Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

POY Watch

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

Power Rankings

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

Looking Ahead

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

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on 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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RTC Conference Primers: #17 – Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2010

Ryan ZumMallen is the RTC Correspondent for the Big West Conference.


Predicted Order of Finish

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

All-Conference Team

  • Casper Ware (G) – Long Beach State
  • Orlando Johnson (G) – UC Santa Barbara
  • James Nunally (F) – UC Santa Barbara
  • T.J. Robinson (F) Long Beach State
  • Eric Wise (C) – UC Irvine

Sixth Man

Mark Payne (G) – UC Davis

Impact Newcomer

Kareem Nitoto (G) – UC Riverside

Casper Ware and the 49ers are ready to unseat UC Santa Barbara. Is this their year?

What You Need To Know

The Big West is a conference perennially striving to cross the threshold into the higher tier of mid-major leagues. Only they never do. The Big West has struggled to produce teams that attract any attention with their quality of wins, and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since Pacific did so in 2005. But last year, both Fullerton and Long Beach State defeated UCLA for the first wins against the Bruins in conference history (How did the Big West respond? By scheduling FIVE non-conference games with UCLA this season). This year, the top two squads have a lot of people excited for their chances of making a national splash, especially with marquee games like Long Beach State entering Chapel Hill. But top-to-bottom, it’s not a stacked year for the conference. Still, there is potential and some teams are clearly making a Gonzaga-style push while others are more stagnant.

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2010

Current Standings (Conference/Overall/Win Streak)

  1. Pacific (5-1) (12-6) W3
  2. UC Santa Barbara (5-2)(10-7) W2
  3. Cal Poly (5-2)(8-10) W3
  4. UC Davis (3-3)(7-11) L1
  5. Cal State Fullerton (3-4)(7-11) L1
  6. UC Irvine (3-5)(9-11) L1
  7. Long Beach State (2-4)(8-11) L2
  8. Cal State Northridge (2-4)(7-12) L2
  9. UC Riverside (2-5)(8-11) W1

Games of the Week

UC Santa Barbara defeated Cal State Fullerton 85-80 in overtime on Saturday night thanks in large part to Orlando Johnson, who hit a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds to tie the game at 72.  Johnson finished with career high 27 points in the contest. His teammate, sophomore forward James Nunnally, also had a career day, scoring 25 points.  Johnson is currently third in the conference in scoring, averaging 16.6 points a game.  The Gauchos had defeated last place UC Riverside on Thursday night, but entered the week after a crushing 67-47 loss to UC Irvine on January 14th.  The Titans had overcome a sixteen point second half deficit earlier in the game, but could not hold onto a late lead.  Senior forward Jer’Vaughn Johnson also scored a career high 22 points. In addition, he grabbed seven rebounds.  The loss marks the third straight for the Titans, who lost 80-73 to Pacific on Thursday night.  With the win the Gauchos remain a half game back of Pacific for the lead of the Big West Conference. Santa Barbara is the only team to hand Pacific a conference loss this season.

In another great conference battle UC Riverside snapped its five-game losing streak by defeating Irvine 65-56 on Saturday night.  Junior guard Dwight Gordon who finished with a game high 19 points led the Highlanders. Fellow junior Kyle Austin added 18 points.  Riverside was able to get its second conference win because of a late 9-1 run, which gave them a nice cushion.  As for the Anteaters, it was their second loss of the week and their fourth of their last five.  It doesn’t look promising for them as they host Pacific on Thursday.

Conference Overview

Pacific added two more conference wins to its resume this week by beating Fullerton 80-73 on Thursday and UC Davis 77-61 on Saturday.  Currently, the Tigers do not have a player who averages above 10 points a game, but have seven players that average above five a game.  The Tigers’ conference lead is thin as the Gauchos of Santa Barbara won both of their conference matchups this past week.  UCSB is shooting a conference best 36.3% from the behind the three point arc.

Cal Poly is riding a three game win streak, which has landed them a half game behind Pacific for the conference lead.  The Mustangs went on a late 9-0 run to barely squeeze by Cal State Northridge, defeating the Matadors 73-72.  The Matadors’ senior guard Mark Hill led all scorers 24 points.  Senior guard Lorenzo Keeler scored 23 points while sophomore forward David Hanson added 15.  The Mustangs have won eight of their last 13 games.

UC Davis has lost three of four, but the Aggies have three of the conferences top scorers.  Junior guard Mark Payne leads the Big West in scoring, averaging 17.6 points. Senior forward Dominic Calegari averages 16.4 points as well as grabbing 5.7 rebounds a game.  Junior guard Joe Harden averages 13.9 points per game while snatching 7.1 rebounds per game.  The Aggies have a half-game lead on the Titans for the fourth spot in the conference.

As for the bottom five teams in the conference only UC Riverside is coming off a win. The Highlanders are 2-5 in conference play this season yet are only a half game back of Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge.  The Titans are first in the conference in field goal percentage shooting 45.0 percent.  The 49ers have the Big West’s best scoring offense, averaging 72.6 point per game.

Lenny Daniel was named conference player of the week after he led Cal State Northridge to three straight wins a week ago. During the stretch, Daniel averaged a double-double scoring 13.7 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game.  Daniel is currently third in the league in rebounding.

Important Matchups

On Thursday night 1/28, UC Santa Barbara takes on Cal Poly for second place of the conference. The winner has an opportunity to move into second place if Pacific were to lose on the road to UC Irvine.  With either the Gauchos or the Mustangs winning on Thursday, Pacific has a must-win game against the Anteaters if they want to maintain their conference lead.  Both games have late tips at 10:00 E.T.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2009

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Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest, Upper Midwest, Mountains and Southwest) are located here.

It’s time for the tenth and final installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of cool, wet Pacific states known as the Northwest Region.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Northwest Region (AK, WA, OR, northern CA)

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  • Matt Bouldin – G, Sr – Gonzaga.  As anyone in Spokane or among Gonzaga’s growing national fan base can tell you, most of the talk about Gonzaga this off-season has concerned itself with what the Bulldogs have lost.  Understandable, as the excellent Zag firm of Daye, Heytvelt, Pargo, and Downs are a tough bunch to replace, to say the least.  Consider also that Gonzaga is bringing in something like 37 freshmen onto this year’s squad, and one can easily conclude that Mark Few finds himself with his most interesting coaching predicament yet.  With such an inexperienced squad, what’s the one thing Few needs most?  A savvy, intelligent senior leader.  Enter Matt Bouldin, a 2010 preseason Wooden Award nominee to absolutely nobody’s surprise.  Check these stats from last year:  49.1% from the field, 42.3% from three-point range…but only 13.6 PPG.  Even with several other offensive options on his team, you’d expect a shooting guard with those percentages to average more than 13.6 PPG.  But, this means that when Bouldin does shoot, it’s usually a good shot in terms of shot selection, something coaches will tell you is one of the real keys to winning at this level, and an incredibly difficult thing to teach.  Mind you, those percentages are up from his sophomore season even though he registered more attempts as a junior.  Without a doubt, Bouldin’s touches and minutes will increase this season, despite leading last year’s team with 31.7 minutes a game.  He might need to get to the line a little more this year, but with his ability to take care of the ball, Coach Few should have no apprehension adding this to Bouldin’s responsibilites, if he chooses.  Bouldin’s 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the conference (behind two of his teammates!) and is exceptional for a shooting guard.  So go ahead, feel sorry for Gonzaga if you must.  We know what they lost, and we know Portland might be a fun pick in the WCC.  But with a coach like Few, a leader like Bouldin, and a non-conference pressure-cooker like the one Gonzaga has in store, if Portland so much as twitches, Gonzaga will take them down.  And look at their NCAA Tournament history.  Except for 2007, Gonzaga does best when they get a 10-12 seed and nobody’s looking.  Mark Few is spectacular when it comes to keeping numerous talented players happy and, perhaps better than anyone in the country, instilling in all of his players an immense pride in the name on the front of the jersey as compared with the one on the back.  When you watch Few’s Gonzaga teams, you can almost feel the love the players have for that uniform.  Matt Bouldin possesses this pride just as much as any of his Wooden-list predecessors like Morrison or Dickau.  We guarantee you — he will not go quietly.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #16 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2009

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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

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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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Checking in on the… Big West

Posted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

Let’s be very honest about the Big West for a minute: The conference will only send one team to the NCAA Tournament that will probably be seeded 13th or 14th in their region, and there isn’t a single can’t-miss NBA prospect in the conference.

Here’s why you should watch the Big West, anyway.

1. It’s Been A Great Race

Long Beach State jumped out to an early 5-0 conference record behind the fresh legs of their four freshmen, but were hit with an injury to leading scorer Donovan Morris and have stumbled ever since, going just 2-4 in their last six. The most recent loss, a double-overtime thriller at UC Riverside, put the ball in Cal State Northridge’s court. The Matadors, picked in October by both media and coaches to win the conference title, beat that same Riverside team to snatch a full-game lead on Long Beach State. But beware as five teams trail Northridge by 2.5 games or less.

1) Cal State Northridge 12-10 (8-3)
2) Long Beach State 12-11 (7-4)
3) Pacific 14-9 (7-5)
4) Cal State Fullerton 13-12 (7-6)
5) UC Riverside 14-10 (6-6)
6) UC Davis 11-14 (6-6)
7) UC Irvine 8-17 (5-7)
8) UC Santa Barbara 10-13 (4-7)
9) Cal Poly SLO 6-16 (3-9)

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Checking in on the… Big West

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2008

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

For the casual Big West fan – but really, who’s “only” a casual Big West fan – the conference standings may seem a bit perplexing as we near the end of the preseason schedule.  For starters, the current standings look nothing like the predicted order of finish, with UCR all the way at the top and CSUN second from the bottom.  A couple of embarrassing losses during the conference’s few televised games certainly did not help its image – but remember, friends, the pre-conference standings can be deceiving.  A closer look reveals contenders, pretenders, and a few hidden gems to watch.

Let’s run down the Big West conference, beginning with the top of the standings, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

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