Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 78, #15 Pacific 49

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #15 Pacific in Austin.

Jim Larranaga's squad cruised past Pacific Friday afternoon. (AP)

Jim Larranaga’s squad cruised past Pacific Friday afternoon. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Miami came to play. There were some worries about the Hurricanes’ preparedness entering the tournament as no one on the team had any NCAA Tournament experience. Miami put these worries to rest early in its Round of 64 trouncing of Pacific. The Hurricanes looked ready to play from the get-go and maintained a double-digit lead from the 11:03 mark of the first half to the end of the game. When the Hurricanes struggled this season, much of it had to do with inconsistent offense and poor defense. Against Pacific, Miami was very efficient on offense, shooting 46.2% from the field by getting many quality looks throughout the afternoon. Its defensive effort was quality all night as they forced Pacific into taking plenty of poor shots – the Tigers finished the game shooting just 33.3%. While it might be logical to worry about Miami’s NCAA Tournament experience as the tournament goes on, the Hurricanes showed they were plenty capable of playing on the big stage.
  2. Miami’s guard play is definitely worth the price of admission. There are few – if any – teams in the country who have backcourt play as solid as Miami’s backcourt play. Sophomore Shane Larkin and senior Durand Scott provide the Hurricanes with everything a team could possibly want from its guards. Larkin, who was the coaches’ ACC Player of the Year, is a dynamic playmaker with the ability to get to the rim at will. Larkin draws plenty of national acclaim for his ability on the offensive end of the court, but his defensive presence is also quite notable. A scrappy defender who deflects many passes and has the propensity to draw charges, Larkin does an excellent job of frustrating the opposition’s backcourt. Miami refers to Scott as “the heart and soul of the Miami Hurricanes with a junkyard dog game” in its game notes and that description could not be any truer. Scott certainly has the ability to score, he averaged 13.2 points per game in the regular season, but his true presence is felt as a leader and on the defensive end of the court. The Hurricanes are a veteran-laden team, but it is undeniable that Scott is their leader. While watching Scott defend, it is easy to see why he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year – he is tough, quick, and relentless. Backcourt play is very important in March and Miami’s backcourt certainly gives it a chance to make a special run.
  3. Bravo to Bob Thomason on a great career. The loss to Miami wrapped up Pacific coach Bob Thomason’s 25th and final season as the head coach of his alma mater. He finished his career at the school with a record of 437-321. Thomason led the Tigers to five NCAA Tournament appearances and they won a game in both the 2004 and 2005 tournaments. In what is now a culture of mercenary head coaches, it is important to recognize the dedication Thomason had to one program over a long period of time. Here’s to a great career by Thomason with hopes of him enjoying retirement.

Star of the Game. Durand Scott, Miami. When the Hurricanes took a 21-point lead into halftime, Scott only had three points, but he had done a tremendous job defensively in helping limit Pacific to just 29.2% shooting. Scott’s offensive explosion began soon after the second half began. He scored the team’s first seven points of the second frame and finished with 18 total points for the second 20 minutes. Scott’s strong performance in the second half certainly ended any hopes Pacific might have had about making a comeback.

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The ACC in the NCAA: Can Pacific Beat Miami?

Posted by KCarpenter on March 22nd, 2013

There are, theoretically, lots of ways that a team can get upset.  In practice, the formula for a big upset tends to have a few common recurring elements that appear with a sort of frequency that would make James Frazer proud. Upset-minded teams typically play at a slow tempo, make a lot of threes, rarely commit turnovers, and have a veteran coach and players. The good news for Pacific University is that it looks a lot like a team capable of an upset.

Will Miami Survive the Upset-Minded Tigers? (photo: Getty Images)

Will Miami Survive the Upset-Minded Tigers? (photo: Getty Images)

Pacific plays at the 285th fastest speed in Division I and as a team makes 39.1% of three-pointers (12th best nationally!).  A turnover percentage of 17.7% ranks in the top 50 in the country and veteran Bob Thomason coaches a team loaded with juniors and seniors. Thomason has coached at Pacific since 1988 and has previously led his teams to NCAA Tournament wins over Pittsburgh and Providence. Even more important (at least for the narrative-minded), Thomason has announced that this will be his final year coaching, and that after 25 years, he will be hanging up his whistle after this tournament. It sounds like a perfect storm of circumstances for a team to overachieve and give their coach one last hurrah. So does Pacific have what it takes to beat Miami?

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Bracket Prep: Akron, Louisville, Northwestern State, Montana, Oregon, Pacific & New Mexico State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Saturday’s flurry of bid snatching wound down out West and left us with a near-complete picture of the puzzle. Just four automatic bids remain to be earned on Selection Sunday. As we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.

Akron

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

  • MAC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #49/#54/#62
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Last year’s Tournament darlings, the Ohio Bobcats, saw their shot at a return bid die on Saturday night, but don’t be surprised if their conquerors put some of that MAC mojo to use again this year. The Akron Zips turned in one of the most impressive performances of the day, comprehensively picking apart a good Ohio team en route to the MAC Tournament title. A pair of late regular season losses had recently killed the bubble talk surrounding the Zips, but let’s not forget how they entered the conversation in the first place. Keith Dambrot’s club ripped off 19 straight wins between December 15th and March 2nd in what still measures up as the longest winning streak in all of college basketball this season.
  2. Akron is as well-rounded a mid-major as you will find, but the Zips truest strength lies in a tougher-than-nails frontcourt. Demetrius Treadwell is the team’s second leading scorer at 11.4 PPG and leading rebounder at 7.9 RPG. His crafty, below-the-rim game may not be the sexiest, but it’s a great complement to the other important Zip on the interior, 7’0” Zeke Marshall. Marshall is the team’s leading scorer (13 PPG) and one of the nation’s leaders in FG percentage at 66%, but the big senior truly excels on the defensive side of the ball. He boasts the 4th best block percentage in the country (14.1%), and is, quite literally, a huge reason why Akron is one of the 20 best teams in the country in effective field goal percentage defense.
  3. The March suspension of point guard Alex Abreu (for drug charges) momentarily shook the team, but back-to-back good wins provide Keith Dambrot with some hope that his team has moved on, however much the loss of Abreu (10.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) hurts on the floor. Freshman Carmelo Betancourt has seen his minutes rise from 10 to 26 a game since the Abreu suspension, but the youngster will certainly not be asked to replicate Abreu’s production. The Zips have won with a balanced, team approach all season long, and the “next man up” attitude should come naturally for Betancourt and others. Dont overlook that even before that 19-game surge, the Zips beat Middle Tennessee State, pounded Penn State (by 25) and took OK State to overtime. Could a MAC team crash the Big Dance for the second straight season?

Louisville

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

  • Big East Champion (29-5, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #3/#2/#1
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +19.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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Morning Five: 05.22.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 22nd, 2012

  1. Yesterday, long-time Pacific coach Bob Thomason announced that he would retire following the upcoming season. Those on the East Coast may not be familiar with Thomason’s work, but he has compiled a remarkable record during his time at Pacific. During his quarter century at the school Thomason led the school to four NCAA Tournament appearances while picking up 414 wins, a record for the Big West Conference. His career probably peaked with opening round wins in the 2004 and 2005 NCAA Tournament against Providence and Pittsburgh, respectively. We doubt that this will get much coverage during the season outside of possibly a brief mention on SportsCenter after his last game, but if you are watching Big West basketball next season take a moment to check out Thomason and his Pacific team.
  2. Those who are weary of the dominance of a certain Worldwide Leader in college basketball will be pleased to hear that some of the regular season games previously televised on ESPN’s family of networks will now be on CBS Sports starting this coming season. After reaching an agreement with ESPN, CBS Sports will have the right to broadcast games from the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 with a total of 20 games growing to 26 games during the following seasons as well as the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship and the Missouri Valley Championship Game for the duration of the agreement (the duration of the agreement was not disclosed). Although ESPN still is the leader in college basketball coverage with its near monopoly on regular season coverage, CBS Sports in conjunction with Turner Sports is making a strong push in adding to its exclusive coverage of the NCAA Tournament. With these moves it will be interesting to see if CBS Sports is able to poach some of ESPN’s top analysts with the promise of more high-profile games.
  3. Georgetown picked up a big commitment yesterday when junior small forward Stephen Domingo committed to play for the school in the 2013-14 season. Domingo, a top-30 recruit in the class of 2013 and an all-state player in California, chose Georgetown over a long list of schools that included offers from Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Harvard, and Louisville. In the end, Domingo decided that the Hoya system provided him with the best opportunity to showcase his versatility and “develop into an outstanding basketball player and an outstanding young man”. Hoya fans are probably celebrating the addition now, but we should point out that there is a lot of time left before Domingo or any other player in his class can sign and a lot can change during that time so we wouldn’t go Sharpie on this one just yet.
  4. The sudden departure of Terrell Stoglin left Maryland with a big hole in its backcourt heading into the upcoming season, but they may have found a reasonable replacement in the form of Albany tranfer Logan Aronhalt, who averaged 13.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season. Aronhalt, who will be able to play immediately for the Terrapins after graduating with a degree in December, will have to answer questions about his athleticism after multiple knee injuries and chronic pain caused him to see limited playing time at the end of Albany’s season (26 minutes in its final seven games). However, he can provide them with veteran leadership and savvy as they try to navigate a difficult stretch to begin the season on a roster laden with younger players and an injured starting point guard (Pe’Shon Howard). At the very least, he should be able to provide the younger players with a role model and ease their transition into the college game.
  5. Syracuse fans waiting to get a look at their next coach (whenever Jim Boeheim decides to retire) will get a chance when Mike Hopkins acts as a co-coach of the USA Basketball Select Team that will play the US Olympic Team in its training camp. Hopkins along with former Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano will coach a team that includes Kyrie Irving, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and several other well-known younger players against whatever team the US assembles for its defense of the Olympic gold medal in London. While Hopkins will not get to coach any of the players he recruited or coached at Syracuse, he will have a very interested onlooker from the other sideline in Senior National Team assistant coach Jim Boeheim.
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Checking In On… The Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

 

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.

Casper Ware And The 49ers Face The Creighton Bluejays, Who Are Looking To Break A Three-Game Losing Streak.

Power Rankings

  1. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 28th, 2012

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Long Beach State Halfway Home: UC Riverside’s David Chavarria was one made free throw away from handing the 49ers their first conference loss of the season on Thursday, with the game all tied up at 63 and two seconds left. Fortunately for Long Beach State, he missed, and the game went into overtime. Coach Dan Monson’s crew proceeded to take control of the extra period, propelling the 49ers to a 77-70 win and a sparkling 8-0 conference record halfway through the 16-game schedule. Thursday’s UCR game would have been a classic letdown game after Saturday’s impressive blowout of UC Santa Barbara on national television, but it’s clear that Long Beach State is determined to win out.

    Dan Monson Has Long Beach State Playing Excellent Basketball

  • Cal Poly Ties NCAA Record: The Mustangs made their first 11 three-pointers against Cal State Northridge on January 21, tying the all-time NCAA record for consecutive made threes. Cal Poly shut an incredible 71.4% on the night from long distance, going 15-21. Of course, they followed that up by shooting a paltry 3-29 the following game against Pacific (10.3%). The two nights added together equal 18-50, good for 36%, or their approximate season average.
  • Big West Lands Slew of Midseason Transfers: Some of the future stars of the Big West officially enrolled for the spring semester recently, with Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton the big winners. Arizona State star and southern California native Keala King is transferring to Long Beach after averaging 13.7 points in 13 games with the Sun Devils this year. Rumored to have character issues since high school, it will be interesting to see if King can settle in to lead the new era of 49er basketball along with fellow transfers Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount). In addition, Cal State Fullerton pulled in yet another D-I transfer (they currently have eight on their roster) in UTEP’s Darius Nelson, a freshman who never played a game for Tim Floyd. While some D-I transfers have excelled as expected (Orlando Johnson comes to mind), others haven’t received as much playing time as anticipated (Nate Garth, Johnson’s teammate).

Casper Ware And The 49ers Have Control Of The Big West. One Question Sure To Be Asked Is Whether They Have The Insurance Policy Of An At-Large Resume Worthy Of A Bid. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (15-6, 8-0) – Long Beach State fans were able to let out a huge sigh of relief on Thursday against UCR during the aforementioned missed free throw from David Chavarria with the game on the line, as Long Beach went on to complete the first half of conference play at a perfect 8-0. What’s more impressive is that arguably their three toughest games in conference, on the road against Cal Poly, UCSB and UCR, will all go down in the books as wins. Their supposed biggest test coming into conference play against UCSB at the Thunderdome, a game televised nationally on ESPNU, turned out to be a laugher, as the 49ers ran away with a lopsided 71-48 win. The question going forward remains the same: can Long Beach’s heavily used starting group stay fresh and maintain enough energy to close the season strong? Edis Dervisevic being reinstated from his academic suspension helps as the 49ers look to keep their NCAA at-large chances alive. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2011

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • San Diego State Officially Moving to the Big West: In the biggest addition the Big West has made in years, San Diego State has announced that they will move their 14 other sports besides football to the Big West as of 2013. Thanks to the Big East and the madness that is BCS college football realignment, the Big West had the Aztecs basically drop in their lap, a development that has the basketball team putting on a front of contentment. The move saves the Aztecs a lot of money on travel. They become part of a conference that has an ESPN contract, which means potentially more exposure. But it also would be a giant step down in strength of schedule and RPI, which has spurred talks of shortening the number of conference games to 14, an unbalanced slate. For the Big West, they add a school with an arena with nearly twice the seating capacity as any current school, and an athletic budget that dwarfs the other schools as well. The hope is that SDSU will act like a Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, and raise the profile of the entire league.

Steve Fisher And The Aztecs Will Migrate To The Big West

  • Fullerton Heats Up: Because of the large number of new players and transfers this season, Cal State Fullerton has been the wild card under-the-radar team this year. However, Bob Burton’s squad is making strides as of late, winning four straight. These wins have been in grand fashion as well, including a 22-point victory over SIU-Edwardsville, a 31-point thrashing at Pac-12 Utah, and a sound 15-point win over Eastern Washington. This group of transfers is seemingly starting to gel a bit, but it remains to be seen if their defensive consistency can improve for league play.
  • Long Beach Close But No Cigar: The 49ers continued their treacherous schedule with good efforts against Kansas and North Carolina. They fell 88-80 at Allen Fieldhouse, and lost in Chapel Hill, 84-78. Against the Jayhawks, Long Beach battled from a 19-point deficit at one point to close within a margin of five with about three minutes to play. In North Carolina, they actually led at halftime, 45-40, before losing steam late. Long Beach State continues to impress by hanging in there against top opponents, but remain slowed down by the little things. The absence of graduated Greg Plater seems to be hurting a little more than expected, and the fact that the 49ers can’t sneak up on anyone does not help things either.

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Checking In On… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take

 

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.   

Orlando Johnson Is Carrying A Heavy Load For The Gauchos, Playing 70% Of His Team's Available Minutes And Taking 34.9% Of The Shots.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2011

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Long Beach State Posts Signature Win: Possibly the biggest win of the season comes early for the conference with LBSU topping No. 9 Pitt 86-76 on the road. Casper Ware and the 49ers were a nationwide trending topic on Twitter when they took down a Top 10 team in its own arena on Wednesday night. Ware shined, pouring in a career-high 28 points and six assists in 39 minutes, while newcomer James Ennis verified his status as a noteworthy addition with 19 points and six assists. How big is this win? It’s the first time Long Beach State has beaten a Top 10 team since 1993. On top of that, Long Beach won emphatically, as the Panthers never seriously challenged a nine-point Long Beach lead at halftime. The win snapped Pittsburgh’s 58-game non-conference winning streak at home.
  • UC Santa Barbara Gives Strong Outing: The Gauchos’ routed Santa Clara 89-56 last week. Although understandably not as headline-grabbing as Long Beach State’s win, the Gauchos’ 33-point drubbing of a middle of the pack West Coast Conference team is a good sign. The two-headed beast of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally were back at it, leading UCSB with 21 and 24 points respectively.
  • Pacific, UC Irvine Sluggish Out Of The Gate: Two teams pegged to struggle in the preseason poll have well, struggled. Pacific posted an uninspiring win over the D-II Otters of Cal State Monterey Bay before getting trounced by previously winless Nevada, 78-54. Coach Bob Thomason shuffled through 15 players, trying to sort out who could contribute the most to his team of new faces. UCI has looked shell-shocked in losses at No. 24 Cal and lowly San Jose State, which was nearly a buzzer-beating win until Adam Folker’s last second put-back was deemed too late by video review. There’s nowhere to go but up for these two teams.

Casper Ware And The 49ers Stunned The Oakland Zoo On Wednesday. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Power Rankings

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RTC Conference Primers: #19 – Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 17th, 2011

David Gao of Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • LBSU 49ers Poised to Finally Strike Gold: After winning the Big West by four games last year, Long Beach State had to settle for the NIT after UC Santa Barbara upset them in the Big West Tournament finals. This year, four of last year’s top five scorers return for LBSU, and all as fourth-year seniors. But even if a Big West Tournament win isn’t in the cards, Coach Dan Monson will garner national attention and even a possible at-large bid with an incredibly tough non-conference slate featuring the likes of Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier.

Long Beach State Star Guard Casper Ware (#22) Plays Much Bigger Than His 5'10" Frame Might Suggest. (credit: S. Dachman)

  • Three Straight for the Gauchos?: USA World University Games team member Orlando Johnson will look to take an up-and-down UC Santa Barbara team back to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. Some may see last year’s bid as a bit of a fluke, as the Gauchos were only a five-seed in the conference tournament, but scored a Big Dance berth anyway when they won the final against regular season champion Long Beach State. Seniors James Nunnally and Jaime Serna return as well, while D-I transfers Nate Garth and Keegan Hornbuckle become eligible for the first time this year, making this Gauchos team, on paper, even stronger.
  • Will Les Be More?: At UC Davis, gone is former coach Gary Stewart after eight seasons (and his not-so-illustrious 88-148 record), replaced by former Bradley coach Jim Les, who joins his son Tyler, a sophomore on the team. The elder Les spent nine years at Bradley, where he famously took the Braves to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005-06, knocking off a highly-seeded Kansas team in the process. However, his last two teams fizzled, just as Stewart’s Aggies did the last two years despite having highly touted players Mark Payne and Joe Harden on the roster. Harden and Payne are both gone now, but Big West Co-Freshman of the year Josh Ritchart returns with former Cal guard Eddie Miller.
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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2011

Ryan ZumMallen, the RTC correspondent for the Big West, is the Executive Editor and a sportswriter for The Long Beach Post. You can also find him on Twitter at @RyanZumMallen.

A Look Back

The holiday season was a joyous one for the Big West Conference, as one team notched an unlikely win against a ranked opponent, another made a power move for first place and the rest are still in the hunt with the conference schedule just underway. The big guys are beginning to flex their muscles but the little guys have to feel that they’re putting themselves in good position for a spoiler season.

POY Watch

Some interesting rising stars are making names for themselves, as UC Irvine’s Darren Moore and Pacific’s Sam Willard continue to show impressive performances. But UC Santa Barbara forwards James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson are still the most dominant individual players in the conference thus far, despite uncharacteristically horrid displays from both in a home loss to Long Beach State last week. Also in the mix are Long Beach juniors T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware, one of whom is averaging a double-double and the latter of which leads the Big West in both assists and steals. Given the chance, I would also pay to watch Lenny Daniel of Northridge and Orane Chin of Fullerton.

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (7-8, 2-0): After a shellacking of conference favorite Santa Barbara to open Big West season play last week, and following that up with a convincing businesslike road victory over Cal Poly, the 49ers have moved into the driver’s seat. Head coach Dan Monson & Co. must be riding high with four home games ahead of them. Even better, forward Larry Anderson returned from missing five games with a broken hand to score 25 points on 9-10 shooting in the UCSB win – to say nothing of the consistently dominant play of T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware. The sky is the limit for Long Beach, but that has always been their gift and curse as the 49ers have started out hot before only to fall to fatigue, over-reliance on their starters and – worst of all – hubris.
  2. UC Santa Barbara (7-5, 0-1): What to make of the Gauchos? The preseason favorites had been all but crowned conference champions when they played impressively throughout the preseason scheduled and topped it off with a huge win over then-#22 UNLV, on the road, no less. Nunnally was fantastic in that game and Johnson has looked like a probable candidate for back-to-back MVPs (though his scoring is down due to increased responsibilities).  But in the home conference opener against their top competition on ESPNU last week, the two shot an abysmal 6-27 from the field. Then came a New Year’s Eve victory. Against an NAIA team. At home. In overtime. Have the Gauchos lost their spurs? Or is this nothing to worry about? Road games against two of the conference’s top contenders in UC Davis and Pacific this week will test their meddle.
  3. Pacific (8-6, 1-1): In Long Beach, we have a saying: “The Queen Mary would crumble into the sea if it weren’t for the paint.” This could be the University of Pacific’s non-PC slogan, because if it weren’t for the outstanding coaching schemes of skipper Bob Thomason, the Tigers would be without a paddle. This is a team that will succeed not on its individual talents, but because of the cohesive system that Thomason has perfected over decades that allows any player to step into it and be effective – provided he understands and executes his responsibilities. In short, I am saying that Pacific is not very talented but will be and will continue to be a very real contender for the conference championship for as long as Thomason wears orange. I really like the play of long-armed Sam Willard, but he is a product of the post-heavy Thomason style through and through. Tellingly, the Tigers are best on the inside, where their well-trained big men will out-fundamental anyone for position and rebounds, or pass out of double teams to deadeye shooters. Their Achilles is that sometimes the lack of talent is too much to overcome, as when they fell behind by 19 points at Fullerton last week only to fight back and lose at the buzzer. Come to play and you can beat the Tigers, but show up unprepared and the Thomasons will execute.
  4. Cal State Northridge (4-9, 1-1): A loss to Pacific but a win over UC Davis puts the Matadors right here, though this is probably temporary and over time they’ll fall a few rungs down the Big West ladder. Lenny Daniel and Rashaun McLemore are a great one-two, but the deepest rotation in the conference is out of necessity, not luxury. Plenty of teams have two good players, and while they’ll pull Northridge out of some jams, they won’t be enough to overcome myriad deficiencies.
  5. UC Davis (6-8, 1-1): I still maintain that the Aggies are the conference’s third-best team behind Long Beach and Santa Barbara, but they’ve shown it with neither their record nor their play. Forwards Mark Payne and Joe Harden are a coach’s dream, but injuries and inconsistencies have been Davis’ downfall. Point guard Todd Lowenthal has had back troubles and they’ll need him to pick apart defenses. If he returns healthy, and the Aggies continue to shoot efficiently, no coach will want to face Davis in the conference tourney. They don’t rebound well but they don’t turn the ball over, either. It’s give and take with this team, but in the Big West, you only need more positives than negatives.
  6. Cal State Fullerton (5-9, 1-1): They got shellacked against Davis but handled Pacific, for which they deserve sufficient credit. A four-game road swing will tell us a lot about this team, which currently figures to hang around the fifth or sixth seed before falling early in the conference tournament. They’ve got some nice players but are small on the inside – and the outside, for that matter – and are pretty consistently average in most categories. Prone to offensive explosions and defensive lapses, anything could happen but the trouble will be sustainably mistake-free basketball. The Titans have yet to prove that they’re capable of that.
  7. UC Riverside (5-7, 1-1): The Highlanders are probably the Big West’s best legitimate contender to play spoiler. They do not have the talent to win the conference or even earn a high seed, but I would not want to play them with anything on the line. Riverside rebounds very well despite limited size, and they shoot threes with the best. Guard and leading-scorer Javon Borum poured in 30 in the Irvine win, with Phil Martin and Kareem Nitoto playing consistently well this season, too. But beyond that, the production drops off. This is not their year, but still, I would not want to see the Highlanders in a darkened alley.
  8. UC Irvine (6-8, 0-1): People expected more from UC Irvine this season, and there is still time to right the ship, but with a four-game losing skid and their last win over an NAIA team, success is looking less likely with each missed rebound. Power forward Eric Wise was supposed to blossom into an MVP candidate this season but has instead shown that his past success was due to need rather than ability, as he’s played second fiddle to guard Darren Moore all year. Wise has battled a nagging hip injury and the Anteaters hope to play better with him healthy, but a loss to Riverside makes you wonder. Fullerton at home and then a four-game road swing – I’ll let you know when to start paying attention.
  9. Cal Poly (4-8, 0-1): Heaven only knows how the Mustangs have even made it this far. They played a laughable non-conference schedule and got beat up. Last in so many categories that I lost count at infinity. Ok, I jest. But Cal Poly is just not in the right frame to be playing at this level, and at this point their strategy is clearly to slow the game down as much as possible in hopes of keeping it close. When you’re shooting .368 from the field, not even a 35-second shot clock is going to save you. Records will show that they have defeated Loyola Marymount, Hawaii and Pepperdine, and even gave then-#10 SDSU a run for their money, but how this was achieved is boggling. Because the Mustangs could legitimately go winless in the Big West this season, and no one would bat an eyelash.

Looking Ahead

As you can see, we’ve got several clear contenders mixed with a couple of explosive challengers and more than one dud. Within the conference, the things to watch are whether or not Long Beach can sustain their solid play, and whether or not the edges are beginning to fray around Santa Barbara. Plus, how several teams will deal with upcoming home or road swings this week. Taken all into consideration, what this means to the national basketball community is that the Big West is brewing a couple of teams that could post a threat to an unprepared No. 4 or even No. 3 seed. But in whole, an NCAA Tourney upset victory is unlikely and I’d invite you to sit back and watch the in-conference drama unfold because the Big West is certainly a fun place to watch varying styles of basketball. Isn’t that what RTC is all about?

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2010

Ryan ZumMallen is Executive Editor and sportswriter for The Long Beach Post and the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

A Look Back

With about two weeks of games behind us, we’re learning a little bit more about how the Big West may play out this season. Despite a slow start thus far, UC Santa Barbara is still the consensus favorite with all five starters returning from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year. Long Beach State believes their time is now and has the talent to challenge, but after just two games there are obvious depth issues that will need to be resolved quickly (strong competition like Clemson is lined up at this weekend’s Paradise Jam Classic). And though it looked like this may be a down year for perennial challenger Pacific, head coach Bob Thomason has shown why he may be the most respected coach in the conference by pulling his team to big victories over UTEP and Nevada. Senior forward Sam Willard has been a monster, putting up 18.7 PPG and 13.3 RPG against very good competition for Pacific, who only lost on a back-to-back road game at UCLA. Willard wasn’t selected to the conference preseason first team, but it looks like some sportswriters (including this one) may be eating their words this year.

Other than that, it’s been rough going for the Big West, which doesn’t have much to offer beyond those three teams and a possible strong push from UC Davis. We’ll be able to provide a much more accurate picture of the conference with a few more games in the books, but for now we turn our attention to the future. The success of the Big West lies not in this season or probably even the next, but several seasons down the line as the conference attempts to paint itself as a sustainable West Coast contender. We’re seeing attempts by several teams to take that leap this season, to become the next mid-major to make a name for itself – Long Beach State played #25 San Diego State tough and UCSB gets the Aztecs in December as well. Pacific faces an impressive nonconference schedule and there are far more games against Pac-10 opponents than usual. Clearly, the Big West is making a move.

The best scheduling in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t pull off the victories, and for that, the Big West simply needs better talent. By the looks of the recruiting announcements made over the past week, some of the initial pieces are coming into place. UC Davis picked up an elite athlete and defender in 6’6 forward J.T. Adenrele, while shooting guard Reese Morgan signed with Cal Poly SLO. But the highest-ranked recruit to sign onto a Big West school was point guard Michael Caffey – described by ESPN as “one of the top 5 point guards in the state” – with Long Beach State, who will also add an immediate impact with 6’7 wing and high-jump champion James Ennis from the JC ranks. The rest of the conference picked up a steady stream of quality players, but without much hype. For the Big West Conference to stay competitive over the long term, it will have to attract talent to match an increasingly challenging schedule. Otherwise, expect it to remain a one-bid conference come Tourney time.

Player of the Week

Without question, it’s the senior forward Sam Willard from Pacific. The easiest way to succeed in the Big West is to play for coach Bob Thomason, who continually takes teams without top-flight talent and turns them into conference contenders, if not champions. That’s not to say that Willard isn’t a very good player in his own right, just that Thomason knows how to take talent and maximize it. Case in point: Willard improved steadily in his first three years with Pacific, but it’s fair to say that no one expected him to throw up three straight double-doubles in early season wins over UTEP and Nevada. Willard has always been a force defensively but with added offensive moves and a lack of big post players in the conference, it could be a big year for both he and the Tigers.

Power Rankings:

  1. Pacific (2-1): The Tigers really made some noise after coming back from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat UTEP and new coach Tim Floyd, and then knocking off Nevada in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Los Angeles. Pacific lost to UCLA in the second round, but Willard has posted double-doubles in every game and Thomason has them playing very well to start off the season.
  2. UC Santa Barbara (1-2): It’s hard to gauge the Gauchos after a 1-2 start, but as the near-unanimous selection for preseason conference champions, they’ve simply got to be near the top at this point. A home loss to North Dakota State was a surprise, and a 72-70 loss at Oregon is up in the air because it’s a tough placeto play but the Ducks simply aren’t very good this year. Combo guard Orlando Johnson and forward James Nunnally have put the team on their backs, as expected, and are averaging 23.3 PPG and 18.7 PPG, respectively. In the Oregon game, only one other player attempted more than three shots.
  3. Long Beach State (1-1): Both players and coaches alike are saying that this is the year for the 49ers, with a quartet of juniors ready to step into the spotlight. The question isn’t whether or not they have the talent to do it – they do – but whether or not they can depend on going to the bench when they need to rest. After just two games, we’ve seen glaring weaknesses in the team’s depth with very little D-I experience to offer. Long Beach played #25 San Diego State to a halftime tie but ran out of gas because head coach Dan Monson refused to turn to the bench. With a chance to win, you can’t really blame him, but the starters began to cramp up and the more talented Aztecs took advantage for a 16-point win. This needs to be addressed and the Paradise Jam Classic this weekend could be a good time to get some minutes to bench guys.
  4. UC Davis (1-3): The Aggies started off poorly before finally picking up a blowout win against UC Santa Cruz, and have proven what most writers expected: They’ll really almost entirely on 6’8 guard Mark Payne and 6’7 forward Joe Harden, who are 1-2 on the team in both points and rebounds. The good news is that those two have talent to carry UC Davis to several wins both before and during conference play. The bad news is they’ve both had issues with staying healthy over the years and there isn’t much to turn to on the bench. Opponents like Boise State, UCLA and Cal will tell us a lot about their prospects this season.
  5. Cal State Fullerton (0-3): Despite a winless start and a blown 11-point lead against Central Michigan, the Titans’ season is actually looking up compared to the rest of the Big West thanks to the emergence of one possible star and solid play from the supporting cast. Fullerton lost nearly all of its scoring from last year due to graduation and transfers, but 6’7 forward Orane Chin is establishing himself as a force with a 22.7 PPG average. Players like Devon Peltier and Orlando Brown seem to be settling into their respective roles nicely and the entire team is shooting well from the field. They’re not likely to turn heads in the non-conference, but consistency is what’s needed to finish well in the Big West and Fullerton is building it.
  6. Cal Poly (1-1): Not much positive news to report for the Mustangs, who shot just 29.6% from the field in a loss to D-II Cal State Monterey Bay. This is the type of game that really drags the Big West down as a whole. Senior center Will Donahue has been a bright spot but Cal Poly SLO has a long way to go before they can achieve relevance in the conference. If they don’t improve quickly, the Mustangs are walking into a minefield with non-conference games against Loyola Marymount, Hawaii, UCLA, SDSU, Cal and Pepperdine coming up.
  7. UC Irvine (0-2): The encouraging thing for the Anteaters is that they haven’t needed to ride forward Eric Wise solely in their first two games. The preseason all-conference selection is there on the boards with 8.5 per game, but third in scoring behind Darren Moore and Pavol Losonsky. If they develop into consistent scoring threats, then UC Irvine automatically becomes a top tier Big West simply for having more than one scoring option. Yeah, the conference isn’t real deep this season. After tough opponents in #16 Illinois and USC, we’ll get a better idea of their identity this weekend against Seattle.
  8. Cal State Northridge (0-2): Apparently, Big West teams saw some vulnerability in UCLA and Cal that they thought could be exploited. How’s that working out so far? The Matadors have dropped games at UCLA and Cal by an average of 25 points and the two Pac-10 schools are 3-0 against the conference so far, likely licking their chops at the Big West buffet lined up before them over the next few weeks. Northridge is not very skilled this year and they’ll be crushed by  #24 Virginia Tech next weekend.
  9. UC Riverside (1-1): The Highlanders were absolutely handled with an 85-41 loss at UNLV, so they returned the favor to something called a Pomona-Pitzer. A lot of Big West teams cushion their early schedules with a D-II opponent, but Riverside did them all one better and beat up on a D-III team. Not like it will do them much good. They face a total cake non-conference schedule before the rest of the conference hands them beatdown after beatdown.

A Look Ahead

With Cal State Northridge in the 76 Classic, UC Irvine in the 2k Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and Long Beach State in the Paradise Jam Classic, there will be early tests to see how Big West teams hold up in rapid-fire tournaments with little rest. Watch UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis to see how they fare against mid-major names like Fresno State and Boise State, respectively. Long Beach State hosting Loyola Marymount is also a good indicator. No one is trying to build an NCAA Tournament resume here, so the important thing is to look for signs of how they’ll play in conference and whether or not they can make a run at the Big West’s only invite.

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