Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2010

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

Top Story

Santa Barbara knocks off red hot CS Fullerton; takes conference lead

UC Santa Barbara won their fourth straight game Wednesday night when they defeated Fullerton 73-65.  With the win the Gauchos (10-3, 15-8) maintain sole possession of first place in the Big West Conference going into the final two weeks of play. Santa Barbara moved into first place with their two-point win last Saturday against Long Beach State. Against the Titans, Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally each had 18 points, leading all scorers. Going into the game, the Titans had arguably been the conference’s hottest team, winning five of their last six and ascending into the third spot in the conference. The win gives the Gauchos their fourth straight win heading into a big road matchup today against Fresno State.

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Pacific regains stride after losing conference lead, plays outstanding defense

Pacific beat both Long Beach State and Cal State Bakersfield this past week, surrendering a total of 96 points combined to both opponents. The Tigers (9-3, 17-8) remain only a half-game back of conference leader Santa Barbara. The Tigers lost their conference command when UC Davis upset them 62-59 on February 10. Julian Welch led the Aggies with 19 points and helped his team end a 49-game losing streak to Pacific that dated back from the 1940-41 season. The Tigers redeemed themselves by blowing out the Roadrunners on the 13th and silencing Long Beach State this past Wednesday. The 49ers (6-7, 12-14) came within two points of beating Santa Barbara on the road the previous weekend, but failed to compete at all with the Tigers, who shot 53 percent from the field in the game. Sophomore T.J Robinson, the 49ers’ leading scorer and rebounder, found himself in early foul trouble and played only 19 minutes. He finished with 11 points and a season low two rebounds, and as a result the 49ers were outrebounded 35 to 28 on Wednesday.

Anderson named player of the week; Fullerton outlasts Northridge in 3OT

Senior Gerald Anderson of CS Fullerton was named Big West Conference Player of the Week this week after he led the Titans to two road wins last week. After beating lowly UC Irvine 71-62 on February 10, the Titans took part in an epic contest against CS Northridge, which resulted in a 113-112 win in triple overtime. With the Titans down 112-110 late in the third overtime, Anderson intentionally missed his second free throw attempt in order for his teammates to grab a possible offensive rebound and score quickly to tie the game and force it into a fourth overtime. Eric Williams grabbed Anderson’s intentional miss and hit a bank shot while being fouled. Williams hit his free throw seconds later to propel the Titans to victory. All of this couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a magical performance from Anderson. After regulation, the forward had just seven points, but ended up finishing with a career-high 25 points when the game had concluded. In the third overtime with all five of the Titans leading scorers fouled out, Anderson scored 11 points, which helped the Titans squeeze out the thrilling win. The Titans and the Matadors combined for 225 points, 75 fouls, and 110 free throw attempts in a game that was definitely one of the most entertaining of the year. Anderson finished with seven rebounds, two blocks, and two steals against the Matadors, in addition to scoring 19 points and grabbing career-high 10 rebounds in the previous win over UC Irvine.

Cal Poly also has overtime heroics

With a slew of close games last Saturday, including Fullerton’s triple overtime win and UC Irvine’s two point win, Cal Poly’s double overtime victory over UC Riverside almost went under the radar. Sophomore David Hanson scored a career-high 26 points in the contest, but it was two clutch free throws from freshman Kyle Odister that made the difference. With the win the Mustangs snapped a five-game losing streak and propelled themselves into a tie amongst several teams in the Big West Conference standings. UC Riverside’s Kyle Austin also scored a career-high of 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the loss.

Conference standings to remain the same until next week

With every team in the conference playing a non-conference game over the weekend the Big West Conference standings will not change until conference play resumes next Wednesday when Santa Barbara takes on Northridge. Over the course of the weekend, all nine Big West teams take on non-conference tests either at home or on the road. Conference leader Santa Barbara travels to take on Fresno State, while Pacific hosts New Mexico State. Other games include Riverside vs. Youngstown State, Fullerton vs. SIU-Edwardsville, UC Davis vs. Boise State, Long Beach State vs. Idaho, UC Irvine vs. Marist, and Northridge vs. Drake. On Sunday, Cal Poly takes on Hawaii.

Conference Standings

Top Tier: Santa Barbara (10-3), (15-8); Pacific (9-3), (17-8)

Like it has been for a majority of the season the race for conference top spot will come down to the Gauchos and the Tigers in the final two weeks of the season. The game that will perhaps make the difference is Pacific’s March 4th showdown against Fullerton, the team currently in third place. As for the Gauchos, after their non-conference duel with Fresno State, their schedule presents three of the Big West’s bottom teams—Northridge, Cal Poly, and UC Irvine. Something to note is that the Tigers have four conference games left on the schedule, while the Gauchos have only three. However, if the two teams finished with the same conference records then Santa Barbara will win the Big West Tournament’s top spot, because they have won both games against Pacific so far this season. The difference between both teams is easy to decipher, the Tigers have a balanced team with seven players averaging more than five points a game. On the other hand, the Gauchos pose the conference’s greatest tandem with Johnson and Nunnally, who at this point are both contenders for conference player of the year.

Middle of the Pack: CS Fullerton (7-6), (13-12); UC Davis (6-6), (10-15); Long Beach State (6-7), (12-14); Cal Poly (6-7), (9-16); CS Northridge (5-7), (10-16)

Despite their February success, the Titans remain in the middle of the pack and three games removed from Santa Barbara in the standings. The Titans are currently 0-3 against the conference heavyweights, but they one last chance to move up in the conference standings when they host Pacific on March 4th. Fullerton’s offense is a dangerous one; it contains five players who average more than 10 points a game. UC Davis remains the only other interesting team in this group. The Aggies do not have to face either Pacific or Santa Barbara in the final two weeks and are coming off an upset of the Tigers earlier this month. Although they have a terrible overall record, the Aggies are in a good position to claim one of the tops four seeds come conference tournament time. As for Long Beach State and Cal Poly, they are fighting an uphill battle that doesn’t look promising. Each team plays either Pacific or Santa Barbara in the following weeks in addition to taking on either Fullerton or UC Davis as well. As for CS Northridge, their season long quest to get out of the Big West cellar has been accomplished. Unfortunately for the Matadors, with upcoming games against both the Tigers and the Gauchos, they are bound to stay close to the bottom.

Bottom dwellers: UC Riverside (4-9), (10-15); UC Irvine (4-9), (11-16)

Despite having the conference’s best scorer and potential player of the year in Kyle Austin, Riverside is a lost cause. The Highlanders have three road games to finish out their regular season schedule, two of which are against the conference powerhouse. The only intriguing storyline here is who finishes in dead last. UC Irvine’s home game against Northridge on February 27 could prove to be the difference maker. As long as the Anteaters can get the combination of Michael Hunter and Eric Wise going then they should be able to avoid finishing dead last.

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2010

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

Top Story

Santa Barbara shuts down Pacific

UC Santa Barbara traveled to play conference leader Pacific on Thursday night and upset the Tigers 61-48 on their court.  The Gauchos played outstanding defense not allowing any of the Tigers starting five to score more than 10 points in the game.  Sophomore guard Orlando Johnson had a career best 28 points for the Gauchos and led all scorers.  Johnson, the conference’s leading scorer (17.8 points per game), also had six rebounds in the victory.  Fellow sophomore James Nunnally added 19 points and six rebounds.  With the win the Gauchos move to within a half-game of Pacific for the conference lead.  Eight minutes into the game the Tigers trailed 14-2 and failed to recover from that.  They couldn’t come back mainly because of horrendous shooting. The Tigers shot 29.4 percent from the field and only connected on six of their 27 attempted three point shots.  Freshman guard Allen Huddleston led the Tigers off the bench, scoring ten points.  Santa Barbara had beaten Pacific 68-67 earlier this year on January 10 and has now swept the season series.

Other News

Nunnally on fire for Santa Barbara

James Nunnally’s breakthrough in the last four weeks has been a key factor in the Gauchos’ rise in conference standings.  The sophomore forward has the perfect combination of skills that has allowed him to peak.  He can drive to the basket and make a play or he can shoot the three-pointer. On defense he has proven solid in the past few weeks, as the Gauchos have won five of their last six games.  In those six games, Nunnally has scored in double figures every game and has scored more than 20 points five times.  Big performances against Cal Poly, Pacific, and UC Davis in the past two weeks have helped the Gauchos pick up necessary conference wins.  The small forward’s presence is also freeing up space for his teammate Orlando Johnson, who has scored in double figures every game this season and leads the team in rebounding.  With the Johnson and Nunnally combination it seems plausible that UCSB can overtake Pacific in the weeks to come and snag the top seed in next month’s conference tournament.  While Johnson may be pulling away with conference player of the year award, it has been Nunnally’s emergence that has propelled the Gauchos in conference play.

Austin has a career-high night

UC Riverside’s Kyle Austin set a career-high when he scored 35 points last Saturday night in a 76-59 road win over Cal State Fullerton. The mark is second all-time for the Highlanders in their Division I era and is five points short of Rickey Porter’s record set on January 7, 2006.  Austin’s performance helped UC Riverside snap a three-game losing streak.  After a road win over UC Irvine on the January 23, the Highlanders dropped all three games during a three game home stretch.  Austin, who has scored in double figures every conference game this season besides one, was surprisingly cool at home only scoring a total of 25 points in losses to Pacific and CS Northridge.  Without Austin’s scoring, the Highlanders dropped both games and failed to score over 60 points.  In Saturday’s win Austin could not be stopped by the Titan defense. In the first half he shot 7-10 from the field and nailed both three-pointers he attempted.  He finished with 21 first half points, which was one shy of his season record of 22 points in the second half against San Diego on December 4, 2009.

Phelps named player of the week

Sophomore forward Eugene Phelps became the fifth player from Long Beach State to be named Big West Men’s Basketball Player of the Week.  Phelps received the award on February 1 because he led the 49ers to two conference wins the previous week.  Entering the week Phelps had been averaging 8.2 points per game, but he stepped his game up by scoring a career-high 18 points in a 69-68 road victory over Cal State Northridge.  The following game he set a new career high, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a win over UC Davis.  By earning the honor, Phelps helped the 49ers become the first team in league history to have five different players earn Player of the Week honors in a season.  Phelps followed his career best week by returning to earth, scoring ten points in Thursdays overtime loss to Fullerton and finishing with just seven in Saturday’s victory over Northridge.

Two Big West teams will play in BracketBuster games

When Pacific hosts New Mexico State in two weeks (2/20), the Tigers will be representing the Big West in one of eleven of ESPNU’s televised BracketBuster games being held throughout the weekend.  This marks the second time that the two schools play each other in a BracketBusters matchup. They played each other on February 18, 2006, as well.   Although it will not be televised, UC Santa Barbara will also be playing in an out-of-conference game that weekend when they travel to play Fresno St.  The Gauchos are 5-6 out of conference and are below .500 on the road, but they will be playing a 12-12 Bulldogs team that has lost five of its last seven games.

Conference Breakdown

Top Tier: Pacific (8-2), (15-7), Santa Barbara (8-3), (13-8)

The conference leader, Pacific, has not lost to another conference opponent other than UC Santa Barbara yet this season.  Offensively the Tigers have been struggling in the past two weeks. The shooting behind the arc has increased in attempts, but hasn’t produced nearly enough baskets for an offense that relies on it to pull ahead in games.  Pacific is fifth in the conference behind the arc, shooting 34.3 percent but in the past two games against Santa Barbara and Cal Poly the Tigers have shot 27.1 percent. That number is staggering considering that Pacific shot 10-20 from three-point range in a January 21 victory over Cal State Fullerton.  In the past four games there has been a lack of consistency from the starting line up. Joe Ford, Terrell Smith and Michael Nunnally each scored in double-figures in a win over UC Irvine on January 28. Since that game the trio has struggled to score, which has meant Sam Willard and Demetrece Young have had to step up to carry the load.  Willard currently leads the team and rebounding, however the junior forward missed Saturday night’s game against the Mustangs  The Gauchos remain a half game back of Pacific for the conference lead, but must take care of the two teams that sit behind them in the conference standings if they want to catch the Tigers and claim the top spot.  Next Saturday the Gauchos play host to Long Beach State, who has a 5-5 conference record, and then they travel the following Thursday (2/17) to take on Fullerton, also a 5-5 conference team.  The Gauchos are clearly the team to beat in the conference, winning five of their last six games.  Right now they are doing the exact opposite of Pacific—they are effectively shooting the ball from 3-point range and rank first in the conference shooting 37.3 percent from behind the arc  In Saturday’s win over UC Davis, the Gauchos hit their first seven 3-point baskets and in their upset win against Pacific on Thursday they shot 46 percent from 3-point range.  Johnson and Nunnally are giving this team plenty of offensive power and have seemed to mature rapidly as the season has progressed.  With two consistent scorers, good shooting, and a defense that has begun to make plays in recent weeks, the Gauchos have solidified their spot among the top teams in the Big West this season.

Middle of the Pack: Cal State Fullerton (5-5), (11-11), Long Beach State (5-5), (11-12), UC Davis (5-5), (9-13), and Cal Poly (5-5), (9-13)

None of the middle teams seem to have anything in common besides their 5-5 conference record.  They all seem to be going in opposite directions. Long Beach State is winner of three of their last four and has become the second best offensive team in the conference.  Upcoming games against conference heavyweights—Santa Barbara (2/13) and Pacific (2/17)—put the 49ers in great position to thrust themselves into the top tier of the conference before the postseason begins.  It helps to have six players who average over nine points a game, including sophomore forward and player of the year candidate T.J Robinson.  Robinson averages a double double with 15.3 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. He had a streak of three consecutive double-doubles last week, but had his streak snapped on Saturday in a win over Northridge.  While the 49ers appear to be heading in the right direction, Cal Poly seems to be heading the other way.  The Mustangs have lost their last four games, including an ugly nonconference to Cal State Bakersfield on January 30. The win was the first road win of the year for Bakersfield and their fourth win on the season.  To revive, the Mustangs must beat the 49ers this upcoming Thursday night. Then they travel to play bottom feeders Riverside and Northridge.  Fullerton has the league’s highest scoring offense, which has positioned them three games back of the Tigers for first place in the division.  Starters Aaron Thompson, Jer’Vaughn Johnson, Jacques Streeter, and Devon Peltier have formed a nice nucleus for the Titans, who until Saturday’s loss to Riverside had no problem scoring more than 70 points a game.  All four players average more than ten points per game and must find help from role players such as center Bryce Webster and forwards Gerald Anderson and Orane Chin.  The Titans have played in three overtime games in their last six games and have come away winners twice, the team needs to continue to rally late in halves in order to continue to have a chance this season.  Of all the middle of the pack teams, UC Davis seems to be the most stagnant. The Aggies seemed destined to stay in the middle of the pack while other teams (Fullerton and Long Beach State) rose past them and others (Cal Poly) dropped.  The Aggies have a chance to make a statement when they host Pacific on Wednesday night.  However no matter what the outcome of the game the Aggies’ postseason future seems murky, as the team has struggled to find consistency. They are 3-3 in their last six games and haven’t had a winning streak since the first week of January.

Bottom Tier: Cal State Northridge (4-6), (9-14), UC Irvine (3-7), (10-14), and UC Riverside (3-8), (9-14)

UC Irvine didn’t help themselves by dropping one of two back-to-back games against non-conference foe Cal State Bakersfield.  The Anteaters have struggled in conference all season and have lost six of their last seven conference games.  Senior guard Michael Hunter and sophomore forward Eric Wise have made up a nice combo for the Anteaters, a lone bright spot in a season that hasn’t seen many.  As for Northridge and Riverside, the two teams continue to turn the ball over too much.  The Matadors have a horrendous defense that doesn’t complement a shaky offense well. They surrender 74.5 points per game, but will have a chance to gain a few wins in the upcoming weeks as they play feeble nonconference opponents in Bakersfield and Drake. Also a Wednesday night game next week against a struggling Cal Poly team could have the Matadors marching into the middle of the conference.  Riverside has pulled off some upsets so far this season, beating Long Beach State and Fullerton, but the facts remain that Riverside is abysmal.  Kyle Austin seems to be the only bright point for the Highlanders, as the junior cannot be stopped by opposing defenses.  Unfortunately for the Highlanders, the rest of the offense is inept, averaging just above 62 points per game.

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ATB: Gator Chomp & Upset Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on November 28th, 2009

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Gators Chomp Spartans. Florida 77, #2 Michigan State 74.  We’re still trying to figure out why this was a semifinal game at the Legends Classic instead of the title tilt tomorrow night, but we’re sure there was a method to the madness somewhere in that decision.  So given that the game was only available on something called HDNet, we’re trying to figure out how this happened.  First thought — had to be hot shooting by the Gators, right?  Errr, nope.  Florida shot 41% from the field compared to MSU’s 53% for the game.  Ok, a bunch of threes then?  Nope again.  UF hit more than the Spartans, but a margin of five to two from deep isn’t exactly dominant.  Second chance points?  Wrong again.  MSU dominated the boards to the tune of +15 overall and +5 on the offensive end of the court.  No, the only two areas of the game where Florida outperformed the second-ranked Spartans were on turnovers (forcing 22 vs. their own 12) and getting to the foul line (25 attempts vs. MSU’s 14).  Well, that, and Erving Walker’s three (his only one on a 12/7/3 stls night) from NBA range to put the Gators up 72-71, providing just enough cushion down the stretch with some additional FTs to hold off the Spartans’ last-ditch efforts by Durrell Summers to tie the game and send it into OT.   We’re not about to say that the Gators are anywhere near back to where they are nationally relevant again, but this is their biggest win since 2007, and we will give some props to John Stevens for having ranked Florida in the three RTC Top 25 polls so far this season — maybe he knows something that the rest of us don’t?  Florida will advance to play Rutgers in the championship game of the Legends Classic tomorrow night, while Michigan State gets UMass in the consolation game.

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WCC Continues to Impress.  The WCC continues to flex its mid-major deltoids this season.  With wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oklahoma and now Houston, the top half of this league is not messing around.  And why should it – there’s some good basketball being played in this league, and if the bottom-feeders like LMU and USF can manage just halfway-decent records in the OOC, the league could be looking at three solid NCAA bids again this year (as in 2008).

  • Portland 61, #16 Minnesota 56.  If you haven’t caught the Portland Pilots on tv yet this season, make a point of watching these guys on Sunday night in the 76 Classic title game against West Virginia — they’re really entertaining in a plucky Gonzaga-ten-years-ago sort of way.  Their mixed defenses left the Minnesota big players who had such nice games last night — Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson, III — confused and relatively unproductive tonight.  TJ Campbell was superb for Portland, carving out 23/5 to supplement the work that Nik Raivio (9/11) and Robin Smeulders (13/6) were putting in.  Minnesota shot only 33% from the field and a terrible 16% from deep, and got killed on the boards, but they managed to turn UP over just enough to stay in the game throughout.
  • San Diego 72, Houston 65. USD moves on to the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout, where they will face Washington State, arguably the weakest opponent they will have faced while in the frozen northern environs of Palin-land this weekend.  Clinton Houston (irony?) led San Diego with 21 pts, while Brandon Johnson stepped up to drop 13 of his 15 in the second half to ensure the win.

Other Upsets Tonight.  We were all set to destroy the SEC for another terrible night before we saw the Florida-MSU score, which saves considerable face for the league.  But we’re definitely watching you, SEC.  The Big Ten didn’t have a great night either, but at least they lost at neutral sites to teams that are better than their ranking.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2009

impactplayers

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

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

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, southern CA)

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  • Rihards Kuksiks – F, Jr – Arizona State. Advice to Pac-10 coaches writing up their scouting reports for when they go up against Arizona State this season: when Rihards Kuksiks enters the building, get a man on him. Don’t bother waiting until the game actually starts. You don’t want him getting comfortable, because he’s the kind of shooter who can change a game just that quickly. The guy can touch the ball a few times and the next thing you know you’re down nine before the first TV timeout. Or you get a little comfortable with your late-game lead and after Kuksiks gets a couple of touches the lead is gone and you’re wondering how time can tick so slowly. You want numbers? Fine. Kuksiks is third in terms of returning individual leaders in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3%) in the country among players who hit at least two threes a game and finished 8th in that category last year. A recent article on FoxSports.com by Jeff Goodman reveals some other incredible stats: in games decided by 2 points or less, Kuksiks shot 47% from behind the 3-point line; against ranked opponents he shot 46% from beyond the arc, and in the loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament’s second round last year, he put up his career high in points with 20, with 18 of those coming from long range. In other words, the man steps up during big games. If the numbers don’t interest you, then consider the fact that many of these threes are not from a hair behind the line. They are often from distance. And they are often clutch (ask Arizona about a couple of late ones he nailed in that February game last year). Most importantly, watch the form. It should be an instructional video. He gets good height on his jumper but doesn’t overdo it, and you can see how he gets his legs into the shot. He releases the ball out in front just a little bit, but then the follow-through is a perfect example of that “reach into the cookie jar” that basketball coaches start teaching kids from the moment they can lift a basketball. By the way, he’s 6’6 and more than happy to mix it up in the paint, if needed. My favorite bit about Kuksiks comes from an interview he did for a site called EuropeanProspects.com in which he was asked what kind of player he was. The first words out of his mouth? “I am a sharpshooter.”  This is confidence, not cockiness, from the big man from Riga, Latvia. But I think it’s just fine if there actually is a little cockiness there. Long-range shooters are like neurosurgeons. They’re often asked to do the most difficult things in their field…and if I get to the point where I need to depend on one, I want them a little bit cocky.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #16 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2009

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

Predicted Order of Finish:

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

All-Conference Team:

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

6th Man. Joe Ford (G), Pacific

Impact Newcomer. Michael Wilder (G), UCI

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

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

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Checking in on the… Big West

Posted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2009

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

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

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

1. It’s Been A Great Race

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

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

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