Summer School in the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 25th, 2010

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

Around The Big West:

  • Turner In At UC-Irvine: The college coaching carousel is not something that is unfamiliar when the offseason rolls around. The Big West Conference, like a majority of Division I men’s basketball conferences, endured a coaching change this past offseason when Russell Turner left his job as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors to take the job at UC Irvine in April. It will be Turner’s first tenure as a head coach at any level, though he has collegiate experience at Stanford and Wake Forest, where he worked with All-Americans Josh Childress and Tim Duncan, respectively. He replaces Pat Douglass after the Anteaters went 14-18 and finished near the bottom of the conference last season. Douglass had a 13-year tenure with UCI and left the school as the Anteaters’ all-time winningest coach with 197 victories.
  • LBSU’s Recruiting Class Gets Props: Scout, Inc.’s Michael LaPlante gave a B- grade to the Long Beach State 49ers’ recruiting class. The 49ers were the only team from the Big West on LaPlante’s list of 12 schools from non-power conferences, which included higher-profile mid-majors such as New Mexico and Dayton. The 49ers were able to get on the list due to the fact that they are bringing in six new faces to fuel what was already a sprouting program under head coach Dan Monson. The list of recruits is split in half between high school recruits and junior college transfers. Highly-touted shooting guard Jacob Thomas will pair with transfer guards Corey Jackson and Khalid Gerard to join what is already a young and athletic backcourt. The 49ers were also able to add Edis Dervisevic, who spent the past two seasons at Western Texas College. Monson chose the 6’8 forward for his shooting ability (48.3% from three-point range in the past two seasons) and his knack for passing the ball.  All six players seem to be ready to play now, but may have to sit behind a talented 49ers roster, which includes T.J Robinson and Casper Ware.
  • Byrd Returns to Pacific After Woliczko Resigns: While at Pacific as an assistant coach, Calvin Byrd played a key role in the school collecting many wins, and now the man that helped set a school record of 27 victories in 2004-05 will return to the same post to help guide a veteran Tiger club that has several seniors looking to break that very record.  In his five years away from Pacific, Byrd rendered his services to Loyola Marymount and the University of San Francisco. His hiring occurred almost two months after Tigers assistant Aaron Woliczko resigned from his job to take the head coaching position at Montana Tech.
  • Early Dap For Johnson: The awards keep piling for Orlando Johnson. After leading UC Santa Barbara to the 2010 NCAA tournament, the junior forward was honored as the Big West Player of the Year in addition to being the Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player. Johnson has garnered some preseason attention, and we’ll see if he earns it come springtime. According to Rivals.com, Johnson was selected as one of five players to make up the Mid-Major All-America Team for 2010-11.  The selection comes a year after the 6’5 Johnson scored 18 points per game, while snaring 5.4 rebounds per contest. Even more impressive was that Johnson became a leader on an extremely young Gauchos squad that started four sophomores in their 2009-10 campaign.

Orlando Johnson is Ready to Explode in 2010-11

Power Rankings

  1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos: Although trampled by Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gauchos seem poised to make another run at the conference’s regular season and postseason championships, which will mean another NCAA berth. They have a pretty complete starting lineup heading into the 2010-11 season. In terms of additions and subtractions, the Gauchos are a team that can’t be really evaluated only because this is a team that is mostly the same from last season. However, they did lose guard James Powell, who was their third-leading scorer in 2009-10. The team landed a transfer, New Mexico’s Nate Garth, who could help them in future seasons, but is ineligible in 2010-11. Also transferring is Colorado forward Keegan Hornbuckle, who will spend the upcoming year on the bench. Despite the new players, the Gauchos shouldn’t need to look forward with their aspirations. The duo of James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson is one of the best the conference has seen in the past decade as both players enter their junior seasons. The time to win games and build the program’s reputation is now, which means both Johnson and Nunnally, who averaged 18 and 14.7 points per game last season, respectively, have a rare responsibility this upcoming year — put Santa Barbara and the Big West Conference on the national map. It is possible for the Gauchos, as they have the experience to play deep into March and again represent the Big West in the NCAA Tournament. However, they will have to ward off Long Beach State and Pacific, who will look to throw off the defending champs.
    Projected 2010-2011 record: 23-8 (13-3).
  2. Long Beach State 49ers: The 49ers are in contention for a Big West crown this season. They bring back a pair of star forwards in Eugene Phelps and T.J Robinson, while only losing a few seniors, most notably Stephan Gilling, who averaged 9.4 points per game last season. Also returning are guards Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and Greg Plater, who make up what could be considered to be the best backcourt trio in the conference. Add in prized recruit Jacob Thomas, a lengthy shooter from Columbia Heights, Minnesota, who turned down Wisconsin and Minnesota to play for head coach Dan Monson, and the 49ers have at least six players who can average nine or more points again. The team will get tested early and often, as they have already scheduled themselves for two tournaments early in the year. Big matchups include games versus Clemson, Washington, Utah State, St. Mary’s and Arizona State, which make the 49ers’ nonconference schedule arguably the toughest in the Big West. However, they do have the talent to pull an upset over a power conference team like Washington on November 30, which would build momentum heading into a big matchup against St. Mary’s in the first round of the John R. Wooden Classic on December 18.
    Projected 2010-2011 record: 21-10 (12-4).
  3. Pacific Tigers: No team in the Big West can sleep on Pacific. They return five of their six top leading scorers from last season and have not only the depth but the size to out play any team in the league. Although they aren’t the best offensive team in the conference, the combination of Demetece Young, Terrell Smith, Pat Eveland and Sam Willard give the Tigers a threat that will be tough to defend. Willard is as good as any post player in the conference and the duo of Smith and Young will be tough for anyone to contain in the open court. The addition of freshman Khalil Kelley, a 6’8 forward from Rancho Cucamonga, California, gives the team even more versatility and some raw talent to work with. Some other key offseason addition include Andrew Brock, a point guard who transferred from Creighton after his freshman season, and shooting guard Spencer Llewellyn, who averaged 26.7 points per game last season playing in Australia. Giving the Tigers even more depth is sophomore guard Allen Huddleston, who averaged 5.5 points per game last season despite playing under 15 minutes per contest.
    Projected 2010-2011 record: 21-13 (10-6)
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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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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.

Other news

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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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2010

Current Standings (Conference/Overall/Win Streak)

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

Games of the Week

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

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

Conference Overview

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

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

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

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

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

Important Matchups

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

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2009

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Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Standings (through games of 12/8/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s 6-1
  2. Gonzaga 6-2
  3. Portland 5-3
  4. Santa Clara 4-4
  5. San Diego 4-5
  6. Pepperdine 3-5
  7. Loyola-Marymount 3-6
  8. USF 2-6

The Best

With approximately one-quarter of the 2009-10 season completed, does it make any sense to designate the league’s best team so far? If so, what criteria should be used? Saint Mary’s has the best winning percentage and leads the conference in several key statistical categories (scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounding margin, and blocked shots), but has compiled that record against a mixture of strong (Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Utah State) and weak teams (Cal Poly, New Mexico State, and San Jose State).

Gonzaga has two losses, but they came against powerhouse Michigan State on the road and up-and-coming Wake Forest at home. The Zags’ three wins at the Maui Invitational were over a resurgent Colorado, Big Ten stalwart Wisconsin and potential Big East contender Cincinnati. That performance, plus a come-from-behind 74-69 victory over Washington State at home on Dec. 2 was enough to vault the Zags to a high of No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today poll before they fell to No. 22 following the loss to Wake. Zag fans would argue strongly that their more difficult schedule in the early going gives them the nod over the Gaels, and the national media agrees by awarding Gonzaga a Top 25 ranking while casting only a few votes for Saint Mary’s.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2009

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Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest, Upper Midwest 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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Big West Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and SEC Conferences.

The Big West Tournament will kick off tonight at the Anaheim Convention Center, and anyone who claims they know who will be crowned on Saturday is either: (1) lying, or (2) not familiar with the way the season has gone thus far. The fact is that any Big West team is capable of beating any other team, and seeding means little in making your predictions.

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Top seed Cal State Northridge won the regular season title outright, but have faced injuries, legal issues and general inconsistencies that made the race a little closer than most expected when the Matadors were chosen as preseason favorites. Long Beach State, the #2 seed, started out on a blazing 5-0 conference start but has alternated between wins and losses for the remaining eleven games. Third-seeded Pacific hasn’t won a road game since January 31, and even lost to lowly Cal Poly early in the season.

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Checking in on the… Big West

Posted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2009

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

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

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

1. It’s Been A Great Race

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

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

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Checking in on the… Big West

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2009

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

It’s been a trippy, trippy ride through the Big West Conference thus far, with everything seeming to be so upside-down that I can’t help but wonder if I accidentally ate some of those mushrooms my mom warned me about.  Everything I once thought to be right in the world is now uncertain.  Nothing makes sense anymore, and we’re all just along for the ride.

If, back in September, you would have told me that Long Beach State would be undefeated in conference play while UC Santa Barbara boasted a .250% winning percentage, I would have told you to go back to Jupiter.  Because that’s the only place that a situation like that would have made sense.  And yet here we are in January, with a senior-laden, defensive Gaucho team standing at 1-3 while the 49ers ride four (count ‘em, four) freshmen to a 4-0 record (9-7 overall).

The prospect of having teams defy conventional wisdom within the conference is not so unusual.  Big West Conference standings are often in stark contrast to its preseason rankings because, frankly, even those who pay close attention to the conference have little idea of what any team is really capable of.  Rising teams sneak up on their opponents all the time because there’s just not a whole lot of information out there to base an accurate opinion.  If the Tar Heels started running the Triangle Offense tonight, every ACC assistant coach worth his salt would have five different ways to shut it down by dawn.  Information travels slowly in the Big West, and so it’s not unfeasible that a team can be selected to finish eighth in the Big West only to be undefeated through four conference games (including two on the road).

No one realized how much talent was lurking on the campus of Long Beach State, how much turmoil was about to explode in Northridge, or how an injury to a freshman could cripple Santa Barbara.  And that’s why the Big West Conference standings are currently all topsy-turvy, and also why I would not rank the teams in order of their current conference standing.

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Checking in on the… Big West

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2008

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

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

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

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