Pac-12 Game Of The Week: California @ UNLV

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 23rd, 2011

It’s not often you get a game of this magnitude on the day before Christmas Eve, but there is definitely one this afternoon in Vegas. California came into the season as one of the favorites in the Pac-12, and they lived up to those expectations in their first four games. However, things would turn sour when they faced Missouri in a virtual home game for the Tigers. Missouri blitzed the Golden Bears from the tip and would eventually win by 39, meaning Cal would drop from national relevance for the next few weeks. They have responded well since the devastating loss, with their only other slip-up coming in a one-point heartbreaker at San Diego State. Now they come to a crossroads in a pre-Christmas game just off the Vegas Strip. A win would mean an 11-2 record going into Pac-12 play, and most importantly, getting back onto the national radar. But a loss will just reaffirm the thoughts that most people around the country have about the Golden Bears; as a one-and-done type team that just can’t win the big game.

Senior guard/forward Chace Stanback leads #23 UNLV with 14.5 PPG. (credit: Sam Morris)

If the Golden Bears are to win this one they will need to contain UNLV big men Chace Stanback and Mike Moser. Stanback is the leader of this team, both on the court and in most statistical categories. The thing about Stanback is, he just finds a way to get it done in big games. Chace had 28 points against #1 North Carolina, 19 against UC Santa Barbara, and 16 against #16 Wisconsin. Cal Forward Harper Kamp will get the honor of keeping him in check.

Perhaps even tougher to defend will be Moser. The scary thing about Mike is that when Stanback is having an off-night, he always turns it up a notch. Moser is averaging 13.6 PPG, but take a look at his performances when Stanbeck scores in single digits: 14 points, eight rebounds against Cal Poly, six points, 11 rebounds against UTEP, and 17 points, 11 rebounds against #19 Illinois. With Cal’s arguably best defender taking Stanback, look for seldom-used freshman David Kravish to see an increase from his usual 20-25 minutes. If both Kamp and Kravish hold the Rebels two main offensive sources to single digits, the Golden Bears have a great shot of getting the win. While this is a deep, talented team, the Rebels have relied on the Stanback-Moser combo a little too much, and that’s going to hurt them sooner or later. 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Pac-12 ATB: Cal Exposed, USC Hangs On

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 23rd, 2011

The Lede.  After winning its first four games by an average of 22 points, people expected California to not only compete with Missouri, but beat them on Tuesday night. However, that was far from the case, as the Tigers never let up in the CBE Classic championship,winning 92-53. Like California, Missouri was relatively unknown coming into this game due to their lack of quality opponents. However, a 14-5 run midway through the first half gave the Tigers some initial seperation, and they would just keep building and building that lead as the night wore on.

California guard Jorge Gutierrez led the Bears with 11 points against Missouri (credit: Ray Carlin).

Even though the final result was awful, in the end it is just one game amounting to one loss. Cal fans should be thankful that it was against a Top 25 team like Missouri instead of Loyola Marymount. The Tigers’ mix of an explosive four-guard offense and tenacious half-court trapping on the defensive side is something that the Bears won’t see in Pac-12 play, luckily. Read the rest of this entry »

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And You Wonder Why the Pac-12 Gets No Respect…

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 21st, 2011

Adams State, Seattle Pacific, and Loyola Marymount. Oh yeah, don’t forget about Cal Poly, Pepperdine, and Middle Tennessee. What do all of these teams have in common, you might be wondering? They have all posted early season wins over Pac-12 teams, causing much of the nation to already write off the conference as an elite power. People over here on the left coast love to point out “East Coast bias,” referring to the lack of love that the Pac-12 gets in terms of both rankings, publicity, and respect. But can you blame them after some of these losses? As it stands today, the league is 24-15, with an astonishing 11 of those losses coming against teams from outside the six power conferences.

You could make a good argument that Arizona is the best team in the Pac-12, yet they lost to Division II Seattle Pacific in an exhibition game earlier in the season. Behind the Wildcats is California, who has not yet been tested this season. But after those two, what does the Pac-12 have to offer? Washington lost by 13 against Saint Louis and only defeated Florida Atlantic by six. Surely not UCLA, who in the midst of chemistry issues has fallen to LMU by 11 and MTSU by 20. God knows what will happen when they play at Chaminade tonight and against Pepperdine (who beat Arizona State) a week from today. It’s reasons like these that people around the country stop paying attention to the Pac-12 in December, something that hurts the conference considerably on Selection Sunday.

Missed rebounds like this one by Arizona forward Angelo Chol led to a Seattle Pacific upset of the Wildcats. The game started a chain reaction of early season losses for Pac-12 teams (credit: Arizona Star)

Bad non-conference losses are nothing new to the Pac-12. Last year featured upsets like San Jose State and Idaho over Oregon, and Seattle University, Texas Southern, Utah Valley, and George Washington over Oregon State. In 2009-10 there were losses by the Beavers against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sacramento State, Illinois-Chicago, Seattle (again, this time a 51-point defeat), and Boston U, while UCLA lost to teams like Cal State Fullerton, Portland (by 27), and Long Beach State. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.21.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 21st, 2011

  1. Let’s face it. It has been an ugly start to the season for the Pac-12 conference. Bad losses have been piled upon off-the-court problems and injuries to create some struggles out of the gate. The UCLA losses are the poster children for this epidemic, while Utah and Arizona State, to name just two, haven’t done much to help either. All that being said, Saturday night’s USC game was a new low. It’s not just that the Trojans lost to Cal Poly, a team that is a halfway-decent, middle-of-the-road Big West team. It is the manner in which the Trojans lost. They scored 36 points in the game. They scored 16 points in the second half (which, really, was only slightly worse than the first half). It’s not like they had a ton of possessions (roughly 54), but still, that works out to 0.67 points per possession. They turned the ball over on 22% of their possessions, and when they didn’t turn it over, they posted a 32.9% eFG. They only grabbed 65.7% of available defensive rebounds and just 16.7% of available offensive rebounds. Their best player, sophomore point guard Maurice Jones hit just one out of 11 field goal attempts, and now has just a 29.7% eFG this season. The good news is that there are some good young players on this USC squad which should provide a good foundation upon which to build this program; the bad news is, Trojans fans might need eyeball replacement surgery if they watch too much of this team this season.
  2. Washington had a bad day from start to finish on Sunday. It started out with the Huskies getting absolutely taken apart by Saint Louis in the morning, a game in which they fell behind by 25 points at the half before making a bit of a run at the end to only lose by 13. While the Billikens are a very good team and played a terrific game Sunday morning, the Huskies were exposed in their first loss. First and foremost, the relentless ball screening by SLU caused Washington all sorts of problems defensively, creating wide-open looks for threes and clean entry passes into the post. Secondly, because the Huskies were forced to take the ball out of the net so many times, they were forced to play a lot of halfcourt offense and struggled to get good looks out of their sets. Really, we know that the Huskies are going to improve as the season goes on and SLU is some good competition so this is by no means a crushing loss, but it does mean that the Huskies will be working their tails off in practice this week. Still, the long day wasn’t done for the Huskies when the final whistle blew because their flight back to Seattle was forced to make an emergency landing in Spokane and wait for an hour for the next jump back home.
  3. Colorado wrapped up their disappointing weekend in Puerto Rico on Sunday by salvaging seventh place in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with a win over Western Michigan. The Buffaloes were able to seal the win despite playing much of the game without sophomore forward Andre Roberson, who fouled out in just 11 minutes of game action. Senior forward Austin Dufault and sophomore center Shane Harris-Tunks picked up the slack for Roberson on the glass, each snagging eight rebounds, while senior wing Carlon Brown did the bulk of the scoring, hitting  eight of his 14 field goal attempts for 23 points while adding six rebounds and four assists. The win sends the Buffs home with at least something to feel good about, despite dropping winnable games in the first two rounds against Wichita State and Maryland.
  4. Just when you thought the Reeves Nelson soap opera at UCLA was done (at least until the next thing goes wrong on the court), Nelson missed the team bus to the airport on Saturday for the team’s flight to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. He was allowed to take a later flight to Maui and is expected to play today when the Bruins start the tournament by playing the host, Chaminade. Head coach Ben Howland also confirmed on Sunday that the whole Nelson suspension thing was first started when he was late for a team meeting the day after the Bruins’ season opening loss to Loyola Marymount.
  5. Oregon State is in the middle of an 11-day, three-game east coast trip, and got their travels off to a good start on Saturday night with an overtime win over Texas in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. We’ll have more on the Beavers later today, but this morning we wanted to share with you a peek inside their program from the perspective of the players, specifically senior Kevin McShane and sophomore Roberto Nelson (collectively McBert, apparently) who are keeping a blog about their road trip. The first entry gives you a glimpse at the practice and travel schedule of college athletes, while the second captures the emotions following their big win on Saturday night. Great stuff from an otherwise dismal Pac-12 landscape this weekend.
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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

Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Big West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2011

Ryan ZumMallen is the RTC correspondent for the Big West conference.

Tournament Preview

Northridge is a confusing team. They lost to a terrible UC Davis team and then upended Pacific for the No. 3 seed, followed by a first-round blowout of Fullerton. So one could assume they are rolling, but who knows in the Big West? One night is typically a complete wash from the next. Still, Northridge is hungry while Santa Barbara has looked tired all year. Maybe they were taking the Lakers’ approach and coasting through the regular season. We’ll see, but either team will provide a worthy challenge in the title game. In the other game, expect Long Beach to handle Riverside, who doesn’t have the depth nor scoring power of the Irvine team that troubled the 49ers on Thursday.

Could Long Beach State pose a threat to a first-round NCAA opponent? Maybe. Could any of the other Big West teams? No. They will be mercilessly run ragged. And it will be tough for Long Beach to hang with a top-tier squad, as well. They would have to play mistake-free basketball for a complete forty minutes, something that has been difficult all year. The 49ers do have impressive wins over Iowa and Montana, as well as near-misses at UNC and on a neutral site against St. Mary’s. But an NCAA Tournament game would require a level of focus that they haven’t shown yet, not to mention depth that will keep coach Dan Monson confident even going seven players deep.

Even with all of that in mind, Santa Barbara has weapons. They beat a very good UNLV team earlier this year and are difficult to contain when James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson are both hitting. They were one-and-done last year, but they made it, and a second chance could mean trouble for a high seed looking ahead to their next round.

A Look Back

Once you get to the conference tournament, regular seasons go out the window. In no other conference is that truer than the Big West, where so little stands between teams that the actual seedings don’t mean much once the ball goes up. Several teams looked good on paper, only to falter on the court because of unforeseen circumstances. Or because they just weren’t as good as expected. Even late in the season, teams were swapping positions up to the last second, criss-crossing very thin lines that were trying – unsuccessfully – to settle the teams into place. In round one of the conference tournament, for instance, a No. 7 beat a No. 2, a No. 5 beat a No. 4, and No. 8 gave No. 1 a run for their money. It’s unpredictable, exciting and entirely frustrating. That’s just how it goes out here. Let’s take a look back before we march forward.

Big West Player of the Year: Casper Ware (G, Long Beach) The smallest man on the court was unquestionably the best player in the building on any given night. At just 5-10 (maybe), Ware was a dagger machine, hitting one big shot after another. In the offseason, he drastically improved his long distance shooting and made more three-pointers this year than in his previous two seasons combined. That extended range made it impossible for defenders to contain the lightning quick penetrator who previously made his name on attacking the basket. Ware was also the head of the Long Beach offense and finished second in assists. For good measure, he was also named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, and by the end of the season made a habit of chasing down breaking guards to pin their layups against the glass, a la LeBron.

All-Conference Team:

  • Casper Ware (Long Beach)
  • Larry Anderson (Long Beach)
  • Orlando Johnson (Santa Barbara)
  • David Hanson (Cal Poly)
  • Sam Willard (Pacific)

Big West Coach of the YearJoe Callero (Cal Poly) – The Big West awarded this honor to Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson, but I always said that Callero deserved the award if Cal Poly finished in the top four. When they did me two better and grabbed the No. 2 spot, I definitely had to stick to my word. Cal Poly was not the most talented team in the Big West this season; they were maybe the sixth or even seventh. But the tightest defense I have seen in years lifted the Mustangs high above more talented teams that were not offensively disciplined. Cal Poly finished first in the conference in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage. They forced turnovers without committing them, and that is unquestionably a sign of solid coaching. In 2009, Callero took over a notoriously poor team and in two years has earned 27 overall wins, a monumental feat for the perennial doormats. This isn’t a total rarity in the Big West, as teams will regularly focus all attention on a one-year run at the NCAA Tournament and then fall back into dark matter once their seniors graduate. Callero hasn’t had success because of a massive influx of talent or transfers, he’s done it with fundamentals and defensive intensity and deserves to be recognized. The fact that Cal Poly fell to the No. 7 seed UC Riverside in the conference tournament on Thursday does not take away from their achievements this season but instead illustrates the tiny margin of error between Big West teams. It only takes two (sometimes just one) hot shooter to take a team to the title in this conference. Riverside took Cal Poly out of their snail’s-pace comfort zone and that was enough to halt what the Mustangs have achieved this year. Still, cheers to making the most of what you have, Coach Callero.

Power Rankings

1. Long Beach State (14-2, 21-10) – Defeated UC Irvine, 79-72, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. At one point, conference Player of the Year Casper Ware nailed four consecutive three-pointers to keep the Anteaters at bay, but this game went down to the wire before the 49ers pulled away for their tenth straight win. Long Beach is playing very well and their greatest attributes have been Ware and their intense focus. An over-reliance on Ware is beginning to show, though, as the point guard collapsed in pain in the second half with cramps and the 49ers, even armed with capable forwards and guards, struggled without him. There must be a priority to feed forward T.J. Robinson inside if Long Beach wants to dance this year.

2. Cal State Northridge (9-7, 14-17) – Defeated Cal State Fullerton, 75-54, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. With the collapse of Pacific and Santa Barbara this season, the Matadors found themselves in the No. 3 seed and promptly handled their first round opponents. This is not a bad team, but neither are they a complete team. They having scoring on the inside in Lenny Daniel and the outside in Reshaun McLemore, but consistency issues need to take a backseat if Northridge wants to contend for the title. That could be difficult, relying on a swarm of underclassmen and some true freshmen. The Santa Barbara draw is a tough one in the second round, but that’s what champions are made of.

3. Santa Barbara (8-8, 16-13) – Defeated Pacific – 79-67, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. I said last week, forget the records, no one wants to play UCSB in the first round of the conference tournament. The Gauchos responded to a listless season with a big win over the Tigers and are very dangerous with a little momentum. Still, this is a squad with very serious off-court and on-court issues: Vital scorer James Nunnally played poorly down the stretch and is rumored to be feuding with All-Big West teammate Orlando Johnson, while the Gauchos are below-average rebounders and have little control over their pace or even their own offense without a capable point guard. Explosive and a certain title contender, but do not bet on UCSB.

4. UC Riverside (6-10, 14-18) – Defeated Cal Poly, 70-66 in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. Riverside was able to speed up the game to avoid the suffocating Cal Poly defense and jumped out to a 14-0 lead. All three starting guards scored in double figures, led by 23 from Kareem Nitoto. It forced Cal Poly to play catch up and shoot an eye-popping 36 three-pointers, but 18 from All-Big West forward Shawn Lewis and 16 from My-Big West forward David Hanson forced overtime. Still, Riverside showed poise that had been absent from the conference season

5. Cal Poly (10-6, 15-15) – Lost to UC Riverside, 70-66 in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

6. Pacific (8-8, 16-15) – Lost to UC Santa Barbara, 79-67, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

7. Cal State Fullerton (7-9, 11-20) – Lost to Cal State Northridge, 75-54, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

8. UC Irvine (6-10, 13-19) – Lost to Long Beach State, 79-72, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

9. UC Davis (4-12, 10-21) – Did not qualify for Big West Tournament.

This is a one-bid league, so the Big West Tournament champion will be the team that punches a ticket to March Madness. Even Long Beach State, with 20 wins and a jaw-dropping non-conference schedule, will be an NIT invite without a tourney title. If Long Beach State does take the tourney, expect them to come in around the No. 13 seeding. If it’s any other team, expect a No 15. When the 49ers made it in 2007, the committee placed a lot of confidence in them with a No. 12 seed and Tennessee promptly blew them out by 35 points. The Big West hasn’t had a seed that high since. Until a Big West team steals a win, I wouldn’t expect any different.

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

Ryan ZumMallen, the RTC correspondent for the Big West, is the Sports Editor for The Long Beach Post and a contributor to SLAM Magazine. You can also find him on Twitter (@RyanZumMallen).

A Look Back

Life in the Big West Conference has taken quite a turn, as one team ran away with the championship as is now looking like a significant player on the mid-major scene, while at least four other teams are doing some last-minute jockeying before the conference tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim next week.

Since we’re being honest, Long Beach State is the clear class of the conference. The 49ers are winners of eight straight going into their Wednesday night game at UC Riverside, including an 18-point home victory over Montana in their ESPN BracketBusters contest (one of only two Big West teams to win their BracketBusters game).

But the race ain’t over yet. Cal Poly uses an absolutely suffocating defense to win seven out of their last nine, good enough to secure a second-place seed in the Big West tourney. On their heels are Pacific and Cal State Northridge, who each have two games remaining to settle their current tie. The Tigers seem to have righted the ship after a rough start and Northridge’s potent offensive attack is apparently enough to overcome depth issues.

As well as the top four are playing, no one wants to face defending conference champion UC Santa Barbara in the first round. Terrible play of late has left them stalled in fifth place – the Gauchos really need a point guard and also can’t rebound. UCSB still has two of the best scorers in the Big West in terms of ability, but rumors of infighting seem to have created a rift between guards Orlando Johnson and James Nunally.

POY Watch: Hand the trophy to Casper Ware right now. The Long Beach State point guard stands just 5’10, but that hasn’t made it any easier for Big West opponents to squash him. Ware has scored 20 or more points in five of the last seven games and ranks second in the conference in scoring. His assists have fallen a bit since last season with the increased scoring load, but his importance to Long Beach State’s March Madness hopes cannot be overstated. Teammate Larry Anderson has also played a stellar year and ranks in the top ten in the conference in points, rebounds, assists and steals (which he leads). Sam Willard of Pacific has also played exceptionally this season and put the Tigers on his back when they stumbled mid-season.

Power Rankings

1. Long Beach State (19-10, 13-2): Just one regular season game left against Riverside, and the 49ers look more focused than ever with their sights set squarely on an NCAA Tourney berth. All five starters are averaging better than 10 PPG and any previous concerns about depth seem to be shored up. Below, the 49ers clinch the conference title in front of a raucous crowd:

2. Cal Poly (15-13, 10-5): The Mustangs, led by high scorers Shawn Lewis and David Hanson at each over 15 PPG, are the only Big West team holding opponents under .400 shooting from the field. That’s bad news for their final regular season opponent, UC Santa Barbara, and anyone they face in the conference tournament.

3. Pacific (16-12, 8-6): A double-overtime loss at UC Irvine last week was a major setback for the Tigers, but albatross-wingspanned forward Sam Willard is a force inside and you do… not… bet against head coach Bob Thomason.

4. Cal State Northridge (12-16, 8-6): If the Matadors had a third scoring option, they would be a lock for the three-seed here, but as it stands, they rely almost completely on power forward Lenny Daniel and combo guard Rashaun McLemore. It’s truly a testament to the bond of this team that they’ve made it here. Northridge is very inexperienced beyond their two best players and we’ll see how that plays out come Big West tourney time.

5. UC Santa Barbara (14-13, 7-8): It’s not been good news in Santa Barbara recently as the Gauchos have lost six of nine in the most crucial part of the season. It’s possible that they even drop another spot in the standings. Not what we expected this season from the defending champs.

6. UC Irvine (13-17, 6-9): Huge win over Pacific last week – the second of back-to-back 2OT victories – and forward Eric Wise (15.7 PPG and 8.2 RPG) is playing above himself recently, a perfect compliment for versatile forward Darren Moore (17.3 PPG and 6.0 RPG). All you need to do damage in the Big West is two effective weapons and the Anteaters are playing well at the right time.

7. UC Riverside (10-17, 5-9): Losers of five straight, the Highlanders need to beat either Long Beach or Irvine if they don’t want to face the 49ers in the first round of the conference tournament.

8. Cal State Fullerton (9-19, 5-9): After showing encouraging signs to start the season, Fullerton has fallen off and dropped five straight games. They can score, all right, but the Titans haven’t held an opponent under 70 points since January 22.

9. UC Davis (9-19, 3-11) -1 vs Northridge vs Fullerton: The Aggies have almost certainly worked themselves out of a spot in the conference tournament, so their remaining games against Northridge and Fullerton are worth watching only in the Matadors’ race for third place.

A Look Ahead

The Big West took a big leap this season by scheduling the conference tournament at the Honda Center, a much larger and more visible venue than their former digs at the Anaheim Convention Center. Will it pay off? Tough to say. There is a lot of buzz around Long Beach State right now and the campus’ close proximity to the arena would normally mean big profits, but ticket costs are so high the Big West may price out their own fans. Whatever happens, the higher-ups have to be rooting for the 49ers.

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