Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 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

  • UC Riverside Continues Surge, Pulls off First Conference Upset: With the full-on commencement of Big West play, games have already jumped into that extra gear of competitiveness and closeness. However, pretty much everyone held serve until this last Thursday, when the Highlanders took out UC Santa Barbara in overtime, 79-70. The Highlanders then followed that up with a solid win over Cal Poly. Led by senior Phil Martin, UCR now sports a promising 4-1 conference record, currently good for second place in the Big West.
  • UC Irvine Road Warriors: The Anteaters completed their first road sweep in six years when they traveled up to Northern California and defeated both Pacific and UC Davis in their home gyms. Although not exactly premium wins or complete upsets, any road win is a good win in the Big West. The fact that the extremely young Anteaters were able to hold their composure and go three-for-three in their first three conference road challenges is an encouraging sign. However, tough losses at Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara showed that the Anteaters are far from being out of the woods.
  • Injury Bug Bites: Unlike the major conference teams with plenty of athletic depth, Big West teams can ill afford many injuries to their core group of players. Every year, some teams get bit by the injury bug around now, and this year has proven to be no different. UCSB got a scare when big man Jaime Serna hurt his right hand and wrist against Cal State Fullerton. Although X-rays were negative, Serna missed the OT loss against UCR. Meanwhile, Pacific center Randall Mauge is out at least two weeks with a knee injury. The battle to stay healthy is an important one as the season gets into the stretch run.

Long Beach State Continues To Roll. With Minimal Bids At Stake, Consistency Is Key. (Sean Hiller/Long Beach Press-Telegram)

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (12-6, 5-0) – So far, so good for Long Beach State, who needs to sweep or come very close to sweeping their Big West slate to have a chance at an at-large bid at the end of the season. Although some games have been a little too close for comfort (a 55-50 win over Cal Poly, a 76-66 win against Pacific that was close until late), the 49ers have taken care of business thus far to hold a perfect record moving into a more difficult portion of their schedule. Long Beach State has faced their entire conference schedule without the services of senior forward Edis Dervisevic, who was suspended indefinitely by coach Dan Monson for failing to meet academic expectations. The loss of their main bench post player has forced Monson to play six-deep with freshman forward Nick Shepherd sprinkled in—it remains to be seen whether such a heavy minutes rotation for the starters will cause them to wear out later in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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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.

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 February 1st, 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 story of the first half of the Big West Conference season has to be the confusing slide of both Pacific and UC Santa Barbara, who have both fallen into 4-4 conference records and are frankly lucky to be tied for third place because for the Grace Of God only two other teams have played well enough to sit above .500 halfway through the schedule.  Pacific and Santa Barbara have been overthrown so quickly that we should refer to them as “Cairo” for the rest of the year. Their records are so inappropriate that Tracy Morgan was like, “Whoa.” I could go all day.

That’s left the door open for two others to emerge on top: One expected and one the surprise of the year so far. Long Beach State jumped out to a 6-0 start and sits at 8-2 after a convincing home win over Fullerton, while Northridge has ridden its two high-octane scorers to an impressive 5-3 record and won four straight games to close January. Long Beach took Santa Barbara behind a shed on their own home court, and has already beaten Pacific twice. Northridge fell to Pacific but won at Santa Barbara in a one-point thriller (more on that later). Are these the two best teams in the conference or is it just a matter of time before sleeping beasts awaken?

POY Watch: We’ll keep players from Pacific and UCSB out of the discussion until one of them decides to move up from the JV.

With that out of the way, consider Casper Ware of Long Beach, Rashaun McLemore of Northridge and Darren Moore of Irvine for your end-of-season ballot. These are the guys you have to gameplan for, lest you plan on going home bruised. McLemore is the only true scoring machine – and you could even argue that, since Ware actually has a slightly higher PPG average – but right now these are the three guys playing the best all-around basketball to help their teams win. Second tier: Larry Anderson (LBSU), Lenny Daniel (CSUN) and Eric Wise (UCI).

However, keep this in mind: If Cal Poly manages to finish at or above .500 in the conference, their entire defense SHOULD collectively be named POY. I’m dead serious. This is not a good team. They’re last in the league in scoring and seventh in scoring margin. They’re second-to-last in rebounding margin, last in field goal percentage AND free throw percentage! Yet here the Mustangs sit, tied for third place with the two teams who should be embarrassed to be in this sentence. Why? Because the Cal Poly defense is stingier than Charlie Sheen with a pipe. Big West teams shoot just 40.1% from the field against them. They held Pacific to 39 points. THIRTY-NINE. IN STOCKTON.

Power Rankings

1. Long Beach State (13-10, 8-2): After a two-game slide on their first conference road trip, the 49ers are simply playing good basketball. You can tell because they’re beating teams in different ways than they were earlier in the season. As opponents began focusing on forward T.J. Robinson and sharpshooter Greg Plater, swingman Larry Anderson and leaper Eugene Phelps stepped up. Point guard Casper Ware is the leading POY in my mind, and is playing at his absolute peak right now. When Long Beach is running and attacking, you really can’t do much to stop them – unless you’re exceptional in the one-on-one man defense, and no one in the Big West is that good from one to five. The visible crack in the dam is the marathon minutes that all five starters are logging – one injury could really send them into a tailspin, but head coach Dan Monson says he isn’t letting up. Can you blame him? He sees an opportunity to earn an NCAA bid. Long Beach is also undefeated so far against the other four best teams in the conference. Does that mean that they’re playing their best in big games? I don’t know. But it’s worth mentioning as we enter Act II of the conference schedule.

2. Cal State Northridge (8-13, 5-3): Holding the longest current winning streak in the conference at four games, Northridge is unarguably and surprisingly the hottest team in the Big West. They’re still too reliant on Lenny Daniel and Rashaun McLemore, especially since Daniel is their only true post player with any size and McLemore is scoring off pure talent at this point. But coming off a short injury, McLemore was named Player of the Week and he is playing inspired ball inside. If a third scorer emerges, I would watch out for the Matadors.

3. UC Santa Barbara (11-8, 4-4): Just a few days ago trailing visiting Northridge by one point with 7.2 seconds to play, the Gauchos had the ball out of bounds with one last chance and the game on the line. The game was clearly going to decide second place at a crucial point in the season. With the conference’s two best isolation players on the floor for Santa Barbara, they stood a good chance of getting a great shot to win the game. All they had to do was inbound the ball and give themselves a chance to win. Now, let me tell you a story about inbounding the ball. Back when I was a young lad, my high school team played St. Mother of Mary or whatever in an early-season tournament. We were very good and finished 25-4 that season, but it was rare for us to destroy a team like we did in this game. At one point, I stole the inbounds pass that began the second half and took it in for a layup. For anyone who doesn’t play much ball: THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN. The thing that always cracks me up is that we won this game by about 40 points, but after the game our best player came up to me and laughed: “We were so bad, I mean, I can’t believe you stole the INBOUNDS pass!” I have always found it hilarious that of the 85 points we scored, that single steal and basket is the one that he remembered most. Guess what happened to UCSB. Talk all you want about a nagging hip injury to center Jaime Serna, but there’s something wrong with this team because no squad with Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally – two legitimate POY contenders – should ever be in the position to lose a one-point game to Northridge in the first place.

4. Pacific (12-9, 4-4): THIRTY-NINE.

5. Cal Poly (9-11, 4-4): The Mustangs have the distinction of being the only team in the conference that I like but would not – under any circumstances, including being offered money – watch. And I’m broke. They make John Wooden look like Don Nelson. Cal Poly shoots 38.3% from the field and has an assists-to-turnovers ratio worse than 1:1. Still, you wanna make a D-1 team? Play defense and hustle hard. I didn’t think that this team would make the conference tournament field of eight. Look what can happen.

6. UC Irvine (10-12, 3-5): Fullerton actually has a better record, but Irvine beat them in their only meeting so it’s only right to place them ahead. If it weren’t for consecutive losses to Northridge and Davis by a combined five points, we might have a very different discussion about the Anteaters. But they didn’t, and that’s what matters, no matter how complete a player Darren Moore is or how skilled Eric Wise is in the low post. Irvine is last in scoring average and mediocre in everything else. But they have good players, so the Anteaters could potentially run the table or completely implode (I don’t know how you lose to UC Davis in double overtime). They’re indicative of the entire Big West, in that way.

7. Cal State Fullerton (8-14, 4-5): I actually liked the Titans after watching them get dismembered at Long Beach State than I have at any other point this season, and I think I need a shower just for writing that sentence. But the fact remains: Post presence? Check. Distance shooting? Check. Go-to scorer? Check. Usually, that earns you a Big West title right there. Fullerton hasn’t been able to put it all together for whatever reason – mainly inconsistent and unreliable play from their four best players at once – but the pieces are there. If Orane Chin regains his earlier-season scoring form and Perry Webster begins to run the offense based on their inherent mismatches, the Titans could play spoiler.

8. UC Davis (8-12, 3-5): Sportswriters are a stubborn bunch, so I am not backing away from my prediction that UC Davis will finish third in the conference. No, I can’t support this with facts. No, I can’t tell you how or why. I just believe. Believe! Like Rudy, or “Miracle” or something.

9. UC Riverside (7-12, 2-5): This team is not playing the game of basketball very well. Earlier this season, I wrote: “The Highlanders are probably the Big West’s best legitimate contender to play spoiler.” Let’s all pretend that I wrote that about Cal Poly or Northridge. Phew! Dodged a bullet there.

A Look Ahead

BracketBusters: The Big West will be featured in ESPNU’s annual BracketBusters, and Long Beach State gets a coveted nationally televised game when they play host to Montana on February 19. Other Big West participants are as follows:

  • Boise State at UC Santa Barbara
  • Pacific at Oral Roberts
  • UC-Irvine at Nevada
  • UC-Riverside at Fresno State
  • Northern Arizona at Cal Poly
  • Hawaii at UC-Davis
  • Cal State Fullerton at Idaho State
  • Cal Stat Northridge at Eastern Washington

Long Beach State has a lengthy furlough until February 10, during which Northridge will hope to creep closer with bouts against Riverside and Irvine, two of the conference’s bottom-feeders. Meanwhile, the current third-place deadlock should loosen up Thursday, when Pacific ventures to Santa Barbara and Cal Poly battles UC Davis.

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

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

[Ed. note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night’s games]

A Look Back

In the past two weeks, the Big West has picked up some solid wins for its obvious top-tier teams and seen clutch performers emerge in a conference where it only takes one to contend for a championship. After a stalled start, UC Santa Barbara looks to be hitting the groove that caused the media to pick them to win the conference, while Pacific has hit a snag and people like me are still waiting to see if their risky UC Davis pick is going to pay off. Meanwhile, Long Beach State and UC Irvine both posted impressive showings. The competition will be fierce in the race up to the lone NCAA Tournament bid, and we’re still about two weeks away from conference play.

POY Watch

Multi-dimensional players that can do it all are an extreme rarity, so if you’ve got one, you’re an immediate favorite to win the Big West (the short list: Darren Moore of UCI, Sam Willard of Pacific, Orane Chin of CSF and Casper Ware of LBSU). Unfortunately, for the rest of the conference, it’s obvious that the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos have two. The media selected junior guard Orlando Johnson as the preseason Player of the Year, but it’s junior James Nunnally who has made the most noise thus far. The 6’7 forward scored 29 in a big home win over Loyola Marymount and 34 at Santa Clara. He also leads the Gauchos in rebounds, with Johnson not far behind. If there’s something to worry about, it’s whether or not UCSB has too much dependence on their two wing stars. But with a two-game winning streak, the conference’s best record and a red hot Nunnally, all is well for the Gauchos as they prepare for the top-heavy Big West.

Power Rankings

1. UC Santa Barbara (4-3): With a strong inside presence and two explosive weapons on the wing, the Gauchos are looking like the very wise choice to win the conference. Look no further than their recent home win over Loyola Marymount. The Gauchos handled the Lions rather easily, while Long Beach State fell to them in overtime and Cal Poly was destroyed by 19. So that tells you a bit about the current hierarchy in the conference.

2. Long Beach State (5-4): Expect to see UCSB and LBSU at the top of the power rankings pretty much all year, as the season goes on these two are likely to stay at the top of the pile. Not that the 49ers won’t have their challenges. With another grueling non-conference schedule barely half over, Long Beach has already won big (over Iowa and Boise State) and lost big (struggling to beat D-II BYU-Hawaii and getting thumped by 27 at Washington). Even worse, star wing Larry Anderson broke his hand in the loss to the Huskies. Added to other injuries, the 49ers have been forced to go to their unproven bench. This is obviously good for development, but could be trouble if they don’t have key players back by conference time, especially for a team with an obvious over-dependence on its starters (where UCSB has two players averaging over 30 MPG, Long Beach has five). Senior guard Greg Plater leads the NCAA in three-pointers made and gutsy point guard Casper Ware may prove to be the Big West’s most valuable player.

Team Clip of the Week: Division-II BYU-Hawaii gives LBSU a fight

3. Pacific (4-4): The Tigers fall from first to third because of a three-game losing streak against strong competition in Missouri State and Texas A&M, with a disappointing loss to Pepperdine thrown in. This is a good team because of mind-blowingly excellent coaching, but it is and will continue to be limited by a lack of talent, evidenced by very balanced but unimpressive scoring (in fact, they’re just eighth in the conference in total scoring). Forward Sam Willard is posting monster numbers more because of the offensive system than his ability. They’ll win a majority of conference games because there are plenty of terrible teams in the Big West, but any championship hopes will fall back on team defense (third in the conference in points allowed per game).

4. UC Irvine (4-4): Despite a better overall record than Pacific, the UC Irvine Anteaters find themselves looking up the power rankings because of a weak non-conference schedule. Yes, they started out at Illinois and at USC, but since then they’ve only played one team with a KenPom rating better than 200 (and they lost that one by 15 to San Jose State). It may be rough going come conference time, but the good news is that the Anteaters will win enough games simply off the play of Darren Moore. The 6’3 guard leads Irvine in both points and rebounds and is shooting a blazing 57% from the field and 41.7% from three. It allows junior forward Eric Wise to focus on controlling the paint. It’s not the best one-two punch in the Big West by any stretch, but certainly an intriguing one to keep an eye on.

5. UC Davis (4-5): Not much to take from the Aggies’ last three games – blowouts over two bad teams and a 12-point loss to Cal – as UC Davis seems to be exactly what they seem: A middle-tier conference team that depends heavily on two players. Either forward Joe Harden or guard Mark Payne leads the team in all three major statistical categories (four, if you count minutes averaged). Their next-best player is point guard Todd Lowenthal, who is an effective offensive leader but poses almost no scoring threat at all. If another scorer emerges, then the Aggies could contend for a great seeding in the conference tournament.

6. Cal Poly (3-4): With a pretty nice core, the Mustangs have posted good wins against Loyola Marymount and handed Hawaii their first loss on a buzzer-beating tip at home (video below, but no sound for some reason). But a brutal lineup awaits with UCLA, #15 SDSU, Cal and Pepperdine before opening conference against two of the best in the Big West. Expect to see their power ranking slip in the next few weeks, although in the end the Mustangs are definitely a better team than those currently ranked below them. Shawn Lewis and Will Donahue are nice players, but unless something drastic happens, it won’t be enough to bring them into the top five.

Team Clip of the Week: Cal Poly beats the Warriors on a last-second tip-in:

7. Cal State Fullerton (3-5): The thing about Fullerton is that they have the talent to win some Big West games and maybe make a run at a top conference tournament seed, bit with an abhorrent preseason schedule and no stand-out performances thus far it’s hard to see where they fit in. Junior forward Orane Chin is an unlikely emerging star in the conference as he’s building an impressive all-around stat sheet after flying under the radar last year, while senior Devon Peltier is well-known as a dangerous deep threat (check out the range below at 0:30). I like the size and toughness of Jer’Vaughn Johnson and we’ve already established what three scoring threats can do for you in the Big West. The Titans are notoriously good at home but they’re dangerously thin on the inside and their big three may be excelling more out of necessity than ability. We’ll find out soon enough.

Team Clip of the Week: The Titans sweep their home-and-home with San Diego:

8. Cal State Northridge (2-6): A reliance on freshmen can mean you’ve got an influx of talent, or a lack of ability from your returners. Save for the play of do-everything forward Lenny Daniel, it’s the latter for the Matadors. They play five freshmen and even start two, but this is clearly preparing for the future and not a sign that Northridge is attracting top-flight talent. The team that repped the Big West in 2009 is indicative of how teams will mortgage their future for one shot at glory, and it’s a perfect illustration of why the conference never makes much progress on the mid-major scene: no sustainable power program. Northridge built a senior-laden team aimed at a conference title in 2009, accomplished it, and was left with little else for 2009-10 and 2010-11. Daniel is leading the team in scoring and rebounds with Rashaun McLemore providing a second option. A 22-point win over DePaul was a headline-grabber for Northridge, but we all know the Blue Demons ain’t what they used to be and it doesn’t change the fact that the Matadors are the weak link in a watered-down conference.

9. UC Riverside (3-4): There’s excitement out in the Inland Empire as the Highlanders are nurturing a backcourt that one sportswriter recently said “has the potential to be the best in the program’s Division-I era.” That would be scoring leader Phil Martin along with guards Javon Borum and Kareem Nitoto, a trio that accounts for over half of the Highlanders’ scoring output. It’s a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t mean they’ll match up well against superior guards in the rest of the conference. Riverside will really need to show something unique in upcoming games against Stanford and St. Mary’s or it will be easy to key on Martin and stop the Highlanders in their effort to be the only one.

A Look Ahead

Long Beach State clearly has an intriguing schedule over the next two weeks. After a big win at Boise State, they look for similar success against former conference foe Utah State and then head into uncharted territory for the Big West: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to take on the Tar Heels. After playing at Duke and Kentucky last season, then facing this gauntlet in 2010, you’ve got to admire the stones of head coach Dan Monson. The more important game is against perennial mid-major power St. Mary’s in the Wooden Classic on December 18. It’s clearly a play to become The Next Great Mid-Major and it hasn’t panned out yet, but the Big West will ride the 49ers if it ever does, so keep your eye on the Beach. Not to be outdone, UC Santa Barbara has back-to-back opportunities to put their program on the map with games at UNLV and SDSU this week. Winning just one of these games could put the Gauchos in the Big West driver’s seat. Until further notice, I have the 49ers behind the Gauchos in the conference race and these are obviously the two horses.

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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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Set Your Tivo: 11.13.10 & 11.14.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

There aren’t that many great games this weekend as most of that action was taken care of on Friday night. However, we’ve picked out three games this weekend worth monitoring. Unfortunately, two of them are not on television. Fear not however, those two games will be covered by RTC Live. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Saturday, November 13

#23 San Diego State @ Long Beach State – 7 pm (no TV, RTC Live) (***)

The Aztecs Can Compete With Almost Anyone Up Front

If you don’t know about Kawhi Leonard, you’d better get acquainted. Leonard led the Mountain West in rebounding (9.9 RPG) last year as a freshman and led his team in scoring at 12.7 PPG. A first team all-MWC preseason selection along with teammate Malcolm Thomas, Leonard may be able to vault himself into All-American territory with a great season. San Diego State was picked to win the Mountain West this year and Steve Fisher certainly has many reasons to be excited as the Aztecs return all five starters from their NCAA Tournament team. Long Beach State also had two of their players selected first team all-conference in T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware. The 49ers are led by former Gonzaga and Minnesota head coach Dan Monson and return four starters from a 17-win team. This is not a cupcake game for the Aztecs of SDSU and they’ll need to be ready to play from the get-go on the road. Ken Pomeroy predicts a five point victory for San Diego State. They should win, but you never know on the road in college basketball (especially early in the year). Leonard going up against Robinson should be a treat, though Leonard holds a 15 pound weight advantage. Robinson averaged a double-double last year and is one of the better mid-major players in the nation. Holding Leonard somewhat in check could be the key for the 49ers if they hope to score a huge upset in this one.

Weber State @ Utah State – 9 pm (no TV, RTC Live) (**)

This battle of in-state rivals may be overshadowed by the “Winning team! Losing team!” chant we saw from the Utah State crowd last year. Please excuse us if we’d like to hear that again. Utah State is the better team and returns four starters from last year’s NCAA team that won the WAC regular season. Weber State was picked to win the Big Sky conference this year behind point guard Damian Lillard who tore it up in his sophomore season to the tune of 19.9 PPG and almost four APG. WSU also returns starter Kyle Bullinger from last year’s 20-win crew. Stew Morrill has the Utah State Aggies in position to win the WAC again this year behind the senior experience of Tai Wesley (13.7/6.6/3.3 last year) and Nate Bendall (10.3/5.5). Should they not, they’ll actually have a chance to enhance their NCAA resume on the road at Georgetown. Those who follow this program know that Morrill hasn’t exactly been willing to schedule tough games away from Logan, Utah. Utah State leads the all-time series 37-25 and has won nine of the last ten. Weber State hasn’t won a game in Logan, about an hour’s drive north from Ogden, since the 1993-1994 season. We expect that to continue and if so we hope to get another earful from the Utah State fans.

Sunday, November 14

Princeton @ #1 Duke – 5 pm on ESPNU (***)

While this game doesn’t figure to be close, it’s your first opportunity to see Duke in real competition this season. Of course you’ll have many opportunities to catch the Blue Devils on one of the World Wide Leader’s networks this year, but there’s something cool about watching the defending champion and preseason favorite for the first time. Princeton enters the game at 1-0 after taking care of Rutgers in overtime on Friday night. The Tigers used only eight players and two of them didn’t even clock ten minutes of action. Their six man rotation is led by Dan Mavraides who dropped 26 points on Rutgers. He was 8-14 from the floor and a red hot 6-10 from the behind the arc. Duke will counter with just your typical college player in Nolan Smith at the two. Of course, Smith is anything by typical. An All-American candidate, the senior will team with Kyle Singler and crew in hopes of bringing back to back titles to Durham, just like the Dukies did in the early 1990’s. Duke should win this one easily but there are some things you should be watching in this game. One, the play of freshman star point guard Kyrie Irving. Two, the development of Miles and Mason Plumlee. Three, the contributions of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins off the bench for head coach Mike Krzyzewski. These three things will be key if Duke hopes to repeat this season.

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Summer School in the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 25th, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

Around The Big West:

  • Turner In At UC-Irvine: The college coaching carousel is not something that is unfamiliar when the offseason rolls around. The Big West Conference, like a majority of Division I men’s basketball conferences, endured a coaching change this past offseason when Russell Turner left his job as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors to take the job at UC Irvine in April. It will be Turner’s first tenure as a head coach at any level, though he has collegiate experience at Stanford and Wake Forest, where he worked with All-Americans Josh Childress and Tim Duncan, respectively. He replaces Pat Douglass after the Anteaters went 14-18 and finished near the bottom of the conference last season. Douglass had a 13-year tenure with UCI and left the school as the Anteaters’ all-time winningest coach with 197 victories.
  • LBSU’s Recruiting Class Gets Props: Scout, Inc.’s Michael LaPlante gave a B- grade to the Long Beach State 49ers’ recruiting class. The 49ers were the only team from the Big West on LaPlante’s list of 12 schools from non-power conferences, which included higher-profile mid-majors such as New Mexico and Dayton. The 49ers were able to get on the list due to the fact that they are bringing in six new faces to fuel what was already a sprouting program under head coach Dan Monson. The list of recruits is split in half between high school recruits and junior college transfers. Highly-touted shooting guard Jacob Thomas will pair with transfer guards Corey Jackson and Khalid Gerard to join what is already a young and athletic backcourt. The 49ers were also able to add Edis Dervisevic, who spent the past two seasons at Western Texas College. Monson chose the 6’8 forward for his shooting ability (48.3% from three-point range in the past two seasons) and his knack for passing the ball.  All six players seem to be ready to play now, but may have to sit behind a talented 49ers roster, which includes T.J Robinson and Casper Ware.
  • Byrd Returns to Pacific After Woliczko Resigns: While at Pacific as an assistant coach, Calvin Byrd played a key role in the school collecting many wins, and now the man that helped set a school record of 27 victories in 2004-05 will return to the same post to help guide a veteran Tiger club that has several seniors looking to break that very record.  In his five years away from Pacific, Byrd rendered his services to Loyola Marymount and the University of San Francisco. His hiring occurred almost two months after Tigers assistant Aaron Woliczko resigned from his job to take the head coaching position at Montana Tech.
  • Early Dap For Johnson: The awards keep piling for Orlando Johnson. After leading UC Santa Barbara to the 2010 NCAA tournament, the junior forward was honored as the Big West Player of the Year in addition to being the Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player. Johnson has garnered some preseason attention, and we’ll see if he earns it come springtime. According to Rivals.com, Johnson was selected as one of five players to make up the Mid-Major All-America Team for 2010-11.  The selection comes a year after the 6’5 Johnson scored 18 points per game, while snaring 5.4 rebounds per contest. Even more impressive was that Johnson became a leader on an extremely young Gauchos squad that started four sophomores in their 2009-10 campaign.

Orlando Johnson is Ready to Explode in 2010-11

Power Rankings

  1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos: Although trampled by Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gauchos seem poised to make another run at the conference’s regular season and postseason championships, which will mean another NCAA berth. They have a pretty complete starting lineup heading into the 2010-11 season. In terms of additions and subtractions, the Gauchos are a team that can’t be really evaluated only because this is a team that is mostly the same from last season. However, they did lose guard James Powell, who was their third-leading scorer in 2009-10. The team landed a transfer, New Mexico’s Nate Garth, who could help them in future seasons, but is ineligible in 2010-11. Also transferring is Colorado forward Keegan Hornbuckle, who will spend the upcoming year on the bench. Despite the new players, the Gauchos shouldn’t need to look forward with their aspirations. The duo of James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson is one of the best the conference has seen in the past decade as both players enter their junior seasons. The time to win games and build the program’s reputation is now, which means both Johnson and Nunnally, who averaged 18 and 14.7 points per game last season, respectively, have a rare responsibility this upcoming year — put Santa Barbara and the Big West Conference on the national map. It is possible for the Gauchos, as they have the experience to play deep into March and again represent the Big West in the NCAA Tournament. However, they will have to ward off Long Beach State and Pacific, who will look to throw off the defending champs.
    Projected 2010-2011 record: 23-8 (13-3).
  2. Long Beach State 49ers: The 49ers are in contention for a Big West crown this season. They bring back a pair of star forwards in Eugene Phelps and T.J Robinson, while only losing a few seniors, most notably Stephan Gilling, who averaged 9.4 points per game last season. Also returning are guards Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and Greg Plater, who make up what could be considered to be the best backcourt trio in the conference. Add in prized recruit Jacob Thomas, a lengthy shooter from Columbia Heights, Minnesota, who turned down Wisconsin and Minnesota to play for head coach Dan Monson, and the 49ers have at least six players who can average nine or more points again. The team will get tested early and often, as they have already scheduled themselves for two tournaments early in the year. Big matchups include games versus Clemson, Washington, Utah State, St. Mary’s and Arizona State, which make the 49ers’ nonconference schedule arguably the toughest in the Big West. However, they do have the talent to pull an upset over a power conference team like Washington on November 30, which would build momentum heading into a big matchup against St. Mary’s in the first round of the John R. Wooden Classic on December 18.
    Projected 2010-2011 record: 21-10 (12-4).
  3. Pacific Tigers: No team in the Big West can sleep on Pacific. They return five of their six top leading scorers from last season and have not only the depth but the size to out play any team in the league. Although they aren’t the best offensive team in the conference, the combination of Demetece Young, Terrell Smith, Pat Eveland and Sam Willard give the Tigers a threat that will be tough to defend. Willard is as good as any post player in the conference and the duo of Smith and Young will be tough for anyone to contain in the open court. The addition of freshman Khalil Kelley, a 6’8 forward from Rancho Cucamonga, California, gives the team even more versatility and some raw talent to work with. Some other key offseason addition include Andrew Brock, a point guard who transferred from Creighton after his freshman season, and shooting guard Spencer Llewellyn, who averaged 26.7 points per game last season playing in Australia. Giving the Tigers even more depth is sophomore guard Allen Huddleston, who averaged 5.5 points per game last season despite playing under 15 minutes per contest.
    Projected 2010-2011 record: 21-13 (10-6)
    Read the rest of this entry »
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Backdoor Cuts: Vol. VI

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2010

Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh. This week the unathletic threesome decide to live vicariously through their unborn sons. You don’t want to miss it.

MIKE WALSH: Papa Zeitlin is handing me the keys to the column this week. Like a teenager with a learner’s permit, I’ll try not to crash this thing into the neighbor’s mailbox.

Speaking of teenagers, (Creepiest. Segue. Ever.) have you guys seen the SportsCenter commercial where LSU football coach Les Miles recruits a new anchor? Granted, collegiate football and hoops are different beasts, but it made me wonder what it would be like to be blue chipper with his pick of colleges. Being that my athletic abilities never made it out of the shallow end of the Walsh family gene pool, I’ll have to live vicariously through my kids someday. So I might as well figure out where they’re going to be playing college hoops now, before they’re even a twinkle in my eye, right?

Here’s the question: What college basketball coach would you feel most comfortable entrusting your kid to? I’ll give you both a minute to let the dry heaves caused by the mere thought of parenthood subside, and then we’ll go on from there … everyone with me?

For me, I think the job of coaching little Carlos would go to Mark Few. His basketball chops have raised Gonzaga from the ranks of the mid-majors to a perennial tournament threat. He’s not getting a ton McDonald’s All-Americans from year to year, but his results are always Super Sized. On top of the Xs and Os, Few seems to be a stand-up guy. When the Zags’ second leading scorer and top rebounder Josh Heytvelt was arrested in 2007 on drug charges, he didn’t see the hardwood for the rest of the season. Think that would happen to the Big Man on Campus elsewhere? Athletes being held accountable for their actions? Absurd!

So that’s it, my kid-to-be-named-later is headed to the Pacific Northwest. And if he could get a nickname like Sasquatch or Bigfoot, that would be awesome too.

Where are Zeitlin Jr. and Mini-Moore headed?

DAVE ZEITLIN: First of all, it’s a little scary we are all now closer to being a parent than from our days in college. But I’m ready for it. I plan on giving my son a musical crib toy that plays Gus Johnson clips over and over for his first birthday (Do they make those? They should.) and then working on bounce passes at least eight hours a day from the age of two on. My kid will either hate me but then become a star athlete in spite of me or reject the sport until a voice tells him to build a corn field — which will in turn bring him closer to the sport I love and also to me after I die. Isn’t that how it works? (I’m just kidding, by the way. Please don’t take my son away before he’s born, Child Services. Also, Lauren, don’t read this.)

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #12 – WAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2009

seasonpreview

Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net and Travis Mason-Bushman of Vandal Nation are the RTC correspondents for the Western Athletic Conference.

Travis’ Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Idaho (11-5)
  2. Utah State (11-5)
  3. New Mexico State (10-6)
  4. Nevada (10-6)
  5. Louisiana Tech (8-8)
  6. Fresno State  (7-9)
  7. Boise State  (6-10)
  8. San Jose State  (5-11)
  9. Hawaii  (4-12)

Sam’s Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. New Mexico State (13-3)
  2. Utah State (12-4)
  3. Nevada  (11-5)
  4. Idaho (11-5)
  5. Louisiana Tech  (9-7)
  6. Fresno State  (6-10)
  7. Boise State  (5-11)
  8. San Jose State  (3-13)
  9. Hawaii  (2-14)

All-Conference Team:

  • Mac Hopson (G), Idaho
  • Jahmar Young (G), New Mexico State
  • Luke Babbitt (F), Nevada
  • Sylvester Seay (F), Fresno State
  • Magnum Rolle (C), Louisiana Tech

6th Man. Kyle Gibson (G), Louisiana Tech

Impact Newcomer. Steffan Johnson (G), Idaho

wac logoWhat You Need to Know. Once a solid multi-bid league, the WAC has struggled to gain national traction in recent years but appears poised to send multiple teams to the Big Dance after graduating just eight starting seniors in the entire league after last season. Five of the nine WAC teams return at least four starters and New Mexico State returns all five starters. The league also returns 14 of the 15 top scorers this season.

Travis’ Predicted Champion. Idaho (NCAA #12) — one and done.  The Vandals have a storied tradition in college hoops — in the early 1980s, Idaho dominated the Big Sky under legendary coach Don Monson, leading an unlikely charge to the 1982 Sweet 16. But that remains the high-water mark for Idaho basketball. In the first three seasons after joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005, the Vandals were a perennial bottom-feeder.

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