Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Big West Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-15
Site: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

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What to expect: The Big West pecking order finally sorted itself out in the final month of the season, as UC Irvine – league favorites entering 2013-14 – captured the title over UC Santa Barbara and grabbed the top seed in Anaheim. The Anteaters are a stingy defensive unit that holds opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in the country, and enters the tournament having won nine of its last 10 games. They will be the slight favorites this week. However, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and Hawaii were all competitive this season and each will be capable of making a championship run, or at the very least knocking off UCI. The champs will meet the fourth-seeded Warriors on Friday if both advance to the semifinals, which could mean drama: They split a pair of overtime thrillers in the regular season, including one that featured a half-court, haltime buzzer-beater and a crazy game-tying bank shot. Likewise, LBSU pushed Russell Turner’s club to the brink twice this year, losing two games by a combined five points. It’s the Gauchos, though – led by brawny center Alan Williams, who averages 21.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and two blocks per night – that will be the Anteaters’ strongest threat in the Honda Center. KenPom suggests they are almost identically-matched teams, and Williams shredded UCI for 26 points, 10 rebounds and three steals back in January. The next three days should be interesting.

Favorite: UC Irvine. The Anteaters will be slightly favored this week, if only because their quarterfinal opponent, UC Riverside, is easily the worst team in the tournament. Beyond that, it’s probably a toss-up between UCI and UCSB.

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O26 Superlatives, Part III: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt & WAC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2014

In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order: 

Big Sky

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

  • Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
  • Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
  • Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
  • Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.

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The Best in the West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West of the Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 16th, 2014

Believe it or not, we’re about halfway through the season right now. So, it is time to revisit our Best in the West rankings. We did this about a month back, but to remind you, here’s how we roll. We take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast and Big West and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and WAC) and give you the top 20 teams. But, rather than just ranking schools #1 though #20, we’re going to divide all these teams up into tiers of similar quality. Below, you’ll see our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses), with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on some of the teams in our list.

The Best of the BestIn a league of their own.

  • Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – Not only are the Wildcats head and shoulders above the rest of the teams out West, the argument can be made that they’re on a tier of their own nationally as well.
Arizona Has Established Themselves As A Team Head and Shoulders Above The Rest (Kevin Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona Has Established Themselves As A Team Head and Shoulders Above The Rest. (Kevin Sapio, USA Today)

Contenders to the Throne – And all Top 25 teams.

  • San Diego State (#2 overall, Mtn West #1) – Last time we did this, we had three teams in this tier, and the Aztecs were not among them. This time, the Aztecs are the only team aside from Arizona that should be considered a sure-fire Top 25 team.

Solid NCAA Tournament Team – Just outside the Top 25, but all with plenty of upside.

  • California (#3 overall, Pac-12 #2) – These teams are all bunched together by just about any metric. While I think you can make a case for any one of them for something like the #24 or #25 spot in your national Top 25, you can make an equally valid case that all of these teams deserve to be on the outside looking in. That being said, it is likely that if you make a national top 35, every one of these squads should probably be in there. We’ll take the Golden Bears by a hair over the rest of this group on the basis of their hot streak minus a couple of key players, but really, all these teams are very tight.

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O26 Mid-Season Awards: Gregg Marshall, Chaz Williams, Jon Severe and Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 9th, 2014

With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.

Honorable MentionsSteve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton

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The Best In The West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by AMurawa on December 16th, 2013

Roughly a quarter of the way through the year, we’re going to unveil something a little new here, something we’ll check back in on once a month or so. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and give you the top 20 teams. But, rather than just ranking schools 1 though 20, we’re going to divide all these teams up into tiers, in part because calling Arizona #1 and then naming another school #2 just seems wrong, because the Wildcats are just so far ahead of everyone else. Below, you’ll see our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses), with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on the teams in our list.

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

The Best of the BestIn a league of their own.

Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – The Wildcats are in a class by themselves out West. Even when putting together my national top 25, I wanted to put Arizona at #1, leave spots 2-5 empty, and then have a four-way tie at #6. What they’ve accomplished thus far is unassailable, especially considering how young this team is. Expect somebody (maybe multiple somebodies) in the Pac-12 to put up a serious challenge, but at this point in the season, Sean Miller’s squad is not only the best in the West, but they’re the best by a long shot.

Contenders to the Throne – And all top 25 teams.

Oregon (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – The Ducks are the team closest to joining the Wildcats up top, but while they’ve got an undefeated record and some quality scalps, they’re missing the quality of wins that the Wildcats have. But, as good as Dana Altman’s squad has been, they’re not even at full strength yet – Dominic Artis and Ben Carter are due back this week.

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week Four

Posted by Connor Pelton & Andrew Murawa on December 10th, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the fourth week of Pac-12 basketball.

Power Rankings (As voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler):

Arizona is once again the unanimous favorite, with Oregon the unanimous runner-up. From there, things get muddied, but we all agree that while there isn’t a lot of difference between Washington State and, say, USC, the Cougars have the basement sewn up tight.

booker dinwiddie

Askia Booker And Spencer Dinwiddie Led A Balanced Buffaloes Attack In Their Upset Of Kansas On Saturday.

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon
  3. Colorado
  4. UCLA
  5. Stanford
  6. Arizona State
  7. California
  8. Utah
  9. USC
  10. Oregon State
  11. Washington
  12. Washington State

Game of the Week: Kansas @ Colorado: Marshall Henderson and Mike Moser trading punches and going to overtime deep in the heart of SEC country might have taken this title any other week, but this spot belongs to the thrilling meeting between Kansas and Colorado in Boulder over the weekend. The Buffaloes came in as winners of their last eight, but they had been handled easily by their only other Big 12 opponent on their schedule, Baylor, on the first night of the season. In front of a raucous sold-out home crowd on Saturday, they were determined not to let it happen again. It appeared as if coach Tad Boyle and Colorado had the signature win locked up with 1:40 remaining, up 68-62, but a 10-4 Jayhawks’ run, made possible by some crucial missed free throws, tied the game with five seconds to go. That was just where the Buffs wanted their old Big 12 mates. Askia Booker received an inbounds pass and took two dribbles and a euro-step before launching a three-pointer that sent the C-Unit into a frenzy, dog-piling and rushing the court.

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O26 Weekly Awards: GW, Alan Williams & Green Bay…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 9th, 2013

It was a return to normalcy for many teams last week after the bevy of tournaments and showcases and neutral-court extravaganzas that marked the latter part of November in college hoops. Across the O26 landscape, some programs were able to play much-needed home games after weeks of travel, while others made trips to take on regional power conference foes or fellow mid-majors. Conference play even tipped off for one league in particular (we’re looking at you, MAAC). And while only a handful of schools took the court more than twice last week, there was plenty enough action in the opening days of December to hand out some superlatives to deserving performers.

O26 Team of the Week

Maurice Creek helped George Washington to an outstanding week. (Richard A. Lipski/Washington Post)

Maurice Creek helped George Washington to an outstanding week. (Richard A. Lipski/Washington Post)

George Washington. After capping off Thanksgiving weekend with an upset over 20th-ranked Creighton in the Wooden Legacy, the Colonials had every reason to be on letdown alert in a return home on Wednesday versus a maligned-but-talented Rutgers team. Instead, George Washington maintained its momentum by defeating the Scarlet Knights by six in an outcome that featured knock-down shooting and a 106-point second half. The team’s two star transfers again the led the way for head coach Mike Lonergan, with former Villanova forward Isaiah Armwood scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and Maurice Creek — the Indiana graduate who took to D.C. for his final year of eligibility — dropping in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Yet, while that contest was relatively tight throughout, it paled in comparison to Sunday’s outcome at the Verizon Center in the BB&T Classic. Thanks to the late-game heroics of Creek, the Colonials edged out fellow capital-area opponent Maryland, 77-75, in a thrilling, impressive win that helped further solidify George Washington as a legitimate at-large (and A-10) contender. The Terrapins made a furious rally in the game’s final stages after trailing by 14 with fewer than seven minutes to play, turning GW over multiple times and eventually tying the game at 75 with a few seconds remaining. But in the game’s final possession, Creek worked his magic, drilling a clutch shot over Nick Faust to make it three straight victories for the Colonials, moving them to 8-1 on the year. With several more very winnable non-conference games on the slate before league play begins in January, Lonergan’s club has a great chance to continue its winning ways and put itself in the NCAA Tournament discussion for the first time since 2007. If that happens, its work this past week may be one big reason why.

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Not-So-Rushed Reaction: Utah State 71, UC Santa Barbara 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 1st, 2013

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Utah State vs. UC Santa Barbara game Saturday night.

Here are four quick thoughts on Utah State’s seven-point win at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night:

  1. It was a big disappointment that UCSB big man Alan Williams was a late scratch for Saturday night’s game following a bout of back spasms suffered in pregame warm-ups. Having averaged 24 points and 13 boards in his first two games this year, including a 21-point win over UNLV, Williams had six NBA scouts in attendance to see him go up against Utah State’s own big-time center in the long and athletic Jarred Shaw. Minus Williams the Gauchos got hammered on the boards, but still played well enough to keep it a game throughout. And, the good news is that UCSB will get another crack at the Aggies, next time hopefully with Williams, as the two schools will play again on December 20 in Logan as part of the Basketball Travelers Classic.

    Alan Williams Sat Out Saturday Night's Game Following An Ill-Timed Bout With Back Spasms (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

    Alan Williams Sat Out Saturday Night’s Game Following An Ill-Timed Bout With Back Spasms (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

  2. The Aggies got eight threes and a combined 34 points from senior wings Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield, and they certainly impressed with their versatility. Both are able to handle the ball well, defend on the perimeter, help out on the glass, and, of course, score. But despite a roster deep with passable ballhandlers, the UCSB press gave the Aggies trouble down the stretch. While there are a lot of skilled perimeter guys on this team, there remain questions about the point guard duo of TeNale Roland and Marcel Davis. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2012

CIO header

John Hurwitz is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

Looking Back

Many predicted the Big West conference to have a down year after key departures from previous championship contenders such as Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. While the loss of two of the conference’s top playmakers last year in Casper Ware from Long Beach and Orlando Johnson from Santa Barbara may tone down the excitement going into conference play, it opens the door for fresh faces to become marquee names among Big West fans.

  • Hawaii In The Mix: The Hawaii Warriors are set to begin conference play this season as the Big West’s only school located outside of the state of California. At 4-3, the Warriors have already proved they can hang with anyone (especially on their home floor), after nearly upsetting Illinois on November 17. Senior center Vander Joaquim led the way with 22 points and 11 boards, while junior guard Brandon Spearman contributed 20 points before D.J. Richardson of Illinois hit a three at the overtime buzzer (below) to win the game.

  •  Can Pacific Make A Return To The Top? Head coach Bob Thomason’s Pacific Tigers are making noise in the early going, having already secured wins over Xavier and Saint Mary’s in Anaheim at the DirecTV Classic on Thanksgiving weekend. This will be Thomason’s 22nd year at the helm in Stockton and there is no reason not to believe this year’s group is capable of capturing the program’s first bid to the Big Dance since 2006. What makes the Tigers so dangerous is their potent combination of depth and experience as ten players average over 10 minutes per game, four seniors and six juniors. If there is one individual to watch on the 2012-13 edition, it is senior point guard Lorenzo McCloud, who leads the team in points and assists per game at 12.4 and 4.0 respectively.
  • Race Wide-Open: At this point in the season it is almost impossible to rule out any team from conference championship contention. The field is about as wide open as it gets and every team has high hopes as conference play begins at the end of the month. How will former top dogs Long Beach State and Santa Barbara recover after losing so many important players? Can Hawaii challenge for a top seed and a potential automatic bid in their first year in the Big West? Every conference game, little by little, will help piece together and solve the puzzle that is the 2012-13 Big West.
Cal Poly's Upset Over UCLA Is The Big West's Marquee Victory (Richard Mackson-US Presswire)

Cal Poly’s Upset Over UCLA Is The Big West’s Marquee Victory. (Richard Mackson-US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Pacific (5-4) – Despite a small sample size, the Tigers already are putting together an impressive portfolio with their wins over the Musketeers and the Gaels. Any team traveling to the Spanos Center this season will have their hands full and should be prepared to battle for the entirety of the game. If I were a coach in the Big West, I would have my matchups with this squad circled on the calendar. Read the rest of this entry »
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Wyoming Destroys UC Santa Barbara, But Bigger Tests Loom For Cowboys

Posted by AMurawa on November 29th, 2012

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after the Wyoming-UCSB game in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

While most of the college basketball world was focused on Durham, North Carolina, and other venues in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Wednesday night, I took a drive up the coast to UC Santa Barbara to check out Wyoming and see with my own eyes if their 6-0 record compiled against weak competition was anything for Mountain West watchers to get excited about. Well, after a 68-40 demolishing of the Gauchos (a game that really wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate), the Cowboys’ record now stands at 7-0, but the evaluation of the current state of this team needs to wait for another day.

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington and His Teammates Looked Impressive Against UC Santa Barbara, But More Significant Tests Loom

Yeah, the Cowboys looked pretty good. Leonard Washington had nine points (on 3-3 shooting from the field) and four boards while having his minutes slightly limited due to a pair of frustration fouls picked up over the course of a single minute in the first half, but those numbers don’t express all that Washington was in that game. He wound up credited with four steals and two blocks on the game, but frankly, his defensive effort is not summed up by those numbers. He challenged any shots in his vicinity, ripped down rebounds around the rim, and scrapped for any loose balls in his area. On offense, it was all about attacking the rim, and he had at least a pair of massive dunks on the faces of unsuspecting Gauchos. Larry Nance, Jr. joined in on the fun himself, throwing down a monster dunk on two UCSB bigs just before the half.

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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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