
#16 – Binghamton (23-8, 16-3 Am East). Binghamton took care of business today against upstart UMBC to win their eleventh in a row and earn the school’s first ever NCAA bid. Reggie Fuller had 19/10 and alleged non-POY DJ Rivera added 16/5 in the RTC home win. We had more coverage on today’s BGTD.
Projected Seed: #16
Something to Remember: Binghamton is um, size-challenged. Their tallest starter is the 6’6 Fuller. And have you heard that Tony Kornheiser has an affinity for this school for some reason? Yeah, we hadn’t either.
#17 – Memphis (31-3, 19-0 CUSA). 25 straight wins in a row. 61 CUSA wins in row. Memphis just keeps on truckin’, with another stellar defensive performance in holding Tulsa to 26% from the field and 2-14 from three. This was also the 135th win for the Tiger senior class, who is focused on getting to #141, according to Coach Calipari. Robert Dozier had 18/14 and Tyreke Evans had 18/5/6 in the same-old, same-old for Memphis.
Projected Seed: #2
STR: We’re going to be a little contrarian here, but we’re not buying that Memphis is a national title contender this year. Are they better than anticipated? Absolutely. Are they on the same level as UConn, Pitt, Louisville, UNC, etc.? No freakin’ way. Their defense is outstanding, statistically the very best in the land. And CUSA is a better league than people tend to think it is. But the fact of the matter here is that Memphis is playing with house money right now. They were beaten by Georgetown, Xavier and Syracuse in the pre-conference slate. Tennessee took them down to the last possession. They rolled up Gonzaga in their building, but the Zags wilted in the face of their athletic defenders. Memphis is a very good team – but they’re not going back to the F4. Remember that you heard it here first.
Welcome back to the weekend edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. First off I’d like to commend rtmsf for his strong work on yesterday’s BGtD. You guys really have no idea how exhausting it is doing a full day’s worth of this is and he managed to do it with only a short break although it almost caused me to give up working on the site after being forced to endure the American-Holy Cross game yesterday. As he outlined in his After the Buzzer post last night/this morning, there are 12 conference championship games today. For the sake of maintaining our sanity and having enough energy in the tank for our huge March Madness preview, we’ll be taking multiple shifts but we promise to coordinate it so you won’t miss anything during our handoffs.
6:00 AM: Yes. That’s actually the time I’m starting this thanks to a “short nap” that ended up going from 9 PM to 5 AM. Obviously my posts will be infrequent in the early morning hours, but I’ll be passing along some news and links to you before the games start at 11 AM. The New York Times has been stepping it up with their college sports blog “The Quad” recently and has an interesting post on Louisville‘s Terrence Williams and his pre-game ritual of the giving himself a pep talk during the national anthem. Before anybody thinks this might be a Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf situation, it should be noted that Williams actually stands during the anthem and is supposedly talking about family members that he has lost and asking that everyone on the court avoids injuries. Of course, we can’t verify this, but if we have any lip-readers in our vast legion of RTC readers, we would love hear your take on this particularly if you have seen this is in person.
7:00 AM: Before I head out for a few minutes to take care of some errands like stocking up on groceries for the coming storm where I probably won’t leave my apartment for 3 weeks. I thought I would pass along one of my favorite things we are doing at RTC right now. We enlisted the help of our correspondents and got them to send us their favorite March memories. We narrowed down the submissions to the 16 best entries and are counting down to #1, which will be revealed on Wednesday (the day before the tournament starts). I’d encourage you to check out the entries we have so far and keep on coming back throughout the day to see what they selected as their favorite March memories and then chime in with your memories on those moments.
8:45 AM: Ok. False alarm on that grocery run. Apparently Costco doesn’t open until 9:30 so after this post I’ll be on a short break. So today’s RTC East breakfast is brought to you by Flour Bakery and consists of their Bobby Flay-slaying “Sticky Buns” and a twice-baked brioche. Here’s a quick run-down of the games (title game in red–there’s a lot of red) that I will be focusing on today:
UMBC vs. Binghamton at 11 AM on ESPN2 for the America East title
Memphis vs. #3 Tulsa at 11:35 AM on CBS for the Conference USA title
Mississippi State vs. #16 LSU at 1 PM on ESPN2 and Raycom in the SEC semifinals
#6 Michigan State vs. Ohio State at 1:30 PM on CBS in the Big 10 semifinals
#1 UNC vs. #22 FSU at 1:30 PM on ESPN and Raycom in the ACC semifinals
Tennessee vs. Auburn at 3 PM on ESPN2 and Raycom in the SEC semifinals
Maryland vs. #8 Duke at 3:30 PM on ESPN and Raycom in the ACC semifinals
#25 Illinois vs. #24 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS in the Big 10 semifinals
#23 Arizona State vs. USC at 6 PM on CBS for the Pac-10 title
Baylor vs. #15 Missouri at 6 PM on ESPN for the Big 12 title
Temple vs. Duquesne at 6 PM on ESPN2 for the Atlantic 10 title
Late Night Games
San Diego State vs. Utah at 7 PM on Versus for the Moutain West title
Morgan State vs. Norfolk State at 7 PM on ESPNU for the MEAC title (Periodic score updates for this one)
Buffalo vs. Akron at 8 PM on ESPN2 for the MAC title
#5 Louisville vs. #20 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPN for the Big East title
Jackson State vs. Alabama State at 9 PM on ESPNU for the SWAC title (Periodic score updates for this one)
Utah State vs. Nevada at 10 PM on ESPN2 for the WAC title
Cal State-Northridge vs. Pacific at 11:59 PM on ESPN2 for the Big West title (This one is questionable)
10:55 AM: Ok. I’m back from my extended Costco run and have enough food to last me through the week. A quick summary on the early games. In the America East, Binghamton is a 5-6 point favorite (depending on your gambling establishment of choice). Honestly, I’m surprised that they aren’t bigger favorites since they come in at 22-8 while UMBC comes in 15-16 and the game is at Binghamton. It could be interesting though as they split the season series in the regular season with Binghamton winning the last game of the regular season at home against UMBC 71-51. I’m guessing the America East commissioner is rooting for UMBC to avoid the embarrassment of the CBS announcers having to explain why the conference’s regular season leading scorer (D.J Rivera) was left off the all-conference team. In Conference USA, Memphis is a 14-point favorite against Tulsa. Memphis might be playing for a #1 seed even with their ridiculously easy schedule. We’re hoping this game is more like the first time they met (a 55-54 Memphis win) rather the last time they met (a 63-37 Memphis win). I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to be more like the latter, but we’ll be following it anyways to get a last look at Memphis before CBS’s new Billy Packer rips the NCAA selection committee for putting them over a Big East team.
Overview. What a day. By our count, there were eleven conference tournament games today that went down to the final minute where either team had a realistic shot to win. We’re proud to say that we saw most of those games and recorded it for all posterity over at our daily journal of hoopsography, Boom Goes the Dynamite. So without rehashing everything that we transcribed over there, let’s take a look at some of the key storylines that we’re keeping an eye on going into Championship Saturday.
Get Your Voodoo Dolls Out. These are the teams that Bubble Nation despises right now because these are the guys still standing in their conference tourneys that are in position to take away ‘their’ much-more-deserving spot in the field of 65. So if you’re a fan of one of the below teams and you feel a prickly feeling tomorrow in your thigh emanating from Omaha, Las Cruces, Gainesville, Providence, et al, you’ll know why.
USC. The Trojans entered the Pac-10 Tourney in nobody’s field of 65. With good reason, they faltered down the stretch, losing six of their last nine and looking listless throughout much of the season. And now, after defeating crosstown rival UCLA tonight, they’re 40 minutes away from an automatic bid playing a team in their hometown whom they split with on the season.
Temple/Duquesne. The A10 has already guaranteed that somebody will be disappointed on Sunday because neither of these two teams were on anybody’s board either. Temple was at least in the conversation, but Duquesne has come out of nowhere, upsetting Dayton today to sit one game away from an auto-bid.
Baylor. We discussed Baylor a little today in the BGTD, but obviously with a 5-11 Big 12 record, they’re not anywhere near the bubble. Yet, they’ll play Missouri tomorrow for an automatic bid, and given how they seem to have their mojo back after a major half-season swoon, we wouldn’t be surprised to crown Baylor as this year’s Georgia tomorrow in Oklahoma City.
San Diego St. Well, at least SDSU is already on the bubble. Their hard-fought win over BYU tonight ensured that they too will have a chance tomorrow to take the decision out of the NCAA Selection Cmte’s hands. The Aztecs split their two games with Utah, who was already ensured a bid either way. SDSU will feel the wrath of Bubble Nation on them tomorrow.
Mississippi St./Auburn – MSU defeated South Carolina and Auburn beat Florida today to move into the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, which means that half of the SEC semifinalists are teams that probably aren’t going to get in without an auto-bid. The SEC is so muddled that either of these teams can beat LSU or Tennessee (respectively) and get a shot on Sunday for the guaranteed invite.
Maryland – This one is less likely considering that Maryland will probably have to beat Duke and Carolina to win the auto-bid, but merely beating Duke would move the Terps from bubble to lock status. The voodoo dolls have a lot of work to do tomorrow.
Championship Saturday. Twelve automatic bids will be earned tomorrow. Her’e’s a brief primer on each.
America East – (6) UMBC @ (1) Binghamton. UMBC got pounded at Binghamton a couple of weeks ago, and the Bearcats have 12 of 13 coming into tomorrow. We’d expect Tony Kornheiser to be a happy man tomorrow, celebrating Binghamton’s first ever trip to the NCAAs.
Atlantic 10 – (7) Duquesne vs. (4) Temple. Just like last season, Temple is coming on strong at the end of the year, having won 9 of 11 coming into this game. Temple defeated Duquesne in their only meeting in Pittsburgh earlier this year, and we expect to see the same in AC tomorrow.
Big 12 – (3) Missouri vs. (9) Baylor. Baylor has won three in a row for the first time since December, and we’ve noticed that they have some of their swagger back this weekend. As well as Mizzou has played this year, Baylor has more “big game” postseason experience, so we’re going with the Bears in the upset here.
Big East – (6) Syracuse vs. (1) Louisville. For the Cuse’s sake, they’d better hope they lose tomorrow night. The last time they had a great BE Tourney run like this in 2006, Texas A&M ran them off the court in their first round NCAA game because they had nothing left in the tank. We think that SU’s tired legs catch up to them and Louisville gets a #1 seed with tomorrow’s Big East title.
Big West – (3) Pacific vs. (1) CS-Northridge. These two teams are essentially even, but Pacific beat CSN twice already this year, and it’s difficult to beat a team three times, so we’ll go with Northridge.
Conference USA – (2) Tulsa vs. (1) Memphis. Yeah, we’re going to go against the team that’s won sixty league games in a row. Playing at home. Sure.
MAC – (5) Akron vs. (3) Buffalo. These two teams knocked off the top two seeds today in the semifinal round, and they split during the regular season. We like Buffalo because they darn near beat UConn back in December. That’s as good a reason as any.
MEAC – (3) Norfolk St. vs. (1) Morgan St. Todd Bozeman’s Morgan crew is the class of this conference and will earn its first NCAA bid tomorrow.
Mountain West – (4) San Diego St. vs. (2) Utah. The Utes comfortable beat SDSU at home, but the Aztecs are playing with a purpose right now. Tossup game, but we like Utah to eke one out in Vegas.
Pac-10 – (6) USC vs. (4) Arizona St. USC has looked like a different team in this conference tournament so far, with Demar DeRozan suddenly playing the superstar he was projected to be. We like the hometown team here stealing an NCAA spot from someone else.
SWAC – (2) Jackson St. vs. (1) Alabama St. Jackson St. is the hotter team, having won 13 of their last 14, including a win a few weeks ago against ASU.
WAC – (1) Utah St. @ (2) Nevada. This should be an excellent game – the prohibitive favorite playing essentially a road game for the automatic bid. They split their games with each team winning at home, and we think Nevada will ride its home crowd to another win here. The question is whether Utah St. at 29-5 (16-3) would be an at-large? Answer: probably.
A Few Other Thoughts.
ACC – The call that gave the victory to Carolina was yet another late-game example of the ACC powers-that-be protecting their own, and we don’t know what BC was thinking when they decided to shoot a 28-footer to beat Duke instead of driving to the rim. Maryland has had a nice run, but it will end tomorrow. Duke-Carolina Part 3 is imminent on Sunday.
Big Ten – Ohio St. will probably hang with Michigan St. for a while, but ultimately will fold. The Purdue-Illinois game should be really good, though. Illinois took both prior games but Robbie Hummell missed the last one. We like Purdue to pull off a close one here.
SEC – Auburn is one of the hottest teams around now, having won nine of its last ten games. We like the Tigers to outlast Tennessee tomorrow to face LSU in the finals on Sunday.
Finally, Welcome American to the Dance… (15 down, 50 to go…).
#15 – American (24-7, 13-1). American earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAAs with its easy win today over Holy Cross, 73-57. Jeff Jones’ squad got 24 from star guard and Tourney MVP Garrison Carr, but it was their defense that once again shut down a conference foe (holding HC to 32% shooting).
Projected Seed: #15
Something to Remember: American got bombed by Oklahoma, Georgetown and Maryland this year, but it’s their defense that should have high seeds concerned. They have the 24th best defensive efficiency, but they likely don’t have enough offense to run with the big dogs unless they catch a really poor offensive team on an off night.
On Tap Tomorrow. Be sure to check in with us tomorrow, as we’ll be back with BGTD all day, covering the dozen auto-bids plus the four other conferences that don’t finish up until Sunday. The three games that have us most excited on Championship Saturday? Louisville-Syracuse, Illinois-Purdue and Utah St.-Nevada. See you then.
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and SEC Conferences.
The Big West Tournament will kick off tonight at the Anaheim Convention Center, and anyone who claims they know who will be crowned on Saturday is either: (1) lying, or (2) not familiar with the way the season has gone thus far. The fact is that any Big West team is capable of beating any other team, and seeding means little in making your predictions.
Top seed Cal State Northridge won the regular season title outright, but have faced injuries, legal issues and general inconsistencies that made the race a little closer than most expected when the Matadors were chosen as preseason favorites. Long Beach State, the #2 seed, started out on a blazing 5-0 conference start but has alternated between wins and losses for the remaining eleven games. Third-seeded Pacific hasn’t won a road game since January 31, and even lost to lowly Cal Poly early in the season.
Ryan ZumMallen of LBSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
Let’s be very honest about the Big West for a minute: The conference will only send one team to the NCAA Tournament that will probably be seeded 13th or 14th in their region, and there isn’t a single can’t-miss NBA prospect in the conference.
Here’s why you should watch the Big West, anyway.
1. It’s Been A Great Race
Long Beach State jumped out to an early 5-0 conference record behind the fresh legs of their four freshmen, but were hit with an injury to leading scorer Donovan Morris and have stumbled ever since, going just 2-4 in their last six. The most recent loss, a double-overtime thriller at UC Riverside, put the ball in Cal State Northridge’s court. The Matadors, picked in October by both media and coaches to win the conference title, beat that same Riverside team to snatch a full-game lead on Long Beach State. But beware as five teams trail Northridge by 2.5 games or less.
1) Cal State Northridge 12-10 (8-3)
2) Long Beach State 12-11 (7-4)
3) Pacific 14-9 (7-5)
4) Cal State Fullerton 13-12 (7-6)
5) UC Riverside 14-10 (6-6)
6) UC Davis 11-14 (6-6)
7) UC Irvine 8-17 (5-7)
8) UC Santa Barbara 10-13 (4-7)
9) Cal Poly SLO 6-16 (3-9)
Ryan ZumMallen of LBSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
It’s been a trippy, trippy ride through the Big West Conference thus far, with everything seeming to be so upside-down that I can’t help but wonder if I accidentally ate some of those mushrooms my mom warned me about. Everything I once thought to be right in the world is now uncertain. Nothing makes sense anymore, and we’re all just along for the ride.
If, back in September, you would have told me that Long Beach State would be undefeated in conference play while UC Santa Barbara boasted a .250% winning percentage, I would have told you to go back to Jupiter. Because that’s the only place that a situation like that would have made sense. And yet here we are in January, with a senior-laden, defensive Gaucho team standing at 1-3 while the 49ers ride four (count ‘em, four) freshmen to a 4-0 record (9-7 overall).
The prospect of having teams defy conventional wisdom within the conference is not so unusual. Big West Conference standings are often in stark contrast to its preseason rankings because, frankly, even those who pay close attention to the conference have little idea of what any team is really capable of. Rising teams sneak up on their opponents all the time because there’s just not a whole lot of information out there to base an accurate opinion. If the Tar Heels started running the Triangle Offense tonight, every ACC assistant coach worth his salt would have five different ways to shut it down by dawn. Information travels slowly in the Big West, and so it’s not unfeasible that a team can be selected to finish eighth in the Big West only to be undefeated through four conference games (including two on the road).
No one realized how much talent was lurking on the campus of Long Beach State, how much turmoil was about to explode in Northridge, or how an injury to a freshman could cripple Santa Barbara. And that’s why the Big West Conference standings are currently all topsy-turvy, and also why I would not rank the teams in order of their current conference standing.
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
For the casual Big West fan – but really, who’s “only” a casual Big West fan – the conference standings may seem a bit perplexing as we near the end of the preseason schedule. For starters, the current standings look nothing like the predicted order of finish, with UCR all the way at the top and CSUN second from the bottom. A couple of embarrassing losses during the conference’s few televised games certainly did not help its image – but remember, friends, the pre-conference standings can be deceiving. A closer look reveals contenders, pretenders, and a few hidden gems to watch.
We’ve made it through eighteen of our thirty-one season conference primers so far, and our correspondents continue to top each other with their breadth of knowledge and coverage of the one-bid leagues. So we want to thank them and once again highlight their fantastic work over the past few weeks by anchoring their primers in one post here, so that you (and we) can easily access them. Going forward, we’ll primarily be dealing with the traditional multiple-bid conferences or conferences that should expect to see multiple bids this season. Conference #13 will go up tonight, and we’ll be counting down to tipoff on Nov. 10, when the #1 conference primer will be unveiled.
Also, keep in mind that our correspondents will continue to bring RTC comprehensive coverage of each league throughout the season. Each of the above leagues will have an update post every two weeks, beginning in mid/late November.
Ryan ZumMallen, LBPOSTSports columnist, is the RTC correspondent for the Big West conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Cal St. Northridge
UC Santa Barbara
Long Beach State
Cal St. Fullerton
What You Need To Know (WYN2K). I know what you’re thinking: no good teams ever come out of the Big West. Oh yeah? What about 2006-07’s Long Beach State 49ers who ran roughshod over their schedule to a 24-8 record and an NCAA berth… losing to Tennessee by 35. Or last year’s three-way tie for first? UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton each won 12 conference games and two earned postseason berths… one bowing out in the NCAA opener and one in the NIT.
Ok, there hasn’t been much success outside of the conference lately – and last year produced some colossal stinkers – but that doesn’t mean that intense basketball isn’t being played within the Big West’s confines. After a conference flooded with seniors last season, nearly every team is starting anew, making for one of the most wide-open conferences in the country. All you need is one stud to will your team to victory, and if 2007 Fullerton product and recent Sacramento Kings signee Bobby Brown is any indication, it is definitely possible for raw talent to be developed in the Big West. Don’t expect the top teams to feast on the bottom-feeders again – all it takes is one hot hand for any team to have a shot on any night. So let’s get into it!
Bottom Feeders.UC Riverside, Cal Poly SLO and Cal State Fullerton. I mention them now because I shan’t be mentioning them again. All three lost a vast majority of their scoring to graduation, and senior leadership is vital in the Big West. Expect painful rebuilding from these three, although Fullerton’s Josh Akognon (video footage below) will win a few games for the Titans all by himself. The 5’11 guard averaged 20 ppg last year and won Big West Tournament MVP honors, but with only 2 returners and Akognon the only returning starter, it’ll be a long year in the cellar for CSF.
Middle of the Pack.
One team that you can (surprisingly) expect to emerge from that very cellar this year is UC Davis. Yes, the UC Davis that went 2-14 in the Big West last season. Stop laughing. Last year’s Aggies fielded zero seniors and this year’s edition has five. They return a trio of senior starters that scored 28.4% of the team’s points, boast two key transfers in Joe Harden and Todd Lowenthal and look to Big West Freshman of the Year Mark Payne to step us as a sophomore. With all of that, I’ve still got them pegged in 6th because, c’mon, it’s UC Davis.
UC Irvine gets the nod for 5th in the Big West, even after losing their top two scorers who brought in a combined 29.5ppg. They do return their other three starters, though, and while the team is not particularly heavy on seniors or explosive guardplay, last year’s squad won 9 of 12 down the stretch so these guys know how to win. Adding three recruits sized 6’8” or taller does not hurt, either. But the Anteaters could well fall prey to the experience of UC Davis, and certainly neither is worthy of a Top 4 spot.
The Pacific Tigers come in 4th, based yet again almost entirely on the genius of the Big West Conference’s greatest basketball mind, head coach Bob Thomason. Thomason consistently squeezes more productivity out of less talent than any other BW coach, and I’ve learned the hard way not to bet against the Tigers. They don’t have the talent to dominate this year, but the high-flying Anthony Brown enters his senior season, and I am intrigued to see what magic Thomason has worked with the 6’9” forward who wowed us with his potential and now will have to show us what’s been done with it. What wins games in the Big West? Guards. Anyone who gives senior sharpshooter Chad Troyer more than an inch of room deserves to be cut and sent to UC Riverside.
As we saw last season, the cream of the Big West crop can be extremely competitive. So these next three teams could end up in any of the top spots, or even in a three-way tie for first like the Trio of ’08. They’re clearly the most talent-laden squads and have the best shot at the hardware. At the rear of the triumvirate is – pains me to say it – Long Beach State. Disclosure: I’m a graduate, and last season’s 6-25 campaign was one of my life’s more painful experiences. But we relied heavily on first-year coach Dan Monson’s genius and junior guard Donovan Morris’ magic. This year, we’ll again need plenty of both, but have added more ammunition than a Howitzer tank to back them up. The 6’3” Morris is the only returning All-Big West honoree in the conference, led the Big West in scoring and is the likely preseason Player of the Year. But the 49ers also add three transfers and a four-member freshman class that is oozing with raw talent in one-guard Casper Ware and freakish swingman Larry Anderson. The experience and talent are there after recording barren levels of both last year. My pick is 3rd place and possibly higher – it’s just tough to get past the oddness of picking a 6-win team to win the conference, even if it’s my own.
Here then, we arrive at #2. This team could definitely end the season in a lower position than this, and probably doesn’t have much chance at the top spot due to a lack of real scoring power or explosive guards. But a notoriously stingy defense and hard-nosed hustle, coupled with eight returners (including three starters) earns the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos the second spot. Well-rounded forward Chris Devine begins collecting Social Security this year enters his sixth season with UCSB after being granted another year of eligibility due to injuries. His leadership will be invaluable as the Gauchos look to recapture the magic after being one of the three teams tied for the conference title in ’08. They’ll rely heavily on a suffocating half-court defense that allows few second chances, and will look for junior James Powell on the perimeter after shooting 46.7% from three-point land and averaging 12.3 ppg last season. Experience and guard-play win out, and the Gauchos legendary grit put them in a class above (most of) the rest.
Experience experience experience. The Cal State Northridge Matadors (#16 NCAA) field five seniors and eight juniors on their roster, including last year’s conference leaders in rebounds, assists and blocked shots. They too shared the Big West title and have a great shot to repeat with Tremaine Townsend returning to terrorize Big West post players for yet another season. Townsend led the conference in rebounds with 9.8 rpg, and blocked shots with 1.3 bpg. The Matadors led the conference in team rebounding, and senior guard Josh Jenkins will look to improve upon his conference leading 6.4apg as well. CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell has never won an outright Big West title in 13 years at the helm, but this is his best chance ever to break the streak.
California @ Pacific (11/15/08)
Long Beach St. @ Wisconsin (11/16/08)
Cal St Northridge @ Stanford (11/18/08)
UNC @ UCSB (11/21/08)
Wake Forest v. Cal St Fullerton (11/27/08)
Cal St Northridge @ UCLA (12/7/08)
Long Beach St. @ Syracuse (12/13/08)
65 Team Era. Due to UNLV’s former association with the conference in the late 80s and early 90s, the Big West has a solid overall record for the era (28-30, .483). But if you take out the Rebels, you’re left with a true mid-major level performance (7-24, .226) with only three wins in the last sixteen years. Pacific’s nice run in the 2003-05 seasons accounts for two of those; the other belongs to another former member of the conference, Utah St. in 2001.
Final Thought. Just for fun, let’s throw in the final seconds of Cal St Fullerton’s Big West championship game…
We’re less than 48 hrs from the quasi-official start of practice (at least at Kentucky, Illinois and a few others)…
The Class of 2009 will definitely be keeping an eye on Brandon Jennings’ experience in Europe this year.
So we can have D2 games on tv, but getting some good mid-majors on the ESPN Full Court package is damn near impossible?
The Big West signed a new deal with ESPN, but unless you get the U, you’re pretty much out of luck. Note to ESPN – put ESPNU games on the Full Court Package this year! Find a way to watch Fullerton’s Josh Akognon anyway this year – trust us.
So we figure we’ll be done with these conference primers by Christmas 2008 Thanksgiving, which is about the time most people start keeping an eye on college hoops anyway. In the meantime, we thought we’d take a moment to recap the seventeen single bid conferences we’ve already reviewed. Keep in mind, our definition of a single bid league is a conference that does not regularly compete for multiple NCAA bids (even if they occasionally get multiple bids).
Some brief Single Bid Conference superlatives while we’re at this point:
Best Team. Davidson (#9 Seed NCAA)- this team has a shot at the Sweet 16 this year
Possible Spoiler. Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) – everyone loves WKU in the Sun Belt, but ULM has an excellent team returning
Low Major All-Americans.
Stephen Curry (Davidson) – POY
Bo McCalebb (New Orleans)
Kyle Hines (UNC-Greensboro)
Jason Thompson (Rider)
Alex Harris (UCSB)
Hon. Mention – Courtney Pigram (ETSU), Arizona Reid (High Point), Courtney Lee (W. Kentucky), Tim Pollitz (Miami (OH))
Conference We Wish Were on TV More Often. America East. We dunno why, other than we’ve enjoyed watching teams like Albany, Vermont and BU over the past few years. Seems like a fun conference.
Conference We Wish Would Re-Organize (or Implode).Sun Belt. Despite a long and proud history, there are simply too many teams (13) located in too many places (from Denver to Miami). This conference has lost its bearings.
Conference Champ You Can Count on to Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08 – Big West. Although Ivy league champs tend to stay close, Las Vegas knows that, so we like the Big West instead, where teams not named Long Beach St. have lost by an average of only 7 pts during the 2000s.
Conference Champ You Can Count on to NOT Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08 – Summit. In its last nine first round games, the Summit champ has lost by an average of 22 pts.
And here’s how our Consensus Conference Picks are shaping up (RTC choice in red):
Since last time, we added the CBS Sportsline picks as well as the conference media days selections for each league. We had three more leagues came on with a full consensus (Patriot – Holy Cross; Sun Belt – W. Kentucky; Southern – Davidson) to join the OVC (Austin Peay), while the Big Sky (Montana) was only one vote short. The Big West (UCSB) and MAC (Kent St.) were solidly in one team’s corner, while the Summit (IUPUI) and Ivy (Cornell) weren’t far behind. We’re still not buying that Ivy selection of Cornell, though.
WYN2K. As we continue our ascent up the conference ladder, we once again come to a league where the top clearly consists of mid-major quality programs, but the bottom of the conference weighs it down as a whole and keeps it from becoming a consistent multiple bid performer. As might be expected for a middling league, the Big West has split its OOC games over the past three seasons (142-155, .478), winning the games against the lower leagues and losing to those above (1-13 last year vs. BCS teams). So what we see again this year is a handful of teams near the top that could easily compete in the WAC or Horizon, and an equal number that might be better suited for the OVC or Atlantic Sun (geographical considerations notwithstanding). Yet due to its schizophrenic nature (representative of its Californian makeup, perhaps?), the Big West has only once in the last fourteen years received two bids (2005), and that was solely because upstart Utah St. defeated unbeaten juggernaut Pacific in the conference finals that year.
Predicted Champion. UC Santa Barbara (#13 seed NCAA)is our choice to represent the Big West this year (turns out we’re not very original). Besides being located in one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes the lower 48 has to offer, the Gauchos return four starters from a second-place club including likely POY guard Alex Harris (21.1 ppg, .458 3fg%) and all-conference forward Chris Devine (14.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg).These two, along with a sophomore backcourt (Justin Joyner and James Powell)that made the all-freshman team last year, hold down a formidable defense that has finished second in the league for six consecutive years. Throw in transfer center Nedim Pajevic from Weber St. and UCSB has all the pieces to win its first conference title in six years. The way we see it, the only hurdle against this team’s success are the tasty waves and a cool buzz down on the campus beach (h/t Jeff Spicoli).
Others Considered. Should UCSB stumble just a bit, we like Cal Poly as next in line to pick up the pieces. Despite losing all-conference wing Derek Stockalper, the Mustangs return sufficient talent to build off of their season-ending 10-2 run (including the conference title game). Three other starters return, including all-conference guard Dawin Whiten and inside presence Titus Shelton (#96 nationally in blk%). The other team we like a lot in this league is Cal St. Fullerton, another second-place team from last season that returns three starters, but must deal with the loss of Bobby Brown, the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Titans are most excited about incoming transfer guard Josh Akognon, a lights-out shooter who led Washington St. in scoring during Dick Bennett’s last season there in 2006. As a sophomore, Akognon dropped 25 on UCLA’s vaunted defense in a half, so expectations are obviously high. Pacific had a rough year last season after a run of three straight NCAA Tourney appearances (49-3 in the Big West over that span), but they do return four of their top seven players and still carry a swagger that the rest of the league hasn’t quite forgotten yet. A core group of juniors led by Anthony Brown will spearhead the renaissance for head coach Bob Thomason, so they can’t be dismissed.
Games to Watch. The Big West is back to nine teams after two years at eight, so the round-robin schedule remains intact. Here are the key games to watch for:
UCSB @ Cal St. Fullerton (01.12.08) & Cal St. Fullerton @ UCSB (02.07.08)
Cal Poly @ Cal St. Fullerton (01.10.08) & Cal St. Fullerton @ Cal Poly (02.09.08)
UCSB @ Cal Poly (01.19.08) & Cal Poly @ UCSB (02.14.08)
ESPNU Bracketbusters (02.23.08)
Big West Championship Game (03.15.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. The Big West doesn’t typically play a lot of games against BCS teams, and we’re not sure why that is (perhaps it has more to do with location than anything). Nevertheless, the league was 1-13 (.071) last year, with the sole victory coming from UC Irvine against South Carolina (67-52). Here are this year’s best opportunities for RPI enhancement:
Pacific @ Oregon (11.11.07) ESPN FC
UCSB @ Stanford (11.11.07)
Mississippi St. @ UC Irvine (11.22.07) ESPNU
Cal Poly @ Arizona St. (11.26.07)
UNLV @ UCSB (11.27.07)
Cal St. Fullerton @ Arizona (11.28.07)
Nevada @ Pacific (12.01.07) ESPN FC
UCSB @ UNC (12.22.07)
Cal Poly @ USC (12.22.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Not this year. While UCSB is very good, it’s not so good that it will dominate the league to the level necessary to ensure an at-large bid (as Pacific managed to do in 2005).
Neat-o Stat. Last year’s champion Long Beach St. galloped into the sunset with a conference regular season title as well as the tournament title before getting utterly shellacked 121-86 by Tennessee in last year’s first round matchup. Not only did the program lose its coach Larry Reynolds, it also lost its top nine scorers. The leading returning scorer is guard Artis Grant, who averaged all of 1.9 ppg last season in less than ten minutes of game time. Dan Monson, the architect of Gonzaga basketball in the late 1990s (of which Mark Few gets all the credit), took the job and according to one media report, he’s quite happy with the decision. He may have said that before he saw how thin his roster was going to be this year.
64/65-Team Era. The Big West’s record of 28-29 (.491) is extremely misleading due to the UNLV effect. UNLV was in this league from 1982-1996, and while there the Runnin’ Rebels ran off only 21 wins, 3 F4s and a national championship in 1990. The other seven wins during the era belong to UCSB (1990 – 1), New Mexico St. (1992 – 2; 1993 – 1), Utah St. (2001 – 1) and Pacific (2004 – 1; 2005 – 1). In more recent NCAA history, Pacific has owned the Big East in the NCAAs, beating #5 Providence 66-58 (2004), #9 Pittsburgh 79-71 (2005) and coming very close to beating #4 Boston College (Pacific lost 88-76 in 2OT) in the Eagles’ first year as a member of the ACC. Since 1994 the league has been a one-bid league with the one exception mentioned above in 2005, and its average seed has been a #12.9. If we omit Long Beach St.’s asskicking last year at the hands of Tennessee, we see that the league has performed admirably (if not successfully) in its first round games during this decade. We mentioned Pacific’s three games above, but in the Big West’s other five games its representative lost by an average of only 6.8 pts, showing that these teams play competitive basketball. For now, though, let’s reminisce about Bong Long Beach St.’s championship RTC at the Big West Championship.
Final Thought. The Big West is a league seemingly in continual flux. Every time it seems to be building a cache of solid programs at the top, one of them bolts for another conference (see: UNLV, New Mexico St., Utah St.). As a result, it can never quite get a good enough RPI rating to break through as an annual two-bid league. Regularly reaching into the lowest reaches of D1 to pick up the likes of UC Davis and UC Riverside just to have a full complement of teams only worsens the problem. Who will be next to go if a spot opens in the WCC or WAC – UCSB? Pacific? We shall see.