Big West Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 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.

 

League Wrap-Up

By and large, the Big West wound up largely like the preseason prognosticators predicted. Long Beach State dominated with their senior-laden team, winning 15 straight in conference play before Cal State Fullerton tripped them up. CSF was probably the biggest surprise and also most improved over the season, as coach Bob Burton pulled together his team of transfers and formed an offensive powerhouse. UCSB once again had a slightly disappointing conference season, while UC Irvine did better than predicted, tying for sixth when they were picked last overall. UC Riverside peaked early, upsetting a few teams early in the season, threatening to break into the top half of the conference. However, they faded down the stretch, and finished tied for sixth, about where they were picked. UC Davis, picked to finish seventh, had an abysmal season that was only slightly salvaged by a late season surge where they managed to upset both Pacific and CSF.

Ultimately, the top four and bottom five divide was very evident for the 2011-12 season. It will be one of the top four: Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, UCSB or Cal Poly, who will have a realistic chance at going dancing.

League Accolades

Co-Players Of The Year – Larry Anderson & Casper Ware: So technically there’s only supposed to be one POY, but this one was too hard to choose. Ware is still the go-to player on the best team in the conference, a guy that seemingly steps up in crunch time game after game. At the same time, his 16.9 PPG and 3.2 APG are both slight dips from last year’s numbers, when he also won POY. Picking up the slack was fellow 49er senior Anderson, who won defensive player of the year for good reason. When he was injured against Cal State Fullerton in the season finale, Titans guard DJ Seeley went off, carrying CSF to victory. Without either Anderson or Ware, I don’t think the 49ers go 15-1. Really, the same case could be made for TJ Robinson. It’s been a three-headed beast all year.

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Checking In On… The Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 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 State Draws Creighton At Home: The 49ers’ last chance to boost their nonconference slate and RPI through the ESPN BracketBuster couldn’t have turned out much better, as they drew a ranked Creighton team on national TV. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well for the Bluejays since the announcement as they have lost three straight including a blowout loss to Wichita State. Regardless, the away game in Omaha on ESPN2 will be a great opportunity for Dan Monson’s team to make one last statement on national TV before the end of the season. If Long Beach is to entertain any notion of an at-large bid, this game is a must-win.
  • Titans, Tigers Surge: With the Big West Tournament less than a month away, the standings are beginning to stabilize. Cal State Fullerton, aka Transfer U, has really gelled over the last month. They have won six of their last seven, thrusting themselves into talk of being the second-best team in the league, ahead of UC Santa Barbara. Likewise, Pacific has improved vastly under the legendary coaching of Bob Thomason, winning five of its last seven. The Tigers find themselves tied for fourth at 6-6 with Cal Poly, much better than their early season struggles would have predicted.
  • Davis Finally Gets First Win : Eighteen losses in a row was enough for  UC Davis, as the Aggies finally pulled out their first Division I win of the year on Feb. 9 against Cal State Northridge. With a 1-11 mark in conference play, the Aggies are only a game down from the 2-10 Matadors, but are automatically in the Big West Tournament due to Northridge being ineligible for post-season play. That virtually guaranteed first round matchup between UC Davis and Long Beach State should be a real nail-biter.

Casper Ware And The 49ers Face The Creighton Bluejays, Who Are Looking To Break A Three-Game Losing Streak.

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0) – It has been more smooth sailing in Long Beach over the past two weeks, with four more wins to keep the 49ers unbeaten in Big West play. Although all of their opponents have geared up for better than usual performances against Long Beach State, it seems like Casper Ware and crew have been able to turn it up a notch down the stretch, putting away games comfortably in the end. It was also a record-setting week for Ware and T.J. Robinson with Ware became the all-time career assists leader at Long Beach State and Robinson becoming the all-time career rebound leader in the Big West Conference. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: Bracketbuster Preview and Analysis

Posted by IRenko on January 31st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. You can normally find him kicking off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

In this special mid-week edition of The Other 26, we take a look at all of the premier (read: televised) Bracketbuster matchups that were announced on Monday and offer a guide to the uninitiated on what to watch for. The annual mid-major hoops feast typically offers a host of compelling contests, and this year is no different. In roughly descending order of interest/excitement:

Main Event — St. Mary’s at Murray State (2/18, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) — I was hoping we would get a double main event with St. Mary’s at Creighton and Wichita State at Murray State. Perhaps the Bracketbuster selection committee didn’t rate Wichita State that highly or was intent on giving the undefeated Racers a ranked opponent against whom they could prove their quality. So they sent top 20, 21-2 St. Mary’s to Murray, Kentucky, to set up the undisputed headliner of this year’s Bracketbuster event. Murray State will have a clear advantage from playing at home, but apart from that, this looks like a very close matchup. Offensively, both teams rely heavily on the two lines — the three-point line and the free throw line. Defensively, both teams are pretty good at not giving up many attempts from either of those lines, with the notable exception of Murray State’s tendency to foul too much. Both teams are also somewhat turnover prone, but only the Racers play the kind of defense that is likely to exploit such a weakness. Finally, the Gaels may look to get easy points off of the offensive glass, as defensive rebounding is a liability for Murray State. Which, if any, of these games within the game will determine the outcome? Only one way to find out:  tune in at 6 PM on February 18.

Can St. Mary's End Murray State's Undefeated Season?

Battle of the Supporting Casts — Long Beach State at Creighton (2/18, 10 PM, ESPN2) – Most eyeballs will be trained to watch Casper Ware and Doug McDermott, two of mid-major hoops’ most recognizable players. But I hope that fans will also tune in to get a glimpse of the extent to which these conference-leading teams depends on their supporting casts. LBSU has three other players who average in double figures — Larry Anderson (who also stuffs the stat sheet with 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 44% from three-point range), T.J. Robinson (who adds 10.2 rebounds a game), and James Ennis. Creighton, meanwhile, has discovered that they can be just as potent, maybe even moreso, when McDermott scores less than 20 a game. Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, Greg Echinique’s inside banging, and the marksmanship of Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat make the Bluejays a much more multi-dimensional team than they’re often portrayed to be. It’s worth noting, too, that each of these teams will be trying to bolster their at-large bona fides in the event that they don’t win their conference tournaments — an especially distinct possibility for Creighton, who will have to get through three games in the always tough MVC to cinch an auto bid.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 28th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The quality of games kicks into high gear this week with a pair of good ones to start it off.

Long Beach State at #9 Louisville – 7 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

  • Louisville’s depth has taken a big hit recently with Wayne Blackshear, Mike Marra, and Peyton Siva all dealing with injuries. Siva returned from a sprained ankle Friday against Ohio in a closer than expected Cardinals win but he remains in a shooting slump. He is just 5-24 (20.8%) in three games this season but is managing to dish out six assists per contest. The Cardinals are winning games defensively as they are ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency while only putting up 67 PPG on the other end of the floor. A Long Beach State team that plays quick without much defense could be the recipe Louisville needs to gain more confidence offensively. However, Louisville must avoid turnovers against the 49ers, a team that loves to get out in transition. The Cardinals are averaging 15 turnovers per game with Siva at a shaky 3.7 per game.

    Louisville Will Have Its Hands Full With Long Beach State

  • Long Beach State has lost twice on the road since winning at Pittsburgh, falling to San Diego State and Montana. The 49ers defense has not been up to par and that is hurting them significantly. They love to play at a fast pace but they are very average defensively as well as on the boards. Casper Ware going up against Siva should be a terrific match-up and he will need to carry the team all night as he did against Pittsburgh on November 16. Long Beach State is not going to get many opportunities to score against the strong Louisville defense so limiting turnovers, especially on the road, has to be its top priority. They average 15 a game but simply cannot afford that many in this game. To win, Long Beach State must play its best defensive game to date and get to the free throw line where they will have a significant edge over Louisville. Depth has to be a concern for Dan Monson, whose team only goes seven deep.
  • Larry Anderson and James Ennis have a height advantage at the two and three positions against Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, but they must stay in front of their men all game. Ennis is a good on-ball defender averaging 2.3 steals per game, but the Louisville guards may be able to exploit Long Beach State from the three-point arc. In the paint, T.J. Robinson is a terrific rebounder but he will be going up against the 6’10” Gorgui Dieng (3.4 blocks per game) and a Louisville team that rebounds well as a unit. To earn more possessions for his team, Robinson likely has to have a big game on the glass as well as offensively. That will be extremely difficult against a Cardinals front line that allows only 33.5% shooting inside the arc. Long Beach State does have a chance to win the game but there is one major difference between Pittsburgh and Louisville. It is defense and that is why we feel the Cardinals have the ultimate edge in this game tonight.
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Set Your TiVo: 11.16.11

Posted by bmulvihill on November 16th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After a twenty-four hour marathon of hoops yesterday, we settle things down a bit and get into the groove of regular season college basketball.  Let’s check out a few games for you to watch tonight.

Indiana @ Evansville – 8 PM EST on ESPN3 (***)

Cody Zeller Leads Indiana Against Evansville

  • Picking up right where it left off last year, Evansville continues to win games at the free throw line.  Junior guard Colt Ryan scored 14 of his game high 23 points from the line in the Purple Aces’ overtime win against Butler last Saturday.  Ryan was not the only scorer for Marty Simmons’ team, as four other players scored in double figures.  With 40% of the team’s points coming from the line, Evansville relies on free throws to fuel their offense like few other teams.  Since Evansville does not look like it will be a one-man show, Indiana will have to be cognizant of fouls across the board so as to not find itself in the double bonus early in each half.
  • At 6’11”, Indiana freshman Cody Zeller gives the Hoosiers an athletic big man to go along with guards Vardell Jones, III, and Victor Oladipo.  IU has a significant advantage down low since no Evansville player is taller than 6’8”.  Indiana’s two-point shooting has been on target for the first two games, hitting 64.3% of its shots from inside the arc. Look for Zeller and the Hoosier guards to score from the paint regularly against a soft Evansville interior defense.
  • This game, like most Evanville games, hinges on the Purple Aces’ ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line.  If they are not getting to the line they will assuredly lose.  They do not have the size to guard Zeller or create second-chance points for themselves on missed shots.  Simmons’ team faced similar circumstances against Butler, though, but pulled off the win thanks to a hefty 32 points from the line.  If Indiana can continue to defend the two well without fouling, they should have no problem leaving Evansville’s new building with a 3-0 record.

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RTC Conference Primers: #19 – Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 17th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2011

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

Tournament Preview

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

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

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

A Look Back

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

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

All-Conference Team:

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

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Ahead

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on 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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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part two)

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Two: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State – Miles starts his third year in Long Beach following a seven-year stretch at Boise State where he was the primary media relations contact for the basketball team.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.

Last time around, we heard about the challenges mid-major schools face in competing for recruits and the importance of player development at the mid-major level. This time, we’ll look at some of the more practical questions to be answered when recruiting, such as what types of players coaches are going to be looking for and where they are going to find them. If you’re in a talent-rich area, you may not ever need to go outside of your region to find players, but the bigger pool of talent from which you are able to draw, the more likely you are to be able to land talented players.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: We’re in a great location. We sit right in the middle between Philadelphia and New York City. We’re about 35 miles from Philadelphia and about 50 miles from New York City, which also puts us two hours from Baltimore, maybe three hours from Washington DC, within three hours of Virginia, we have a couple of kids from Delaware, so again we’re in a location that allows us to recruit regionally. I think most coaches will tell you that they want to take care of their back yard, but how big your back yard is changes for everybody. If you’re in the Midwest and there are not as many players within a two-hour radius of your school, then obviously you have to change your approach. But in our situation we are able to do the majority of our recruiting close to home.

Locating Talent is Extremely Important

Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin: As far as location, we try to bring in student-athletes within about a six hour radius from us, we’ve been more successful doing that, but saying that, we kind of go where we know people, where people can help us and we’ve been able to be successful because of our contacts.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: Coach (Dan) Monson’s goal is always to get the best player in Long Beach. That’s his number one goal. That’s how we got Larry Anderson. Casper Ware is a local kid, T.J. Robinson happened to come from Connecticut, but he came because we were recruiting Larry Anderson who was at a prep school and we saw T.J. But, with this team this year we had a lot of returners, so they were trying to find pieces that would fit with this team, with all these returners they had certain needs and they may have been a little more particular about who they wanted. Three years ago when Coach Monson and his staff came here, they needed players, and it didn’t matter what position. And I think this year maybe more they wanted to recruit to a position or to a skill set.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: We prefer to recruit locally, but really, it is all based on need. Certain classes are stronger than others: 2012 looks to be stronger than the 2011 class, as an example. And then there might be times when you have to recruit for need, like you need a point – it’s not just about recruiting a position, like you need a guard or forward – you might have more specific needs, like you need an athletic, guard-the-rim post-player, they may not need to be a great offensive post player. Or you might need a post player who can pick-and-pop and hit the three, but isn’t that great on the block. Or you might have a bunch of 6’4/6’5 athletes who are drivers/slashers, but you need to find a guy that can hit the three. If a player can do it all, they’re not going to come to our level. Sometimes we just need to find guys that can fit a need. In this case, we got some really good kids out of state and if we have a need and don’t think that need can be best filled out of the local area, we go to wherever it is we can get it.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: There are some years where we sign a number of guys from the area and other years where it’s a little bit different, but yeah, our base is the local area. Last year we brought in two kids from the DC area. Obviously we want to stay with that as much as possible, but there are times when there is just not enough volume in your area when you’ve got to get five or six kids in a year, which we’ve had to do. You know, we had to get 10 guys in two years and so sometimes when there’s not as much in the area and you’ve got to get quality, you’ve got to go to places out of the area, and I think that’s where TV has helped us as well.

Schools like Long Beach State and George Mason have easy access to major metropolitan areas. Obviously, not all schools enjoy such a location, and as a result cannot rely entirely on getting recruits from their local area.

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Big West Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

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

Regular Season Recap

A year after making the NCAA Tournament, Cal State Northridge is the final team to make the Big West Conference tournament. However, it hasn’t been a year of complete surprise, rather just a season of emergence.  Depending on who plays in Big West Tournament final game on Saturday afternoon, the Big West could have their conference champion as high as a No. 12 seed come the NCAA tournament. Both Santa Barbara and Pacific have had great seasons and they could be rewarded greatly by if the selection committee if they win the conference crown.

Overall the conference’s bottom four teams—Cal Poly, UC Irvine, CS Northridge and CS Riverside–have had ugly seasons with sub-.500 conference records. Despite this they have produced some of the conference’s best players. The Highlanders’ Kyle Austin would be conference player of the year, and still has a shot, if it weren’t for his team’s last place finish. His back-to-back 35+ point effort against Fullerton and Cal Poly is one of the bigger achievements of the year. Like Austin, senior forward Kenny Daniels has an argument for being player of the year despite the Matadors’ tough season. He scored in double figures in all of his last eight games and finished averaging 15.3 points a game.

Although neither are going to win conference player of the year, the Anteaters’ Eric Wise and Michael Hunter proved to be one of the conference’s more lethal tandems. Hunter, a senior, was a scoring threat for the Anteaters, but his biggest contributions were on the court leadership and defense. He finished the year with 1.4 steals per game. The middle teams—CS Fullerton, Long Beach State and UC Davis–all had back and forth seasons that included both winning streaks and losing streaks. Overall Fullerton had a pretty consistent season, finishing over .500 both at home and on the road. After a three-game losing streak in January, the Titans turned things around in February and almost earned a first round bye. The 49ers had the roughest schedule of any team in the Big West, playing five top 25 teams during the season. Despite their 15-15 overall record, they played through the tough schedule to earn a first round bye. The 49ers biggest conference win came on January 14 when they beat the No. 1 seeded Gauchos by 20 points. The Aggies also had success against the top of the conference, beating Pacific on February 10. Despite Dominic Calegari’s departure after this season, the Aggies return their two top guards in Payne and Harden, which will put them in a position to be conference favorite next season.

The real difference between the league’s elite teams, Santa Barbara and Pacific, and the rest of the conference, is depth.  Although the Gauchos have relied on only a few guys for scoring, the teams bench has given valuable minutes. In conference play they have at least four bench players averaging over ten minutes of action a night. As for the Tigers, they are a team that spreads the scoring effort around and does not rely on a single person to lead them each night. The similarities between Pacific and Santa Barbara are clear though, in that they are both teams that like to use their bench and use it effectively. That is why they are atop the conference going into the postseason.

Big West POY and COY Predictions

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