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)
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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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2009-10 Conference Primers: #16 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2009

seasonpreview

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Big West Conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Long Beach State (13-3)
  2. UC Santa Barbara (12-4)
  3. UC Riverside (12-4)
  4. UC Davis (9-7)
  5. UC Irvine (9-7)
  6. Cal State Fullerton (7-9)
  7. Pacific (5-11)
  8. Cal Poly (3-13)
  9. Cal State Northridge (2-14)

All-Conference Team:

  • Mark Payne (G), UCD
  • Larry Anderson (G), LBSU
  • Joe Harden (F), UCD
  • Kyle Austin (F), UCR
  • Eric Wise (C), UCI

6th Man. Joe Ford (G), Pacific

Impact Newcomer. Michael Wilder (G), UCI

big west logo

eWhat You Need to Know.  The Big West consistently sends one representative to the NCAA Tournament, which is then soundly bounced from competition in the first round; but that shouldn’t take away from the fierce battle that’s being done within conference confines. The conference is riding a wave of improvement, witnessed by a recent flood of top-notch recruits and Cal State Northridge taking #2 Memphis to the wire in the first round of last season’s Tourney.  This season, there are shining stars waiting to break out, and most teams have scheduled challenging preseason opponents in a seemingly league-wide strategy to boost the conference’s profile. Long Beach State sophomore Larry Anderson and UC Riverside senior Kyle Austin have the combination of size and pro-level talent that give their teams the chance to beat anyone on any night. Tough schedules and big, athletic guards – does that make the Big West a conference with upset capabilities? No doubt.

Predicted ChampionLong Beach State (NCAA Seed:  #12).  The 49ers will be the popular pick to win the Big West regular season as well as conference tournament, due to an elevated talent level and difficult preseason schedule that will make the rest of the conference season seem like JV.  Because of that difficult preseason schedule – and therefore a favorable RPI – Long Beach State will likely be a trendy upset pick in the NCAA Tournament, especially if they can pull off an upset against Texas, Kentucky or Duke; on a national scale, however, they probably lack the firepower needed to advance to the second round. Only four seniors graduated from last year’s team that earned second place in the conference. The 49ers’ quartet of sophomores will lead the charge – with athletic sixth man Eugene Phelps, darting point guard Casper Ware, crafty forward T.J. Robinson and 2008-09 first-teamer Larry Anderson.

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Big West Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and SEC Conferences.

The Big West Tournament will kick off tonight at the Anaheim Convention Center, and anyone who claims they know who will be crowned on Saturday is either: (1) lying, or (2) not familiar with the way the season has gone thus far. The fact is that any Big West team is capable of beating any other team, and seeding means little in making your predictions.

2009-big-west-tourney-bracket

Top seed Cal State Northridge won the regular season title outright, but have faced injuries, legal issues and general inconsistencies that made the race a little closer than most expected when the Matadors were chosen as preseason favorites. Long Beach State, the #2 seed, started out on a blazing 5-0 conference start but has alternated between wins and losses for the remaining eleven games. Third-seeded Pacific hasn’t won a road game since January 31, and even lost to lowly Cal Poly early in the season.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #21 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2008

Ryan ZumMallen, LBPOSTSports columnist, is the RTC correspondent for the Big West conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Cal St. Northridge
  2. UC Santa Barbara
  3. Long Beach State
  4. Pacific
  5. UC Irvine
  6. UC Davis
  7. Cal St. Fullerton
  8. Cal Poly
  9. UC Riverside

What You Need To Know (WYN2K).  I know what you’re thinking: no good teams ever come out of the Big West.  Oh yeah?  What about 2006-07’s Long Beach State 49ers who ran roughshod over their schedule to a 24-8 record and an NCAA berth… losing to Tennessee by 35.  Or last year’s three-way tie for first?  UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton each won 12 conference games and two earned postseason berths… one bowing out in the NCAA opener and one in the NIT.

Ok, there hasn’t been much success outside of the conference lately – and last year produced some colossal stinkers – but that doesn’t mean that intense basketball isn’t being played within the Big West’s confines.  After a conference flooded with seniors last season, nearly every team is starting anew, making for one of the most wide-open conferences in the country.  All you need is one stud to will your team to victory, and if 2007 Fullerton product and recent Sacramento Kings signee Bobby Brown is any indication, it is definitely possible for raw talent to be developed in the Big West.  Don’t expect the top teams to feast on the bottom-feeders again – all it takes is one hot hand for any team to have a shot on any night.  So let’s get into it!

Bottom Feeders.  UC Riverside, Cal Poly SLO and Cal State Fullerton.  I mention them now because I shan’t be mentioning them again.  All three lost a vast majority of their scoring to graduation, and senior leadership is vital in the Big West.  Expect painful rebuilding from these three, although Fullerton’s Josh Akognon (video footage below) will win a few games for the Titans all by himself.  The 5’11 guard averaged 20 ppg last year and won Big West Tournament MVP honors, but with only 2 returners and Akognon the only returning starter, it’ll be a long year in the cellar for CSF.

Middle of the Pack.

  • One team that you can (surprisingly) expect to emerge from that very cellar this year is UC Davis.  Yes, the UC Davis that went 2-14 in the Big West last season.  Stop laughing.  Last year’s Aggies fielded zero seniors and this year’s edition has five.  They return a trio of senior starters that scored 28.4% of the team’s points, boast two key transfers in Joe Harden and Todd Lowenthal and look to Big West Freshman of the Year Mark Payne to step us as a sophomore.  With all of that, I’ve still got them pegged in 6th because, c’mon, it’s UC Davis.
  • UC Irvine gets the nod for 5th in the Big West, even after losing their top two scorers who brought in a combined 29.5ppg.  They do return their other three starters, though, and while the team is not particularly heavy on seniors or explosive guardplay, last year’s squad won 9 of 12 down the stretch so these guys know how to win.  Adding three recruits sized 6’8” or taller does not hurt, either.  But the Anteaters could well fall prey to the experience of UC Davis, and certainly neither is worthy of a Top 4 spot. 
  • The Pacific Tigers come in 4th, based yet again almost entirely on the genius of the Big West Conference’s greatest basketball mind, head coach Bob Thomason.  Thomason consistently squeezes more productivity out of less talent than any other BW coach, and I’ve learned the hard way not to bet against the Tigers.  They don’t have the talent to dominate this year, but the high-flying Anthony Brown enters his senior season, and I am intrigued to see what magic Thomason has worked with the 6’9” forward who wowed us with his potential and now will have to show us what’s been done with it.  What wins games in the Big West? Guards.  Anyone who gives senior sharpshooter Chad Troyer more than an inch of room deserves to be cut and sent to UC Riverside.

Top Tier. 

  • As we saw last season, the cream of the Big West crop can be extremely competitive.  So these next three teams could end up in any of the top spots, or even in a three-way tie for first like the Trio of ’08.  They’re clearly the most talent-laden squads and have the best shot at the hardware.  At the rear of the triumvirate is – pains me to say it – Long Beach StateDisclosure: I’m a graduate, and last season’s 6-25 campaign was one of my life’s more painful experiences.  But we relied heavily on first-year coach Dan Monson’s genius and junior guard Donovan Morris’ magic.  This year, we’ll again need plenty of both, but have added more ammunition than a Howitzer tank to back them up.  The 6’3” Morris is the only returning All-Big West honoree in the conference, led the Big West in scoring and is the likely preseason Player of the Year.  But the 49ers also add three transfers and a four-member freshman class that is oozing with raw talent in one-guard Casper Ware and freakish swingman Larry Anderson.  The experience and talent are there after recording barren levels of both last year.  My pick is 3rd place and possibly higher – it’s just tough to get past the oddness of picking a 6-win team to win the conference, even if it’s my own.
  • Here then, we arrive at #2.  This team could definitely end the season in a lower position than this, and probably doesn’t have much chance at the top spot due to a lack of real scoring power or explosive guards.  But a notoriously stingy defense and hard-nosed hustle, coupled with eight returners (including three starters) earns the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos the second spot.  Well-rounded forward Chris Devine begins collecting Social Security this year enters his sixth season with UCSB after being granted another year of eligibility due to injuries.  His leadership will be invaluable as the Gauchos look to recapture the magic after being one of the three teams tied for the conference title in ’08.  They’ll rely heavily on a suffocating half-court defense that allows few second chances, and will look for junior James Powell on the perimeter after shooting 46.7% from three-point land and averaging 12.3 ppg last season.  Experience and guard-play win out, and the Gauchos legendary grit put them in a class above (most of) the rest.
  • Experience experience experience.  The Cal State Northridge Matadors (#16 NCAA) field five seniors and eight juniors on their roster, including last year’s conference leaders in rebounds, assists and blocked shots.  They too shared the Big West title and have a great shot to repeat with Tremaine Townsend returning to terrorize Big West post players for yet another season.  Townsend led the conference in rebounds with 9.8 rpg, and blocked shots with 1.3 bpg.  The Matadors led the conference in team rebounding, and senior guard Josh Jenkins will look to improve upon his conference leading 6.4apg as well.  CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell has never won an outright Big West title in 13 years at the helm, but this is his best chance ever to break the streak.

RPI Boosters. 

  • California @ Pacific  (11/15/08)
  • Long Beach St. @ Wisconsin  (11/16/08)
  • Cal St Northridge @ Stanford  (11/18/08)
  • UNC @ UCSB  (11/21/08)
  • Wake Forest v. Cal St Fullerton  (11/27/08)
  • Cal St Northridge @ UCLA  (12/7/08)
  • Long Beach St. @ Syracuse  (12/13/08)

65 Team Era.   Due to UNLV’s former association with the conference in the late 80s and early 90s, the Big West has a solid overall record for the era (28-30, .483).  But if you take out the Rebels, you’re left with a true mid-major level performance (7-24, .226) with only three wins in the last sixteen years.  Pacific’s nice run in the 2003-05 seasons accounts for two of those; the other belongs to another former member of the conference, Utah St. in 2001.

Final Thought.  Just for fun, let’s throw in the final seconds of Cal St Fullerton’s Big West championship game…

 

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Conference Primers: #16 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. UC Santa Barbara (21-8) (12-4)
  2. Cal Poly (17-13) (11-5)
  3. Cal St. Fullerton (18-8) (11-5)
  4. Pacific (17-13) (10-6)
  5. UC Irvine (12-15) (8-8)
  6. Long Beach St. (10-16) (7-9)
  7. Cal St. Northridge (11-16) (6-10)
  8. UC Riverside (7-20) (4-12)
  9. UC Davis (5-25) (3-13)

Big West logo

WYN2K. As we continue our ascent up the conference ladder, we once again come to a league where the top clearly consists of mid-major quality programs, but the bottom of the conference weighs it down as a whole and keeps it from becoming a consistent multiple bid performer. As might be expected for a middling league, the Big West has split its OOC games over the past three seasons (142-155, .478), winning the games against the lower leagues and losing to those above (1-13 last year vs. BCS teams). So what we see again this year is a handful of teams near the top that could easily compete in the WAC or Horizon, and an equal number that might be better suited for the OVC or Atlantic Sun (geographical considerations notwithstanding). Yet due to its schizophrenic nature (representative of its Californian makeup, perhaps?), the Big West has only once in the last fourteen years received two bids (2005), and that was solely because upstart Utah St. defeated unbeaten juggernaut Pacific in the conference finals that year.

Predicted Champion. UC Santa Barbara (#13 seed NCAA) is our choice to represent the Big West this year (turns out we’re not very original). Besides being located in one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes the lower 48 has to offer, the Gauchos return four starters from a second-place club including likely POY guard Alex Harris (21.1 ppg, .458 3fg%) and all-conference forward Chris Devine (14.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg). These two, along with a sophomore backcourt (Justin Joyner and James Powell) that made the all-freshman team last year, hold down a formidable defense that has finished second in the league for six consecutive years. Throw in transfer center Nedim Pajevic from Weber St. and UCSB has all the pieces to win its first conference title in six years. The way we see it, the only hurdle against this team’s success are the tasty waves and a cool buzz down on the campus beach (h/t Jeff Spicoli).

Others Considered. Should UCSB stumble just a bit, we like Cal Poly as next in line to pick up the pieces. Despite losing all-conference wing Derek Stockalper, the Mustangs return sufficient talent to build off of their season-ending 10-2 run (including the conference title game). Three other starters return, including all-conference guard Dawin Whiten and inside presence Titus Shelton (#96 nationally in blk%). The other team we like a lot in this league is Cal St. Fullerton, another second-place team from last season that returns three starters, but must deal with the loss of Bobby Brown, the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Titans are most excited about incoming transfer guard Josh Akognon, a lights-out shooter who led Washington St. in scoring during Dick Bennett’s last season there in 2006. As a sophomore, Akognon dropped 25 on UCLA’s vaunted defense in a half, so expectations are obviously high. Pacific had a rough year last season after a run of three straight NCAA Tourney appearances (49-3 in the Big West over that span), but they do return four of their top seven players and still carry a swagger that the rest of the league hasn’t quite forgotten yet. A core group of juniors led by Anthony Brown will spearhead the renaissance for head coach Bob Thomason, so they can’t be dismissed.

Games to Watch. The Big West is back to nine teams after two years at eight, so the round-robin schedule remains intact. Here are the key games to watch for:

  • UCSB @ Cal St. Fullerton (01.12.08) & Cal St. Fullerton @ UCSB (02.07.08)
  • Cal Poly @ Cal St. Fullerton (01.10.08) & Cal St. Fullerton @ Cal Poly (02.09.08)
  • UCSB @ Cal Poly (01.19.08) & Cal Poly @ UCSB (02.14.08)
  • ESPNU Bracketbusters (02.23.08)
  • Big West Championship Game (03.15.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. The Big West doesn’t typically play a lot of games against BCS teams, and we’re not sure why that is (perhaps it has more to do with location than anything). Nevertheless, the league was 1-13 (.071) last year, with the sole victory coming from UC Irvine against South Carolina (67-52). Here are this year’s best opportunities for RPI enhancement:

  • Pacific @ Oregon (11.11.07) ESPN FC
  • UCSB @ Stanford (11.11.07)
  • Mississippi St. @ UC Irvine (11.22.07) ESPNU
  • Cal Poly @ Arizona St. (11.26.07)
  • UNLV @ UCSB (11.27.07)
  • Cal St. Fullerton @ Arizona (11.28.07)
  • Nevada @ Pacific (12.01.07) ESPN FC
  • UCSB @ UNC (12.22.07)
  • Cal Poly @ USC (12.22.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Not this year. While UCSB is very good, it’s not so good that it will dominate the league to the level necessary to ensure an at-large bid (as Pacific managed to do in 2005).

Neat-o Stat. Last year’s champion Long Beach St. galloped into the sunset with a conference regular season title as well as the tournament title before getting utterly shellacked 121-86 by Tennessee in last year’s first round matchup. Not only did the program lose its coach Larry Reynolds, it also lost its top nine scorers. The leading returning scorer is guard Artis Grant, who averaged all of 1.9 ppg last season in less than ten minutes of game time. Dan Monson, the architect of Gonzaga basketball in the late 1990s (of which Mark Few gets all the credit), took the job and according to one media report, he’s quite happy with the decision. He may have said that before he saw how thin his roster was going to be this year.

64/65-Team Era. The Big West’s record of 28-29 (.491) is extremely misleading due to the UNLV effect. UNLV was in this league from 1982-1996, and while there the Runnin’ Rebels ran off only 21 wins, 3 F4s and a national championship in 1990. The other seven wins during the era belong to UCSB (1990 – 1), New Mexico St. (1992 – 2; 1993 – 1), Utah St. (2001 – 1) and Pacific (2004 – 1; 2005 – 1). In more recent NCAA history, Pacific has owned the Big East in the NCAAs, beating #5 Providence 66-58 (2004), #9 Pittsburgh 79-71 (2005) and coming very close to beating #4 Boston College (Pacific lost 88-76 in 2OT) in the Eagles’ first year as a member of the ACC. Since 1994 the league has been a one-bid league with the one exception mentioned above in 2005, and its average seed has been a #12.9. If we omit Long Beach St.’s asskicking last year at the hands of Tennessee, we see that the league has performed admirably (if not successfully) in its first round games during this decade. We mentioned Pacific’s three games above, but in the Big West’s other five games its representative lost by an average of only 6.8 pts, showing that these teams play competitive basketball. For now, though, let’s reminisce about Bong Long Beach St.’s championship RTC at the Big West Championship.

Final Thought. The Big West is a league seemingly in continual flux. Every time it seems to be building a cache of solid programs at the top, one of them bolts for another conference (see: UNLV, New Mexico St., Utah St.). As a result, it can never quite get a good enough RPI rating to break through as an annual two-bid league. Regularly reaching into the lowest reaches of D1 to pick up the likes of UC Davis and UC Riverside just to have a full complement of teams only worsens the problem. Who will be next to go if a spot opens in the WCC or WAC – UCSB? Pacific? We shall see.

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