Key to UNC’s Title Hopes Lie With Kendall Marshall (But Not the Way You Think)

Posted by rtmsf on December 12th, 2011

Will Rothschild is a RTC correspondent. He can be found on Twitter @warothschild. He filed this report following Saturday night’s North Carolina-Long Beach State game from Chapel Hill, N.C.

Long Beach State knew the blueprint to win in Blue Heaven. At this point it’s not a big secret:

Each Team Facing UNC Has a Marshall Plan

  1. Challenge Kendall Marshall on the defensive end.
  2. Challenge Kendall Marshall on the offensive end.

It may seem counterintuitive to dare one of the top two or three point guards in college basketball to beat you. But that’s the strategy opposing teams are sticking with so far – if for no other reason than no one has found any other vulnerability on a team that was the consensus preseason favorite to win the national championship. Of course, this is a program accustomed to being a big target – this year marked the third time since 2007-08 the Tar Heels entered the season ranked No. 1. And if any of the current Tar Heels understand the tradition in Chapel Hill and the pressure to perform that comes with wearing the famous argyle-trimmed uniform, it’s Marshall. The sophomore from Dumfries, Virginia, fell in love with the Carolina program as a grade-schooler, and committed to Roy Williams before his sophomore year of high school. So it’s perhaps fitting that Marshall, more than any other Tar Heel, is who must shoulder the burden of the one player opponents look to try to attack the most.

Case in point was Saturday night’s 84-78 defeat of Long Beach State. Betcha’ never seen a stat line like this before from a preseason All-American:

  • 1-for-6 shooting.
  • Two points.
  • Three rebounds.
  • And… wait for it… 16 assists.

And when Marshall – now averaging an even 5.0 points to go along with 10.2 assists per game – was at his best for about a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, Carolina was rolling, the Smith Center was rocking, and the Beach was on the verge of getting routed. Reggie Bullock was pouring in jumpers, Tyler Zeller was finishing on the break, and John Henson was dunking, all at the other end of Marshall’s room-service passing. But – and there always seems to be a “but” with Marshall and the Tar Heels these days – you could argue the game against the 49ers (4-5) was a lot closer than it should have been because of how well LBSU stuck to its Marshall Plan.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 28th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The quality of games kicks into high gear this week with a pair of good ones to start it off.

Long Beach State at #9 Louisville – 7 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

  • Louisville’s depth has taken a big hit recently with Wayne Blackshear, Mike Marra, and Peyton Siva all dealing with injuries. Siva returned from a sprained ankle Friday against Ohio in a closer than expected Cardinals win but he remains in a shooting slump. He is just 5-24 (20.8%) in three games this season but is managing to dish out six assists per contest. The Cardinals are winning games defensively as they are ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency while only putting up 67 PPG on the other end of the floor. A Long Beach State team that plays quick without much defense could be the recipe Louisville needs to gain more confidence offensively. However, Louisville must avoid turnovers against the 49ers, a team that loves to get out in transition. The Cardinals are averaging 15 turnovers per game with Siva at a shaky 3.7 per game.

    Louisville Will Have Its Hands Full With Long Beach State

  • Long Beach State has lost twice on the road since winning at Pittsburgh, falling to San Diego State and Montana. The 49ers defense has not been up to par and that is hurting them significantly. They love to play at a fast pace but they are very average defensively as well as on the boards. Casper Ware going up against Siva should be a terrific match-up and he will need to carry the team all night as he did against Pittsburgh on November 16. Long Beach State is not going to get many opportunities to score against the strong Louisville defense so limiting turnovers, especially on the road, has to be its top priority. They average 15 a game but simply cannot afford that many in this game. To win, Long Beach State must play its best defensive game to date and get to the free throw line where they will have a significant edge over Louisville. Depth has to be a concern for Dan Monson, whose team only goes seven deep.
  • Larry Anderson and James Ennis have a height advantage at the two and three positions against Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, but they must stay in front of their men all game. Ennis is a good on-ball defender averaging 2.3 steals per game, but the Louisville guards may be able to exploit Long Beach State from the three-point arc. In the paint, T.J. Robinson is a terrific rebounder but he will be going up against the 6’10” Gorgui Dieng (3.4 blocks per game) and a Louisville team that rebounds well as a unit. To earn more possessions for his team, Robinson likely has to have a big game on the glass as well as offensively. That will be extremely difficult against a Cardinals front line that allows only 33.5% shooting inside the arc. Long Beach State does have a chance to win the game but there is one major difference between Pittsburgh and Louisville. It is defense and that is why we feel the Cardinals have the ultimate edge in this game tonight.
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Overvalued/Undervalued: November Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve made it a priority to absorb as much college basketball as humanly possible. From Manhattan to Puerto Rico to Maui, there’s been an abundance of quality matchups and intriguing contests across the landscape, and, thanks to a lack of consequential responsibilities (college is fun), my mission has gone off without a hitch.

Of course, so much changes after the month of November. Teams alter their playing style, discontented reserves transfer for more playing time, someone blows out their ACL in practice…it’s inevitable that the outfits we see in March will only partially resemble our impressions today. We all remember the roller coaster ride for Connecticut a year ago – undefeated during a grueling non-conference, .500 in the Big East, 11-0 in postseason tourney play.

Still, trends are developing, players are emerging and teams are starting to separate themselves, especially after an unusually high number of premiere early-season games. Plus, as the saying goes: First impressions are the most lasting. Here are some players, teams and coaches I kept help but judging as either undervalued or overvalued after the first 3+ weeks.

Anthony Grant has Tide fans thinking about more than football

Overvalued: Wisconsin. The Badgers are turning some heads early on by posting lop-sided final scores and holding opponents to absurd point totals and field goal percentages. Allow me to pump the brakes for a moment. Those opponents that the Badgers are bludgeoning into oblivion are Kennesaw State, Colgate, UMKC and a Wofford team that lost their top three scorers.  Amidst the blowouts is actually a disturbing trend. Without Jon Leuer posting up or any feared back to the basket presence, Wisconsin is jacking up a three-pointer in 47.2% of their possessions, tops in the nation. Making 48% of those treys is fool’s good and completely unsustainable for any team not consisting of Jon Diebler clones. If they’re relying on so many threes against the dregs of Division I, what happens when Michigan State or Purdue muscles the Badgers around?  Bo Ryan has a real solid unit and Jordan Taylor will start to accrue more of the scoring load as the season wears on, but don’t be fooled by the lopsided scores and buy into Wisconsin as the 11th-best team in the land.

Undervalued: SEC top tier. The popular belief heading into this season was that the Big East would once again reign supreme among conferences. It certainly helps to have 16 teams, but that belief still holds true; the Big East could legitimately receive ten bids to the NCAA Tournament this season depending on how expected bubble teams like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Villanova and Georgetown develop. Among the expected contenders at the top of the league, though, the SEC stacks up with the powerful Big East. Kentucky finally has an ideal mix of ultra-talented rookies and returnees. Florida should have an outstanding campaign, especially after Patric Young held his own against Jared Sullinger. Vanderbilt will improve once Festus Ezeli returns. But it’s Alabama that swung the pendulum. Their smothering team defense, length and athleticism serves as the backbone for an emerging top-15 team in Tuscaloosa.

Overvalued: Andre Drummond. Sometimes we forget that Jared Sullinger is the exception to the rule. Most freshmen, especially freshman centers who don’t control as many possessions as guards, are humbled when they make the considerable jump from high school or prep ranks to the rigors of college basketball (Fab Melo anyone?). Drummond stunned the hoops universe by enrolling at his home state school for what everyone anticipated was a one-year cameo. Drummond will surely improve and post more inspiring numbers, but 23 points scored and 14 fouls committed through four games isn’t exactly the resume of a lottery pick. Drummond is in the midst of a challenging transition process, even more so than other rookies like Brad Beal, Anthony Davis or Quincy Miller. Luckily for him and most of the college basketball populous, there’s plenty of time till March.

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The Other 26: Week Two

Posted by KDoyle on November 20th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor and the Patriot League correspondent. Each week he will examine the other 26 non-power conferences in college basketball. You can find him on twitter @KLDoyle11.

Introduction

Well this is refreshing, isn’t it? College basketball on the tube every night, several Other 26 teams already knocking some ranked BCS teams off of their high horses, and a whole lot of goodness upcoming with more early season tournaments and games. There is not a specific theme that has made itself apparent to open the season — I will usually try to hone in on a theme during the introduction of each column — but business has been usual to open the season. We have seen two major upsets with Long Beach State and Cleveland State shocking Top 10 teams — both have crawled into our Top 10 as a result — and we have not seen The Jimmer all over ESPN routinely hitting shots from 35 feet, something that was all too common last year. Rest assured though, as more and more games are played, storylines and themes will naturally develop. For now, let’s dig into the Top 10 teams for the week.

The Top 10

Tidbits from the Rankings

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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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Jumping To Conclusions: Why Pittsburgh Is Overrated… For Now

Posted by mlemaire on November 17th, 2011

Tucked away, within the second-to-last sentence of the preview of his team in this week’s Sports Illustrated,  Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs flashed a little bit of braggadaccio. “We’re good enough to win a national title,” the 6’2” senior told SI‘s Rebecca Shore when she asked about the collection of talent on the Panthers’ roster. And although it’s still very early, after last night’s 86-76 loss to a veteran Long Beach State team, that bold claim looks quite a bit bolder. Of course, when Gibbs gave that quote, the season hadn’t even started yet and coach Jamie Dixon is looking to him for leadership this season, so what else is he supposed to say? But he isn’t the only knowledgeable source who set high expectations for Pittsburgh this year. Many experts readily picked Pittsburgh to finish near the top of the Big East alongside Connecticut and Syracuse. Some even picked them to win the conference title.

If last night was any indication, Jamie Dixon will need to do a lot of coaching this season.

And why not? The team lost three excellent veterans in Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Gary McGhee. But they also returned a solid nucleus of Gibbs, Travon Woodall, Nasir Robinson, and Dante Taylor, and a highly rated recruiting class that included consensus top-10 recruit Khem Birch. They also had one of the most consistent and proven coaches in the country steering the ship. But after watching the 49ers thoroughly outplay the Panthers on their home court, it may be time for expectations to be reset.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.16.11

Posted by bmulvihill on November 16th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After a twenty-four hour marathon of hoops yesterday, we settle things down a bit and get into the groove of regular season college basketball.  Let’s check out a few games for you to watch tonight.

Indiana @ Evansville – 8 PM EST on ESPN3 (***)

Cody Zeller Leads Indiana Against Evansville

  • Picking up right where it left off last year, Evansville continues to win games at the free throw line.  Junior guard Colt Ryan scored 14 of his game high 23 points from the line in the Purple Aces’ overtime win against Butler last Saturday.  Ryan was not the only scorer for Marty Simmons’ team, as four other players scored in double figures.  With 40% of the team’s points coming from the line, Evansville relies on free throws to fuel their offense like few other teams.  Since Evansville does not look like it will be a one-man show, Indiana will have to be cognizant of fouls across the board so as to not find itself in the double bonus early in each half.
  • At 6’11”, Indiana freshman Cody Zeller gives the Hoosiers an athletic big man to go along with guards Vardell Jones, III, and Victor Oladipo.  IU has a significant advantage down low since no Evansville player is taller than 6’8”.  Indiana’s two-point shooting has been on target for the first two games, hitting 64.3% of its shots from inside the arc. Look for Zeller and the Hoosier guards to score from the paint regularly against a soft Evansville interior defense.
  • This game, like most Evanville games, hinges on the Purple Aces’ ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line.  If they are not getting to the line they will assuredly lose.  They do not have the size to guard Zeller or create second-chance points for themselves on missed shots.  Simmons’ team faced similar circumstances against Butler, though, but pulled off the win thanks to a hefty 32 points from the line.  If Indiana can continue to defend the two well without fouling, they should have no problem leaving Evansville’s new building with a 3-0 record.

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The 2011-12 ProZach Awards

Posted by zhayes9 on November 8th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. Follow him on Twitter @zhayes9.

Every August, ESPN college football guru Kirk Herbstreit releases his Herbie awards, a grab bag of honors and predictions about the upcoming season covering everything from quickest running back to hardest-hitting linebacker. The Herbies are so popular they even resulted in their own half-hour show hosted by Herbstreit and Erin Andrews. With no equivalent in the hoops world, I volunteered to step up to the plate. Some of these awards are Herbie knock-offs, some are 100% original and all are intended to be fun. Whether they look ridiculous by March…well, the jury is out. Here are this year’s Pro-Zach awards, passing out happy pills since 2011:

Washington's Terrence Ross is ready to make the leap

All-Next Chapter

  • Team Irreverence: Players Who Don’t Get Enough Respect – GOLD: Rodney McGruder (Kansas State), SILVER: Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion), BRONZE: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
  • Shhh, Don’t Tell: Best Kept Secrets – GOLD: C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), SILVER: Alex Young (IUPUI), BRONZE: Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts)
  • Forwarding Address: Top Transfers – GOLD: Mike Rosario (Florida), SILVER: Royce White (Iowa State), BRONZE: Brandon Wood (Michigan State)
  • Fresh Approach: Top True Freshmen – GOLD: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), SILVER: Austin Rivers (Duke), BRONZE: Andre Drummond (Connecticut)
  • Off and Running: Ready To Take It To The Next Level – GOLD: Terrence Ross (Washington), SILVER: Keith Appling (Michigan State), BRONZE: Michael Snaer (Florida State)

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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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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

[Ed. Note: This was published before BYU suspended Brandon Davies for the rest of the season.]

A Look Back

With BYU’s second 13-point win of the season over San Diego State on Saturday, the Cougars have put the clamps on their first outright regular season Mountain West Championship since 2007-08. They’ve got a one-game lead now over the Aztecs, but own the tiebreaker as a result of their two head-to-head wins, so one more win clinches the #1 seed in the MWC Tournament and two more wins (in their two remaining games) sews up the conference title all for themselves. We’ll have more on the game below, but elsewhere around the conference, it is looking more and more like a three-bid league. While SDSU and UNLV can count on their Selection Sunday invitations arriving without delay, Colorado State’s hopes for its own at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament took a huge hit on Saturday when they got run out of Clune Arena by Air Force, failing to score for almost nine minutes in the second half and dropping their tenth game of the season. Barring a big late run by the Rams, which would have to include a win at San Diego State on the final Saturday of the regular season, or a surprising run by somebody else outside of the top three seeds in the MWC Tournament, the Cougars, Aztecs and Rebels will be the entirety of the MWC representatives in the Big Dance.

  • Team of the Week: BYU – In their final season as members of the MWC, the Cougars have fought through numerous hurdles on their way to all but clinching the regular season title. They’ve been able to deal with the distractions of the media circus surrounding the traveling Jimmer Fredette show (although, in all honesty, the benefits of having a guy like Fredette obviously outweigh whatever distractions his presence may bring), they’ve weathered the taunts and jeers of jilted and jealous fans across the conference, and they’ve replaced players lost due to injury or calling. And when all is said and done, they’ve put themselves in position to be in strong consideration for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’re the #1 team in the RPI, they’ve got a 27-2 record on the season, an 8-1 record against top-50 RPI teams, and, if they can take care of business in the regular season, then continue their success into the MWC Tournament, they’ve almost got to get a #1. Of course, winning the MWC Tournament is a whole other consideration, as BYU is just 6-4 in the MWC tourney since it returned to Las Vegas in 2007, with three losses to UNLV (and one to SDSU) mixed in there. While this Cougar team has made a habit of proving that it is different from previous incarnations, the prospect of either beating UNLV on its home court for the second time this season or beating SDSU for the third time this season is one challenge I’m very interested in seeing the Cougars face.
  • Player of the Week: Dairese Gary, Senior, New Mexico – Gary has been the one constant for Steve Alford this year, but this past week he took his game to another level. In a tough home loss against UNLV, Gary put up 26 points on 10-15 shooting, six assists, three steals and a couple of threes. After finding that such a contribution just wasn’t enough, Gary made sure to get the job done at TCU over the weekend, scoring 32 points on 11-14 shooting, with nine assists, another steal and three more threes. While this has not been the type of season that Lobo fans expected, their senior leader has more than lived up to expectations and he’ll be sorely missed in Albuquerque next year.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Quintrell Thomas, Sophomore, UNLV – The Kansas transfer has come on in a big way down the stretch for the Running Rebels, and when he gets minutes, he produces for Lon Kruger. Since the start of February, Thomas has gotten more than 20 minutes four times, including twice in the last week. In those four games, he has averaged 15.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG, and over four offensive rebounds in those games. This past week he posted 34 points and 20 rebounds, made 12 of his 19 shots from the field and got to the line 14 times and converted ten times. While the Rebels still have major question marks from behind the three-point lines, Thomas has helped clear up any questions about their ability in the paint.
  • Game of the Week: BYU 80, San Diego State 67 – It was, almost without a doubt, the biggest basketball game in the history of the Mountain West Conference. It may not have had a dramatic finish, but it’s the only choice as the MWC game of the week. Fredette continued his sterling season by matching his season high of nine assists, turning into the distributor rather than the scoring point guard that had taken the college basketball world by storm (and the fact that a 25-point, four three-point game is proof of Fredette backing away from his score-first persona tells you exactly how great of a scorer he is). With Steve Fisher giving Fredette several different looks defensively, from the long defenders like Billy White and Kawhi Leonard to the more traditional defender in Chase Tapley, to double-teams of all sorts, Jimmer had plenty of chances to set up his teammates for clean looks from deep, and they responded beautifully, as the Cougars knocked down 14 of their 24 shots from deep. That, coupled with the Aztecs repeatedly missing point-blank shots following offensive rebounds, explains the final score, but while BYU did everything right to earn their victory, most college basketball fans without a rooting interest in the outcome would love to see these two teams run this one back in a week and a half.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: Colorado State (18-10, 8-6) at San Diego State (27-2, 12-2), 3/5, 7pm, The Mtn. – If the Rams are going to continue to entertain any notions about a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, this is an absolute must-win. A loss here, and their only chance at a bid is running the gauntlet through Utah or New Mexico in the first round of the MWC Tournament, BYU in the semifinals and either San Diego State or UNLV in the finals. In other words, win this game. And, really, even if they win this game, they are still completely bubblicious, and would really need a semifinal victory over BYU in order to ease their worried minds a bit, but first things first: win this game. And in order for that to happen, there are a few events that need to take place. First, Andy Ogide needs to continue his strong play, and given that he has only failed to score in double figures once on the season, has only shot less than 50% from the field four times this year and has posted nine double doubles, that is a likelihood provided he can stay out of foul trouble against SDSU’s talented front line. More troubling for Tim Miles is finding somebody else on his team that can help Ogide out. Travis Franklin is the team’s second leading scorer, but he’s scored exactly 11 points over the span of the team’s three-game slide and hasn’t posted back-to-back games in double figures since January. Adam Nigon, Wes Eikmeier, Dorian Green, and Greg Smith (among others) have all shown the ability to be that big second-option to Ogide, but none have proven their ability to be consistent. For all the improvement that the CSU basketball program has made in Miles’ four years on campus, now is their time to finish the deal and get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Power Rankings

1. BYU (27-2, 13-1): We’ve talked about Fredette and Jackson Emery in this space quite often. We’ve talked about the emergence of Brandon Davies (though the Cougars now have to survive without him after an honor code violation led to his suspension for the rest of the season). We probably haven’t talked about Noah Hartsock and Stephen Rogers and Charles Abouo enough, but suffice it to say, each of those guys has made significant contributions on the Cougars’ way to that gaudy record above. The guy we haven’t talked about near enough is the guy at the end of the bench, head coach Dave Rose. Rose has been nothing short of spectacular in his time in Provo. He took over a program that had just finished last in the conference with an abysmal 9-21 campaign, and since then he has never once finished lower than second place in the conference. Assuming the Cougs finish the deal this year, he will have three outright MWC titles in six years, another shared title and a couple second place finishes. All that’s impressive enough, before you even mention his biggest win of all, surviving a bout with pancreatic cancer a couple of years back. On the verge of his third MWC Coach of the Year award and more than a couple of National Coach of the Year votes, Rose is every bit as important to the success of this BYU program as is the scoring machine from Glens  Falls.

A look ahead: The Cougars get a chance to avenge their only MWC loss when they host New Mexico on Wednesday with a chance to wrap up the #1 seed in the conference tourney. On Saturday, they’ll complete the regular season by hosting Wyoming.

2. San Diego State (27-2, 12-2): In his two games this year against BYU, D.J. Gay has scored eight points, handed out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds. He’s made just two of his 14 shots from the field, has been largely invisible on the defensive end and simply has shown no signs of being the positive on-court leader that he has proven himself to be in the rest of his games this year. While what blame there is for the losses to BYU does not fall solely on Gay’s shoulders, he’ll need to play more like the type of guy who won duels with Casper Ware, Anthony Marshall and Dairese Gary earlier in the season in order for the Aztecs to live up to their March dreams.

A look ahead: The Aztecs finish up with a trip to Wyoming tonight, then senior night at Viejas Arena during which The Show will say goodbye to Gay, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas. And, they might as well say goodbye to Kawhi Leonard while they’re at it.

3. UNLV (22-7, 10-5): The Rebels have now won eight of their last ten games (losses at BYU and home against SDSU) since Tre’Von Willis returned from missing a couple of games with a knee injury. Willis has now scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has averaged over 16 points a game over that stretch, just a notch below the 17.2 he averaged all of last season. He’s also averaged four assists per game in those seven games, and the box scores will tell you that Willis is back. Then you watch a game. And you see Willis dragging that left knee up and down the court. Every now and then he surprises you and blows by a defender with an explosiveness that reminds you of what he was like at the top of his game last year, but for the most part, it is pretty clear that Willis is really just squeezing every last drop of goodness out of a knee that needs at the very least some rest and more likely needs some medical attention. Can the Rebels win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament with a gimpy Willis? It remains to be seen, but you can never count out a tough old veteran like him.

A look ahead: The Rebels travel to Utah on Saturday to wrap up their season before hosting the MWC Tournament at the Thomas & Mack as a #3 seed.

4. Colorado State (18-10, 8-6): This Ram team already had a couple bad losses on their scorecard: a home loss to Sam Houston State and a neutral-site loss to Hampton. This team had also lost more than one game in a stretch this season, when they lost back-to-back games at Colorado and Kansas. And yet, with all that, they were still solidly on the bubble. Then came this weekend’s loss at Air Force, their third loss in a row, during which only Ogide was even remotely effective. The rest of the CSU starting lineup went a combined 5-30 from the field. Really. 16.6%. On the final weekend of February. Coming off losses to BYU and UNLV. With an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. For the Rams to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, they now have to do something that they’ve given little reason to believe they are capable of doing: beat both San Diego State and BYU in their next four games, while at the same time taking care of their other business. They did play SDSU to the buzzer a month ago, but that was at home. To go to Montezuma Mesa and beat the Aztecs on Senior Day? That’s quite a challenge.

A look ahead: Before that SDSU game, the Rams have to get back on track at home against a rested and hot Utah team.

5. New Mexico (18-11, 6-8): The Lobos broke their four-game losing streak behind Gary’s heroics, but of bigger concern for Alford is the inability of any other Lobo to provide consistent offensive production. While the Lobos are still in the top 50 in offensive efficiency, their shooting percentages are headed downward and the confidence of guys like Philip McDonald and Kendall Williams is plummeting, with each guy thinking too much about his shot and often passing on good looks. While the Lobos are still talented enough to make things tough for a higher seed in the MWC tourney, they’re not playing anywhere near their best basketball right now.

A look ahead: The Lobos have already beaten BYU once this season, but this time around, given the visit to the Marriott Center looming, the challenge is a bit tougher. On Saturday, they’ll close out the regular season by hosting Air Force.

6. Utah (13-15, 6-8): The Utes haven’t played since we last checked in, so not much new to report on them, but it is interesting to note that the only games the Utes have won in conference are against Wyoming, New Mexico and TCU, and they’ve swept all three teams.

A look ahead: With Colorado State and UNLV looming on the Utes schedule, unless they pull off an upset, they’ll wind up being swept by the other five teams in the conference.

7. Air Force (14-13, 5-9): The Falcons broke their four game slide with the big win against CSU, and did so in convincing fashion. They effectively shot 61% from the floor and held the Rams to just a 36.4 effective field goal percentage, and even beat the Rams from the free throw line, outscoring them 24-14, a rather uncommon occurrence for the Academy. Sophomore guard Michael Lyons continued his strong breakout season, scoring in double figures for the fifth straight time and for the 18th time on the season, while the versatile senior Evan Washington, who has taken a backseat in the scoring department this season, continued to contribute in other ways, handing out eight assists and grabbing four rebounds. Washington has in many ways been the consummate Academy player, doing whatever is needed of him to help the team. Last year as the Falcons struggled through injuries to an eighth place finish, Washington was called on to score more, and he provided over ten points per game. But this year he has been asked to be more of a distributor and has racked up nearly a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this year

A look ahead: The home crowd says goodbye to Washington on Wednesday as the Falcons host TCU, then they travel to New Mexico on Saturday to wrap up the regular season.

8. Wyoming (10-18, 3-11): Fred Langley continues to get great production out of sophomore forward Amath M’Baye, who added 24 points and seven rebounds in a loss at UNLV. He has averaged 21 points per game since the dismissal of Heath Schroyer and is now averaging 12.3 points per game.

A look ahead: Wyoming hosts SDSU then travels to BYU in a nightmare end to a nightmare season.

9. TCU (10-20, 1-14): Speaking of nightmares, the Horned Frogs have now lost 16 of their last 17 games. And in doing so, they’ve been bad everywhere. They don’t shoot particularly well, and they certainly can’t keep opponents from shooting well against them. They get killed on the glass as if it were their collective life’s meaning. They never get to the line, but they send their opponents to the line regularly. They’re a very bad basketball team. And yet, somehow, junior J.R. Cadot is ranked #41 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating. Typically, despite an offensive rating higher than guys like Jon Leuer, Nolan Smith, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette, Cadot only uses about 15% of all TCU possessions when he is in the game. Sure, if he was used at a higher rate, his efficiency numbers would likely drop, but given that Garlon Green is the only other Frog with an offensive rating above 100, you’d figure that Jim Christian would find a way to use him more. Cadot’s numbers had been picking up, as he averaged over 14 points a game in the four games before his one-point, two-field-goal-attempt stinker against in the loss against New Mexico, but given that there’s not a whole lot else going on in Fort Worth, you would hope that Cadot would get a chance in TCU’s remaining games.

A look ahead: Mercifully, the Frogs wrap up their regular season at Air Force on Wednesday.

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