BIG WEST NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-Although the Big West sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2005, this is typically just a one bid league. Even in 2005 they only had one team (Pacific) who was in position to get an at-large if they needed it, which is one more than they usually have. This year may be different, though. The league is as talented top to bottom as its been in a long time. In order for multiple bids to happen, the teams need to perform well out of conference. I dont think the league will send as many as what the major conferences will send, but its possible that they could get two, which is double what they normally get.
-UC Davis is now an official member of the conference. They had played a full Big West schedule the past three seasons, but werent an official member. Now that their probationary period is up, they are now considered official and will compete in the conference tournament.
-All the teams in the conference are located in the state of California. I cant think of another league where all the schools are located in the same state. The old Southwest Conference had all eight teams located in Texas, but that league is long gone. BIG WEST TEAMS
-UC SANTA BARBARA had a decent year last year and ended up in a second place tie, but did not win the tiebreaker, which kept them from byeing into the conference semifinals. They ended up losing their first tournament game and their postseason hopes came to an end. This year, four starters are back and the expectations are high. They do have forward Alex Harris
, who averaged just under 22ppg last season and is probably the best player in the conference. Forward Chris Devine and center Ivan Elliot make up a very strong frontcourt. They arent quite as strong out on the perimeter, but with experience it should be better this year. UCSB has NCAA Tournament hopes, but in order to get there theyre going to have to either win the conference tournament, which is always a toss-up, or win some big games during the regular season, and be a strong force during conference play. Highlights on their schedule include @Stanford, UNLV, @North Carolina and the Bracket Buster where theyll play on the road. Theyll have their chances at statement wins, and a few of those are winnable.
-CAL STATE FULLERTON has only had four 20+ win seasons in their history, but two of them came in the past three years, so the program is taking huge steps forward. They lost their best player and leading scorer from last years team in Bobby Brown
, but three starters are back, and guard Marcus Crenshaw played well off the bench last year, so it looks like they have a pretty talented line-up once again. Forward Scott Cutley, who averaged over 15ppg and 9rpg last season, is also back. They ended the season rather sluggishly last year, but look for them to be a factor in the league this year. Other than a game at Arizona and a Bracket Buster game, their schedule appears to be somewhat weak, but they are a team thats good enough to rack up quite a few wins and make a name for themselves.
-CAL POLY is another team to watch this year. They were 19-11 last year and finished the season on an absolute tear by winning 10 out of 11 before losing to Long Beach in the conference championship game. With 11 players returning, including three starters, they should once again have a very good team. Head coach Kevin Bromley has done a good job building this program up from a pretty dismal state. They are a very well balanced team, and they also had a decent amount of depth last year. Although they lost two of their leading scorers, they do look like they have some players that can step up and carry the load this year.
-UC IRVINE was a tough defensive team last year, and has four starters coming back. Their problem is that they really struggled on offense last season. If they could improve upon that even a little bit they should be able to win more games. Patrick Sanders and Darren Fells make up a strong frontcourt. Both averaged over 10ppg last year, but they need to find other ways to score if they want to contend for the league title.
-PACIFIC was just 12-19 last year, which is a letdown after three consecutive 20+ win seasons and three trips to the NCAA Tournament. They should be improved this season. Head coach Bob Thomason has done a tremendous job and the very fact that the players are more experienced should mean that Pacific will be better. Center Anthony Brown is a huge force in their frontcourt and should continue to improve as a player. The team has a lot of newcomers as well. I dont see them contending for the league title because they are still very young and experience is an issue, but look for them to be much improved.
-LONG BEACH STATE was amazing last year. They won 24 games, the conference championship, and earned a #12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That was last year. No starters are back from last years team. Neither is the coach. Neither are their top four scorers who came off the bench. Artist Gant is the leading returning scorer, and he averaged less than two points a game. Dan Monson who was formerly at Minnesota takes over, and he will be building this team up from square one.
-CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE was just 14-17 last year, but they return their top three scorers from that team and should be a little better this year. I dont see them contending for the league title, but I do believe theyll improve. One of the things that they need to fix is their turnovers. They averaged over 19 a game last year. Jonathan Heard and Calvin Chitwood can both score and make up a decent frontcourt, but their teammates will have to step it up this year.
-UC RIVERSIDE has had four head coaches in the past four seasons. After winning just seven games last season, they hired Jim Wooldridge, who was formerly at Kansas State. I do believe he is a good coach, but he really has his work cut out for him here. Three starters are back, and they do appear to have two pretty decent guards in Larry Cunningham and Chris Johnson
, but their defense was really poor last season and that is one thing that definitely needs to improve.
-UC DAVIS has completed their probationary period after making the jump to div1 and is now eligible for postseason play. Thats the good news. The bad news is that they dont appear to be good enough to make it into the postseason just yet. Four starters are back, but the team won just five games last year, one of which was a stunner in their final game against Cal State Fullerton. They should improve their win total, but it still wont land them near the top of the league.