Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Long Beach State Posts Signature Win: Possibly the biggest win of the season comes early for the conference with LBSU topping No. 9 Pitt 86-76 on the road. Casper Ware and the 49ers were a nationwide trending topic on Twitter when they took down a Top 10 team in its own arena on Wednesday night. Ware shined, pouring in a career-high 28 points and six assists in 39 minutes, while newcomer James Ennis verified his status as a noteworthy addition with 19 points and six assists. How big is this win? It’s the first time Long Beach State has beaten a Top 10 team since 1993. On top of that, Long Beach won emphatically, as the Panthers never seriously challenged a nine-point Long Beach lead at halftime. The win snapped Pittsburgh’s 58-game non-conference winning streak at home.
  • UC Santa Barbara Gives Strong Outing: The Gauchos’ routed Santa Clara 89-56 last week. Although understandably not as headline-grabbing as Long Beach State’s win, the Gauchos’ 33-point drubbing of a middle of the pack West Coast Conference team is a good sign. The two-headed beast of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally were back at it, leading UCSB with 21 and 24 points respectively.
  • Pacific, UC Irvine Sluggish Out Of The Gate: Two teams pegged to struggle in the preseason poll have well, struggled. Pacific posted an uninspiring win over the D-II Otters of Cal State Monterey Bay before getting trounced by previously winless Nevada, 78-54. Coach Bob Thomason shuffled through 15 players, trying to sort out who could contribute the most to his team of new faces. UCI has looked shell-shocked in losses at No. 24 Cal and lowly San Jose State, which was nearly a buzzer-beating win until Adam Folker’s last second put-back was deemed too late by video review. There’s nowhere to go but up for these two teams.

Casper Ware And The 49ers Stunned The Oakland Zoo On Wednesday. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Power Rankings

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RTC Conference Primers: #19 – Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 17th, 2011

David Gao of Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • LBSU 49ers Poised to Finally Strike Gold: After winning the Big West by four games last year, Long Beach State had to settle for the NIT after UC Santa Barbara upset them in the Big West Tournament finals. This year, four of last year’s top five scorers return for LBSU, and all as fourth-year seniors. But even if a Big West Tournament win isn’t in the cards, Coach Dan Monson will garner national attention and even a possible at-large bid with an incredibly tough non-conference slate featuring the likes of Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier.

Long Beach State Star Guard Casper Ware (#22) Plays Much Bigger Than His 5'10" Frame Might Suggest. (credit: S. Dachman)

  • Three Straight for the Gauchos?: USA World University Games team member Orlando Johnson will look to take an up-and-down UC Santa Barbara team back to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. Some may see last year’s bid as a bit of a fluke, as the Gauchos were only a five-seed in the conference tournament, but scored a Big Dance berth anyway when they won the final against regular season champion Long Beach State. Seniors James Nunnally and Jaime Serna return as well, while D-I transfers Nate Garth and Keegan Hornbuckle become eligible for the first time this year, making this Gauchos team, on paper, even stronger.
  • Will Les Be More?: At UC Davis, gone is former coach Gary Stewart after eight seasons (and his not-so-illustrious 88-148 record), replaced by former Bradley coach Jim Les, who joins his son Tyler, a sophomore on the team. The elder Les spent nine years at Bradley, where he famously took the Braves to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005-06, knocking off a highly-seeded Kansas team in the process. However, his last two teams fizzled, just as Stewart’s Aggies did the last two years despite having highly touted players Mark Payne and Joe Harden on the roster. Harden and Payne are both gone now, but Big West Co-Freshman of the year Josh Ritchart returns with former Cal guard Eddie Miller.
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Top Ten Players You Don’t Know Yet (But Soon Will)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 10th, 2011

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

Even the most casual college basketball fans, those that believe the season begins when the calendar flips to March to gear up for their office pool, can rattle off the basics: Duke’s leading scorer, Kentucky’s point guard or Louisville’s head coach.

For those that have Friday’s first day of practice circled on our calendar, we like to dig a little deeper.

Perennial powerhouses North Carolina, UCLA and Florida are discussed ad nauseam in the media. We’re aware of the key games on their schedule, we can name their starting lineups and we know their seniors like family because they’re constantly in the spotlight. Rather than tell you for the 300th time that Jared Sullinger is the favorite for Big Ten POY or Harrison Barnes is a potential All-American, let’s emphasize ten teams and players who will no longer be anonymous once their full impact is felt this upcoming season (10 teams next week):

Basabe was a rare bright spot for Iowa as a freshman

Melsahn Basabe, Iowa- The fact Basabe plays in relative anonymity is a shame considering the freshman season he just completed. Not only did Basabe start all 31 games and average 11/7 on 57% FG, but his signature performance (22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) came against Jared Sullinger and then #2 Ohio State. He became the first Big Ten player in 15 years to post such a stat line. Basabe’s entire rookie year was sensational, finishing near the top of the conference leaderboard in everything from block percentage to offensive rebounding. How quickly Fran McCaffery can resuscitate a program stuck in neutral will determine if Basabe’s brilliance registers with casual fans.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State- Probably the most recognizable player on the list due to Kansas State’s success the last two seasons, McGruder is primed to take the torch from Jacob Pullen and become the Wildcats’ next star. McGruder’s signature performance as a sophomore came in K-State’s enormous road win at Texas in late February when the 6’5″ guard dropped 22 points and four threes on the seemingly indestructible Longhorns defense. McGruder is not only an efficient scorer from all areas on the floor (47% FG, 41% 3pt career) but he’s an outstanding rebounder and a chore for an opposing shooting guard due to his sturdy frame and steady perimeter defense.

Erick Green, Virginia Tech- Overshadowed by the brilliance of Malcolm Delaney and another narrowly missed NCAA bid was Green’s dramatic leap forward as a sophomore. The 6’4″ combo guard dramatically boosted his FG% to a respectable 41% and averaged a solid 11.6 PPG. Green’s impact goes much further than scoring; he ranked first among all ACC guards in turnover rate (11.1% of possessions used) and third in the conference in steal percentage. Green not only protects the basketball on his end, but creates numerous extra possessions for the Hokies on the other. I anticipate an all-ACC season approaching.

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World University Games Featuring Many Returning Stars Tips Off Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on August 11th, 2011

The second major international basketball event of the summer involving collegians is set to tip off on Saturday, and Team USA appears that it will take a heavily perimeter-oriented team into the World University Games in Shenzhen, China.  Of the twelve-man roster of mostly rising juniors and seniors, the Yanks appear to be at a serious size disadvantage with only Greg Mangano (Yale) standing at 6’10″ and the beefy but 6’8″-ish forwards Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame), Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota), JaMychal Green (Alabama) and Draymond Green (Michigan State) likely to be giving up several inches against many of their opponents.

As discussed when the tryout roster was released in June, the WUG hasn’t been kind to Team USA over the last decade of competition.  Only the 2005 team featuring Duke’s Shelden Williams brought home the gold medal, and even a 2009 team that had the pending NPOY Evan Turner on its squad could only merit a bronze.  Apologies to Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) and Abromaitis, but it’s unlikely there’s a 2011-12 NPOY hiding on this roster, which means that Matt Painter‘s team will need to take advantage of his cadre of three-point bombers that he has at his disposal.  Gibbs, Abromaitis, Marcus Denmon (Missouri), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Darius Miller (Kentucky), and Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara) all made better than 40% from distance last season.

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Morning Five: 08.05.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on August 5th, 2011

  1. DePaul was dealt a big blow yesterday when incoming freshman Shane Larkin announced that he would not be going to DePaul this fall due to an undisclosed medical condition. According to Shane’s father (baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin) Shane has a medical condition that requires him to be closer to his home (presumably for family support because we cannot think of a single medical treatment that you can get in Orlando that would be considered significantly better than what you can get in Chicago). We wish Shane a speedy recovery from whatever he is going through and hope to see him on the court someday soon.
  2. The brackets for the Maui Invitational were announced yesterday and unlike the other early season tournaments we mentioned in yesterday’s Morning 5 this one is stacked. In fact, outside of the few match-ups that we mentioned yesterday the opening round match-ups where Belmont faces Duke and then Memphis is much more intriguing that most of the match-ups we saw in the other early season tournaments including potential championship round match-ups. As for the actual games in Maui, let’s just say that it deserves its own post.
  3. West Virginia and Illinois will be staging one of the more unusual college basketball games that we can remember later this month when they play at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy  on August 17 as well as running youth camps for children of military members stationed there. Both teams were going to be in Italy on separate tours, but were not going to meet in accordance with NCAA rules, which prohibit teams from playing against each other during this period. Fortunately they were granted a waiver by the NCAA yesterday and will be allowed to play against each other and run camps for the military members and their families. [Ed. Note: When you count the decision to let Hayden Humes transfer without penalty that makes two reasonable decisions by the NCAA in two days, which is the most certain sign of the apocalypse that we can remember.]
  4. USA Basketball announced its roster for the World University Games National cutting its group of 14 finalists to a team of 12. Interestingly, the last two players cut–West Virginia’s Aaric Murray and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier–were relatively big names while at least two of the players that made the team–Yale‘s Greg Mangano and UC-Santa Barbara‘s Orlando Johnson–are less well-known to the casual college basketball fan. Having said that, we are excited to see what Mangano and Johnson can do playing with a group of players from much bigger programs on daily basis. Given the limitations (top college players wanting to stay home) it seems like Team USA picked a pretty solid group even if they do lack a little on the inside.
  5. Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was offered the position of head coach of the NBDL Texas Legends yesterday with a reported salary of $500,000. While that figure is a long way away from the close to $2 million per year that Pearl was getting at Tennessee it is a pretty competitive offer for a disgraced coach who would be coaching in a league that nobody ever watches. Of course, for Pearl this would merely be a stepping stone to a NBA job or possibly another college job down the road. We doubt that Pearl would get a college job that he would be interested in even after the imminent show-cause penalty expires, but the possibility of Pearl coaching a team run by Mark Cuban is something that we could definitely see happening.
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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part II

Posted by KDoyle on March 17th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.

Call it what you want with this seemingly erroneous preamble of the NCAA Tournament known as the “First Four,” but the opening game of this year’s edition of the Dance could not have been much more entertaining. We have already had a clutch shot in the final seconds and an overtime game under our belts. Many people will not even remember that UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock even partook in the Tournament, but for a few hours last evening the stage was all theirs. Even if it is merely a play-in game—errr, first round game—this is the NCAA Tournament and keen basketball observers were no doubt glued to their screens and smartphones last night tracking the game.

Just as a refresher in case you missed yesterday’s look into the Other 26 teams in the East and West Regions, I elected to break down the 16 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here.

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(8, Southwest) UNLV—After the conclusion of the 2010 Tournament, there is no doubt that a bitter taste was left in UNLV’s mouth. The Runnin’ Rebels lost to Northern Iowa in the final minute and then two nights later, in one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history, Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three from the wing to seal the victory over Kansas. UNLV had to painfully watch the remainder of the Tournament and endure the arduous offseason pondering the question: “Why couldn’t that have been us?” Now, UNLV is in a similar situation, as they are in the 8 vs. 9 game again. They are an experienced bunch with Tournament experience under their belts; if they are fortunate enough to get by Illinois, they will ironically play none other than Kansas.

(12, Southwest) Richmond—The Spiders were upset by St. Mary’s last year, and this year they are the ones who will have to be playing spoiler. Richmond has arguably the most dynamic player in the field with 6’10 senior forward Justin Harper. To make a comparison, Harper is the Atlantic 10’s version of Dirk Nowitzki. Although he spends most of his time inside the arc, his ability to step outside and hit a three poses endless match-up problems for opponents. Harper is complemented nicely by his running mate Kevin Anderson. Richmond matches up well against Vanderbilt, but containing John Jenkins—maybe the best shooter in the Tournament—will be a challenge. Expect a variety of match-up and 2-3 zones from Chris Mooney.

 

Harper is a Tough Matchup for Vandy

(3, Southeast) BYU—It is painfully obvious that the loss of Brandon Davies has detrimentally affected BYU’s play considerably; in the first game after his absence the Cougars were thrashed by New Mexico 82-64 on their home floor. While there is little doubt that Jimmer Fredette is the face of the program and their top player, the country is now officially seeing that there is much more going on in Provo, Utah, that can be attributed to BYU’s success  other than simply Fredette. While a deep run no doubt becomes more difficult without the services of Davies, the backcourt of Fredette and Jackson Emery has the ability to carry the Cougars to the second weekend.

(9, Southeast) Old Dominion—ODU presents all of the intangibles to be successful in the Tournament. They have an intelligent and proven coach in Blaine Taylor, a senior-laden team with NCAA experience, and the confidence that they belong here and can win—especially after knocking off Notre Dame as an 11 seed last year. It is more than merely intangibles for ODU though. The Monarchs are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the field, incredibly tough on the defensive end—according to Frank Hassell: “We go 50% man and 50% zone”—and run a deliberate offense that minimizes their opposition’s possessions. Blaine Taylor has created a formula for his team to have success in the NCAA Tournament.

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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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O26 Primers: Big West Tourney

Posted by KDoyle on March 10th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

We have finally reached the last Other 26 conference to begin their tournament. It has been an incredibly entertaining journey beginning with the Big South and the Horizon League getting started back on March 1st, and concluding with the Big West today. As fun as it has been to track each of the 25 tournaments—remember, there are not 26 of them due to the Ivy League—it will certainly be even more enjoyable to watch how each of the conference victors match up in the NCAA Tournament against the big boys.

Big West


The Favorite: After experiencing a rough stretch to end their non-conference schedule that saw the 49ers lose four straight games to the likes of Utah State, North Carolina, St. Mary’s, and Arizona State—their five point loss to UNC and eight point loss to SMC are noteworthy—Long Beach State sprinted through the Big West with a 14-2 record. Barring an upset, this is LBSU’s tournament to lose.

Dark HorseUC Santa Barbara is limping into the tournament having lost three of four, but this is a confident team with NCAA Tournament experience. The Gauchos defeated UNLV earlier this season and boast probably the best one-two punch in the league with Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally.

Who’s HotLong Beach State enters the tournament riding a nine game winning streak. Their margin of victory during this stretch is 13.1 points.

Player to Watch: Speaking of Johnson, he is arguably the most exciting player in the Big West and someone to keep a close eye on. He fills up the stat sheet as he is the only Big West player to average more than 20 points, while also corralling 6.6 rebounds and distributing a shade over three assists a game.

First-Round UpsetCal State Fullerton over Cal State Northridge. In a battle between both of the Cal State schools, I like Fullerton to get past Northridge. The Titans have had a disappointing season, but they won their last two games of the regular season—road games, mind you—by slim margins. A two point victory at Pacific and five point victory at UC Davis will give Fullerton some much needed confidence heading into their game with Northridge.

How’d They Fare? As a #15 seed, UC Santa Barbara was able to keep it competitive against Ohio State for much of the game, but never truly threatened as the Buckeyes cruised to a 68-51 victory.

Interesting Fact: The last time a team from the Big West advanced to the second weekend of the Tournament was back in 1992 when New Mexico State—now a member of the WAC—defeated DePaul and Louisiana-Lafayette as a #12 seed.

Up next for many of the best Other 26 teams? Congregating in a tension-filled and exhilarating room on Selection Sunday as their fate is determined and then for those fortunate enough, onto the NCAA Tournament. Let the Madness begin!

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

Ryan ZumMallen, the RTC correspondent for the Big West, is the Sports Editor for The Long Beach Post and a contributor to SLAM Magazine. You can also find him on Twitter (@RyanZumMallen).

A Look Back

Life in the Big West Conference has taken quite a turn, as one team ran away with the championship as is now looking like a significant player on the mid-major scene, while at least four other teams are doing some last-minute jockeying before the conference tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim next week.

Since we’re being honest, Long Beach State is the clear class of the conference. The 49ers are winners of eight straight going into their Wednesday night game at UC Riverside, including an 18-point home victory over Montana in their ESPN BracketBusters contest (one of only two Big West teams to win their BracketBusters game).

But the race ain’t over yet. Cal Poly uses an absolutely suffocating defense to win seven out of their last nine, good enough to secure a second-place seed in the Big West tourney. On their heels are Pacific and Cal State Northridge, who each have two games remaining to settle their current tie. The Tigers seem to have righted the ship after a rough start and Northridge’s potent offensive attack is apparently enough to overcome depth issues.

As well as the top four are playing, no one wants to face defending conference champion UC Santa Barbara in the first round. Terrible play of late has left them stalled in fifth place – the Gauchos really need a point guard and also can’t rebound. UCSB still has two of the best scorers in the Big West in terms of ability, but rumors of infighting seem to have created a rift between guards Orlando Johnson and James Nunally.

POY Watch: Hand the trophy to Casper Ware right now. The Long Beach State point guard stands just 5’10, but that hasn’t made it any easier for Big West opponents to squash him. Ware has scored 20 or more points in five of the last seven games and ranks second in the conference in scoring. His assists have fallen a bit since last season with the increased scoring load, but his importance to Long Beach State’s March Madness hopes cannot be overstated. Teammate Larry Anderson has also played a stellar year and ranks in the top ten in the conference in points, rebounds, assists and steals (which he leads). Sam Willard of Pacific has also played exceptionally this season and put the Tigers on his back when they stumbled mid-season.

Power Rankings

1. Long Beach State (19-10, 13-2): Just one regular season game left against Riverside, and the 49ers look more focused than ever with their sights set squarely on an NCAA Tourney berth. All five starters are averaging better than 10 PPG and any previous concerns about depth seem to be shored up. Below, the 49ers clinch the conference title in front of a raucous crowd:

2. Cal Poly (15-13, 10-5): The Mustangs, led by high scorers Shawn Lewis and David Hanson at each over 15 PPG, are the only Big West team holding opponents under .400 shooting from the field. That’s bad news for their final regular season opponent, UC Santa Barbara, and anyone they face in the conference tournament.

3. Pacific (16-12, 8-6): A double-overtime loss at UC Irvine last week was a major setback for the Tigers, but albatross-wingspanned forward Sam Willard is a force inside and you do… not… bet against head coach Bob Thomason.

4. Cal State Northridge (12-16, 8-6): If the Matadors had a third scoring option, they would be a lock for the three-seed here, but as it stands, they rely almost completely on power forward Lenny Daniel and combo guard Rashaun McLemore. It’s truly a testament to the bond of this team that they’ve made it here. Northridge is very inexperienced beyond their two best players and we’ll see how that plays out come Big West tourney time.

5. UC Santa Barbara (14-13, 7-8): It’s not been good news in Santa Barbara recently as the Gauchos have lost six of nine in the most crucial part of the season. It’s possible that they even drop another spot in the standings. Not what we expected this season from the defending champs.

6. UC Irvine (13-17, 6-9): Huge win over Pacific last week – the second of back-to-back 2OT victories – and forward Eric Wise (15.7 PPG and 8.2 RPG) is playing above himself recently, a perfect compliment for versatile forward Darren Moore (17.3 PPG and 6.0 RPG). All you need to do damage in the Big West is two effective weapons and the Anteaters are playing well at the right time.

7. UC Riverside (10-17, 5-9): Losers of five straight, the Highlanders need to beat either Long Beach or Irvine if they don’t want to face the 49ers in the first round of the conference tournament.

8. Cal State Fullerton (9-19, 5-9): After showing encouraging signs to start the season, Fullerton has fallen off and dropped five straight games. They can score, all right, but the Titans haven’t held an opponent under 70 points since January 22.

9. UC Davis (9-19, 3-11) -1 vs Northridge vs Fullerton: The Aggies have almost certainly worked themselves out of a spot in the conference tournament, so their remaining games against Northridge and Fullerton are worth watching only in the Matadors’ race for third place.

A Look Ahead

The Big West took a big leap this season by scheduling the conference tournament at the Honda Center, a much larger and more visible venue than their former digs at the Anaheim Convention Center. Will it pay off? Tough to say. There is a lot of buzz around Long Beach State right now and the campus’ close proximity to the arena would normally mean big profits, but ticket costs are so high the Big West may price out their own fans. Whatever happens, the higher-ups have to be rooting for the 49ers.

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The Other 26: Week 13

Posted by KDoyle on February 11th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

In last week’s article I touched on the notion of parity and how great it is within the world of sports. After analyzing many of the Other 26 conferences this week, I could not help but notice how in several of the conference there is not one team that has distinguished themselves from the pack yet, and we are already nearing mid-February. In some cases, there are not even two or three teams that are running away with the league. Competitiveness or mediocrity? Well, does it really matter? All this means is that conference tournament week becomes that much more unpredictable and exciting. Here are a few of the conferences that are still completely wide open:

  • Atlantic 10: Four teams—Xavier, Duquesne, Temple, and Richmond—have records between 8-2 and 8-1.
  • CAA: Four teams—George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, and Hofstra—have records between 12-2 and 10-4.
  • The A10 and CAA are both very similar as each have four teams in legitimate contention, and both appear to be two-bid leagues at the moment.
  • Conference USA: Six teams—UTEP, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa—have records between 6-2 and 7-3.
  • Horizon League: Five teams—Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Wright State, Butler, and Wisconsin Milwaukee—have records between 10-3 and 9-5.
  • MAC: Eight teams—Kent State, Buffalo, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Akron, Ohio, Ball State, and Western Michigan—have records between 7-2 and 5-4.
  • Southern Conference: Four teams—Charleston, Furman, Wofford, and Chattanooga—have records between 11-2 and 10-3.
  • Southland Conference: Nine teams—Northwestern State, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, Texas State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, UTSA, and Texas Arlington—have records between 7-3 and 5-4.

Very elaborate, I know. But, it is pretty remarkable the balance in the leagues. Of these seven conferences, there are a total of 40 teams who can still say they are capable and have a legit shot at winning their conference. What does this all mean? A great week of basketball during the conference tournaments, followed by more weeks of deliciousness during the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy.

The Other 26 Rankings

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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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ATB: UCSB Continues Surprising Upset Week

Posted by rtmsf on December 16th, 2010

The LedeUpset Week and We Never Saw It Coming? A quiet week has turned into a not-so-quiet one as now two nights in a row at least one ranked team has dropped a home game to a visiting mid-major.  Tonight’s victim was the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who ran into a team in UC Santa Barbara that acts as a sort-of nemesis to the desert school.  The two teams don’t play on a regular basis, but they have played a few times in the past dozen or so years since the Rebs left the Big West, and UCSB has won them all.  It’s fairly amazing what UCSB was able to do against one of the better offensive teams in the nation, but the Gauchos entered the Thomas & Mack Center tonight and shut down Lon Kruger’s team.  UNLV was only able to hit 29% of its shots and 6-29 from deep, startling figures for a team that came into the game as the fifth-best effective field goal shooting team in America.  UCSB, with James Nunnally (23/7) and Orlando Johnson (12/15), is projected to win the Big West in March, but the Gauchos hadn’t put it together yet this year, already losing games to North Dakota State, Portland and Oregon.  Perhaps this win is their coming-out, and they’ll have another chance soon to prove their mettle at SDSU over the weekend.  Over the last two evenings, we’ve now witnessed Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara all enter ranked teams’ buildings and come out with victories — each name is one you should keep an eye on heading into March because each will be very dangerous given the right matchups.

UNLV is Hanging Their Heads (LV Sun/S. Morris)

Your Watercooler MomentJon Diebler Finds the Zone, Enjoys His Time There.  Ohio State’s Jon Diebler is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation; the big Buckeye guard hit 212 treys at a 42% clip in the last two seasons, so you knew he had the stroke.  Tonight his performance from beyond the arc can only be described as sublime.  After missing his first two shots, Diebler proceeded to drain his next nine bombs from various places all over the court, matching a Buckeye record set by Jay Burson.  He then missed his final three, logging a 9-14 shooting night from deep and upping his percentage on the year to 49.2%.  OSU, of course, is on everyone’s short list of teams challenging Duke for the role of championship contender, and a big reason for that is the consistent play of Diebler.  He doesn’t take bad shots, and even though a ridiculous 83% of his attempts are behind the arc, when you have offensive weapons like Jared Sullinger inside and William Buford on the wing, his role as the Lee Humphrey bomber is exactly what Thad Matta needs.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Minny’s Trevor Mbakwe.  It took forever-and-a-day to get him into a Gopher uniform, but he’s been well worth the wait.  Tonight he put up his seventh dub-dub of the season (13/13/2 blks) in only eleven games, and he’s proven an absolute force inside with his strong hands and girth.  On the year, he’s pulling 14/11 on 62% shooting, and in just about any other conference than the Big Ten, that’d be good enough for first-team all-conference consideration.  Mbakwe is definitely a major reason that the Gophers are currently 10-1 and looking like a team ready to make some noise in the Big Ten race.
  • Central Florida’s 9-0 Start.  UCF crushed Louisiana-Lafayette tonight to keep their undefeated record intact.  The laudable part of the win tonight, though, was that the Knights were able to win by 21 points without a good game from their rising star Marcus Jordan.  The Son of GOAT shot 2-9 from the field in a 7-point, 4-turnover performance, but his slack was picked up by sophomore forward Keith Clanton’s 28/8/3 blks, a player who may not have the name recognition or pedigree but who actually is having a better season (17/9 on 59% shooting).  The two make a formidable duo that the rest of Conference USA does not look forward to facing this season.
  • Welcome Back, J’Mison Morgan.  The last time we saw the enigmatic Morgan, the 6’11 redshirt junior was on his way out of Westwood to places unknown after leaving UCLA.  He’s been coming off the bench for Scott Drew’s team this year, but tonight against Bethune-Cookman he showed some of the reasons why he was such a highly rated recruit a few years ago.  In only fifteen minutes of action, he had 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks against their undersized opponent — his best game of the season so far.  With the size and length that Baylor has at its disposal this year inside (6’11 Perry Jones, 6’10 Anthony Jones and Morgan), Morgan doesn’t figure to play starter’s minutes, but he can certainly provide talented depth off the bench beyond what most teams in the country can produce.

… and Misses.

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