Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2012

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 2nd, 2012

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

The Week That Was

  • Long Beach Takes Down Another Ranked Opponent: Long Beach State continued its strong nonconference play at the Diamond Head Classic, beating then-#14 Xavier as well as Auburn to reach the tournament championship game against Kansas State, where it fell to the Wildcats. At the beginning of the season, the 49ers knocking off two ranked opponents would have been seen as a gigantic accomplishment, but now the two wins look somewhat less impressive given Pittsburgh’s and Xavier’s struggles. Xavier was missing starters Mark Lyons and Dezmine Wells, and would fall to a very mediocre Hawaii team the following day. Nonetheless, still a very good showing in Honolulu for the 49ers.
  • Santa Barbara Goes Cold: Long Beach State’s consensus biggest Big West threat at the beginning of the season sputtered to an ugly finish in the nonconference portion of their schedule, getting walloped by both Cal and Brigham Young on the road. UCSB went into overtime against both San Diego State and UNLV earlier this season, but seemed to shrink on the road. Beyond the Gauchos big three of Orlando Johnson, James Nunnally, and Jaime Serna, the UCSB bench has been uninspiring. New Mexico transfer point guard Nate Garth has also struggled recently, being relegated to the bench against BYU where he committed four turnovers in just 10 minutes. Colorado transfer Keegan Hornbuckle has also been a non-factor.
  • Big West Action is Here: In recent years, the Big West has been one of the most closely fought, anyone-can-win-on-a-given-night conferences. Even though Long Beach State went 14-2 last year en route to the regular season title, they lost to eight-seed UC Irvine in the regular season and lost to No. 5-seed UC Santa Barbara in the conference tournament. Although there figures to be more of a divide in the contending teams and the rebuilding teams this year, extremely hard-fought close battles are still to be expected. How teams match-up with each other, coaching strategy, home court advantage and coming up with clutch shots late will determine a number of games. Already, streaking Cal State Fullerton had to squeak out a win against cellar dweller UC Davis, who has yet to claim a win against a Division I opponent this year. These are coaches and players who know each other very well, bringing a whole new element to games with an increase in intensity a likely by-product.

Long Beach State: The Best Six-Loss Team In The Nation. (Stephen Dachman)

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (7-6) – Despite coming up short against Kansas State in the Diamond Head Classic championship game, Long Beach State still had a tournament they could be proud of, beating No. 14 Xavier by 10 and Auburn by 21. In addition to notching wins over Atlantic-10 and SEC teams, Long Beach State also gained more national exposure with a couple games on ESPN2 and the Xavier win on ESPNU. All positive things for a program that is trying to take it to the next level. Senior Larry Anderson was named to the all-tournament team for scoring in double figures all three games, while freshman point guard Mike Caffey emerged as an exciting player for not only the future but for this season as well. The 6’0” Riverside, California native poured in 14 points against Xavier, exciting fans with his energetic yet composed play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Thomason Sets Big West Win Record: Pacific coach Bob Thomason won his 406th game with the Tigers on December 3, surpassing former Long Beach State and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian as the all-time winningest coach in the history of the Big West Conference. Pacific defeated Utah State 65-57 in the landmark win, the Tigers’ third of the year. Thomason is in his 23rd year as Pacific coach, and has perhaps his most difficult task before him this season with a team of newcomers and very little returning experience. So far, the Tigers are 3-3, but their win against the Aggies is their only win against a Division I opponent.
  • San Diego State Hangs On: Amidst rumors of San Diego State potentially joining the Big West in non-football sports due to its likely move to the Big East in football, the Aztecs went to overtime against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara before beating both in a possible foreshadowing of match-ups to come. The 49ers, coming off their upset of #9 Pittsburgh, led by three at halftime and then battled back to force overtime before succumbing to the Aztecs 77-73. A similar storyline unfolded in Santa Barbara, when the Gauchos built up a lead at halftime before losing it and then forcing overtime with a late free throw. San Diego State came through in overtime once again however, defeating UCSB 76-75.
  • Growing Pains: The Big West is quickly sorting out into a top four and bottom five infrastructure, with the bottom five struggling mightily against some underwhelming opponents. Besides Pacific’s aforementioned one D-I victory, UC Irvine is 1-6 after going 0-3 in the Great Alaska Shootout including a loss to D-II Alaska-Anchorage by 14. UC Riverside is 2-4 with only one D-I win as well, albeit a decent win in the 76 Classic against Washington State. Worse off are Cal State Northridge and UC Davis, who together are a combined 2-13 with zero D-I wins on the year.   

Orlando Johnson Is Carrying A Heavy Load For The Gauchos, Playing 70% Of His Team's Available Minutes And Taking 34.9% Of The Shots.

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (4-3) – The Big West darlings have yet to follow up on their triumph against Pitt, instead losing to Montana and #6 Louisville. While losing to the Cardinals is understandable, decent but unspectacular teams such as Montana have to be wins for Long Beach State if they want to make this season not merely good, but great. Interior defense has slipped as of recent, and turnovers and free throw percentage need improvement as well. A lot of that comes down to maintaining a high intensity throughout each and every game, regardless of whether it is in Pittsburgh or Missoula.
  2. UC Santa Barbara (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, UCSB has suffered two gut-wrenching losses to two very tough opponents in SDSU and UNLV. The SDSU game slipped away in overtime partly due to a timeout call when the team had none left, while the UNLV game went into a thrilling double overtime before the Rebels, fresh off their triumph over then #1 North Carolina, pulled out a 94-88 win. Any perceived gap between Long Beach State and UCSB has narrowed over the last two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if Orlando Johnson keeps up his torrid play. As a team, the Gauchos are at the top or near the top of every major statistical category. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2011

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

Tournament Preview

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

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

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

A Look Back

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

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

All-Conference Team:

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

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on 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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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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WAC Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A WACky regular season came to an end on Saturday night and after the dust settled the seedings were finally set. Heading into last week’s games just two of the nine seeds were cemented in place, the 1-seed (Utah State) and the 9-seed (Fresno State). The final seeds look like this 1) Utah State, 2) Nevada, 3) Idaho, 4) Boise State, 5) New Mexico State, 6) Louisiana Tech, 7) San Jose State, 8) Hawai’i, 9) Fresno State.

2009-wac-tourney-bracket

Tuesday night sees the two last place teams battle it out for the honor of facing top seed Utah State on Thursday in the quarterfinals.On Thursday the remaining eight teams will be whittled down to four.

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Checking in on the… WAC

Posted by rtmsf on February 26th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC. 

Current Standings:

  1. Utah State (12-1, 25-3)
  2. Nevada (8-4, 16-10)
  3. New Mexico State (8-5, 15-12)
  4. Boise State (7-5, 17-9)
  5. Idaho (6-6, 13-13)
  6. Hawai’i (5-8, 13-13)
  7. San Jose State (4-8, 11-14)
  8. Louisiana Tech (4-9, 12-16)
  9. Fresno State (2-10, 11-17)

The race for the league title and the automatic bid to the NIT should be decided on Thursday night. Utah State hosts Hawai’i with a chance to wrap up the regular season title, their second in the past two seasons. For Utah State however, they’re looking to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2005-06 season, that year they received an at-large bid after finishing second in the regular season and losing to Nevada in the title game of the conference tournament. The UtAgs, despite a record of 25-3 don’t want to leave anything to chance as they still feel the sting of finishing 25-3, being ranked 21st but not receiving an at large bid after losing in the Big West semifinal to Cal State-Northridge 63-62.

As for the rest of the league, the race for second place is on as Nevada (8-4), New Mexico State (8-5), Boise State (7-5) and Idaho (6-6) can all finish as high as 2nd.

And not to be left out, the bottom four teams, Hawai’i (5-8), San Jose State (4-8), Louisiana Tech (4-9) and Fresno State (2-10) are all playing to stay out of the league’s 8/9-seed play-in game (with the winner having to face likely 1-seed Utah State) in the quarterfinal round.

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Checking in on the… WAC

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Playing for second. The Utah State Aggies can wrap up a share of the regular season WAC title this week with a win over Idaho. And if they are to do it, they’ll have to do it on the road. Utah State is 11-0 in league play and is looking to complete the first undefeated season since TCU turned the trick in the 1997-98 season at 14-0 and then a year later when Utah also completed the feat going 14-0. In both cases the teams were playing in the then (and first) 16 team league and won their division. The race for the league’s 2-seed in the conference tournament is heating up as five teams are within two games of each other with anywhere from five (NM State) to seven (Idaho) league games remaining.

Current Standings:

  1. #17/21 Utah State (11-0, 23-1)
  2. Boise State (6-4, 16-7)
  3. Nevada (6-4, 13-10)
  4. New Mexico State (6-5, 12-12)
  5. Idaho (4-5, 10-12)
  6.  San Jose State (4-7, 12-11)
  7. Hawai’i (4-7, 12-11)
  8. Louisiana Tech (3-8, 9-15)
  9. Fresno State (2-7, 10-14)

Official Player of the Week: For the third time this season, Utah State’s Gary Wilkinson has been named the Western Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week.  Versus New Mexico State, he scored 18 points and nabbed 11 boards. He didn’t miss all night — going 5-5 from the floor and 8-8 at the foul line. Wilkinson then added 16 points against Louisiana Tech.

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Checking in on the… WAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 20th, 2008

Kevin McCarthy from Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson from bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Making Headway. The league had a decent week in the win-loss column as the collective went 10-5 against their competition since the last check-in. Hawai’i (over Eastern Washington), New Mexico State (over Texas-El Paso) and Nevada (over Southern Illinois) all earned solid wins and the league also had a couple of close losses to decent opponents (San Francisco and Montana) . The WAC has another big week of competition upcoming as they’ll face teams from the Pac-10, Missouri Valley Conference, West Coast Conference, Mountain West Conference and Conference USA.

The WAC needs to earn some key victories as they are currently the 15th ranked conference in terms of RPI and just one of the league’s teams, Utah State (40) is inside the Top 100 RPI.

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