Previewing the 2011 Big West Men's Basketball Tournament
March Madness is in full swing, and up for grabs at the Honda Center on March 10-12 is a spot in the NCAA Tournament for one of eight teams from the Big West Conference.
The regular season champions, Long Beach State, come in as the favorite to run the table, but the possibility of a letdown could be in the works if they aren't careful.
Bleacher Report gives you a preview of the 2011 Big West Men's Basketball Tournament in Anaheim. Let's take a look at the teams.
1. Long Beach State
Head Coach: Dan Monson
Overall Record: 20-10
Conference Record 14-2
Points per game: Casper Ware 16.9
Rebounds per game: T.J. Robinson 10.1
Assists per game: Casper Ware 4.7
Long Beach State is experiencing a resurgence of some sorts, a renaissance of playing winning basketball. The 49ers come into Honda Center as the only Big West team with 20 wins, riding a nine-game winning streak.
Junior Casper Ware is the Beach's go-to guy. Ware, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, averages 16.9 points per game and 4.7 assists per game and is a legit candidate for Big West Player of the Year.
While Ware and T.J. Robinson do a good deal of the dirty work, Greg Plater, Eugene Phelps and Larry Anderson form one of the most potent front fives in the conference, boasting a 17-6 record with five in the starting rotation.
Phelps averages 6.7 rebounds a contest and Anderson averages 14.3 points a game. Anderson averages 1.9 steals a contest to lead all players in the Big West. Plater can shoot the long ball, and leads in 3-point field goals made with 85.
Off the bench, huge contributions from Edis Dervisevic, Brandon Nevens and Tristan Wilson will be key to Long Beach's success. Of course, an emphasis on sound defending will help, too.
Long Beach State played San Diego State tough early in the first half before fading away to start the year and also tested North Carolina on the road in a gallant 96-91 defeat in December.
One of the biggest hexes this season for the Beach is their inability to win in Orange County. They had previously tasted defeat at Honda Center in a 82-74 defeat to Saint Mary's and lost to Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine on the road.
A perfect tournament run will more than offset the futility the 49ers have been suffering in the OC this year.
2. Cal Poly
Head Coach: Joe Callero
Overall Record: 15-14
Conference Record: 10-6
Points per game: Shawn Lewis 15.5
Rebounds per game: Will Donahue 9.0
Assists per game: Shawn Lewis 2.2
Perhaps the biggest threat to Long Beach State running the tables are the Mustangs of Cal Poly.
Joe Callero's crew come in as the No. 2 seed and are led by Shawn Lewis, who averages 15.5 points a contest, and David Hanson, who averages 15.3 PPG.
The presence of center Will Donohue will be critical to Cal Poly's Big Dance prospects. He is the Mustangs' leading rebounder, with 9.0 boards a contest. Look for big contributions from Malik Love (5.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG) and Chris O'Brien (5.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG).
Cal Poly only averages 59.6 points a contest, so increased production will also be key.
The Mustangs had a six-game winning streak between January and February, which was snapped by Northern Arizona.
3. Cal State Northridge
Head Coach: Bobby Braswell
Overall Record: 13-17
Conference Record: 9-7
Points per game: Lenny Daniel 16.2
Rebounds per game: Lenny Daniel 9.3
Assists per game: Dathan Lyles 3.6
The Cal State Northridge Matadors come in as the No. 3 in the Big West Conference Basketball Tournament, and they are led by forward Lenny Daniel, who averages 16.2 points and 9.3 rebounds a contest. Daniel leads the Big West in offensive rebounds this season with 106.
Daniel's right-hand man is guard-forward Rashaun McLemore, who averaged 15.3 points a contest this year for Northridge.
Alongside the power duo of Daniel and McLemore is a talented core of starters and bench players.
Among those is Michael Lizarraga, who is a reliable rebounder and scorer, averaging 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Vinnie McGhee (6.6 PPG), Joshua Greene (6.5 PPG) and Dathan Lyles (6.0 PPG, 3.6 APG) are other weapons that Braswell can turn to.
Northridge's one major nonconference victory came on Nov. 26, 2010, when they defeated DePaul 88-66. Crashing the boards will be important for Northridge to make headway; they are 205th in the country, averaging 34.2 team rebounds per game.
Head Coach: Bob Thomason
Overall Record: 16-14
Conference Record: 8-8
Points per game: Sam Willard 14.9
Rebounds per game: Sam Willard 10.5
Assists per game: Demetrece Young 3.8
The Pacific Tigers got the No. 4 seed by way of a superior head-to-head record against UC Santa Barbara. Sam Willard is one of the Big West's leading rebounders with 10.5 boards a game and is also the team's leading scorer with 14.9 points a contest.
Young is part of UOP's triple scoring threat, which includes Demetrece Young and Allen Huddleston. Both Huddleston and Young come into the Big West Conference Tournament averaging 10.6 points a game and Young is the team's leading provider, averaging 3.8 assists a contest.
And Pacific's triple scoring threat is part of a rotation with involves four other key contributors. Look for clutch production from Nyika Williams (8.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG), Terrell Smith (7.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG), Pat Eveland (6.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and Jose Rivera (5.8 PPG).
Pacific's most significant nonconference win of the regular season came on Nov. 22, a 77-70 victory over Arizona State.
5. UC Santa Barbara
Head Coach: Bob Williams
Overall Record: 15-13
Conference Record: 8-8
Points per game: Orlando Johnson 20.8
Rebounds per game: Orlando Johnson 6.6
Assists per game: Justin Joyner 3.6
It hasn't been a season to remember for defending champions UC Santa Barbara and defending player of the year Orlando Johnson.
They were given the wake-up call by the same team they defeated to get to the Big Dance last year in Long Beach State to start their title defense.
But the underachieving regular season efforts can all be forgiven if they surprise the critics and make a successful defense of their crown.
Johnson is the conference's leading scorer with 20.8 points per game and also leads the team in rebounds with 6.6 a contest. James Nunnally complements the production from Johnson, averaging 16.7 points a game, and also averages 5.4 boards a contest.
Justin Joyner averages 3.6 assists a game and is the conference's leading 3-point shooter, averaging 47.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Jordan Weiner (5.7 PPG), Greg Somogyi (3.2 RPG) and Jon Pastorek (3.7 RPG) will need to replicate their form from last season if they are to make a grand return to the NCAA Tournament. Somogyi's 7'3" frame has helped him lead the Big West in blocked shots with 53.
Jaime Serna (7.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG) is capable of making clutch shots when the Gauchos take the floor in Anaheim.
UCSB's biggest nonconference win of the regular season was on Dec. 15 in a 68-62 victory over No. 22 UNLV.
6. Cal State Fullerton
Head Coach: Bob Burton
Overall Record: 11-19
Conference Record: 7-9
Points per game: Jer'Vaughn Johnson 14.8
Rebounds per game: Andre Hardy 8.6
Assists per game: Perry Webster 5.2
The Cal State Fullerton Titans are having a tough season under Bob Burton, with a losing overall and conference record to show for it.
Their only nonconference wins came against Cal State Bakersfield, San Diego and Division III school Occidental. To top it all off, they had a string of five straight conference defeats for the majority of February.
But with two straight conference victories to end the regular season, there is hope in the Titans' camp that their fortunes will change.
Fullerton has balance in their scoring attack, with four players in the rotation averaging at least 11 points a contest: leading scorer Jer'Vaughn Johnson (14.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG), Devon Peltier (14.5 PPG), Orane Chin (12.4, 5.8 RPG) and leading rebounder Andre Hardy (11.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG).
Perry Webster's playmaking ability will be key, as he averages 5.2 assists a contest to lead the Titans.
Fullerton is one of only two teams to have defeated Long Beach State, the other being UC Irvine. However, their 89-87 victory at Titan Gymnasium on Jan. 19 was countered by a comprehensive 75-60 defeat at the Walter Pyramid 10 days later.
7. UC Riverside
Head Coach: Jim Wooldridge
Overall Record: 11-18
Conference Record: 6-10
Points per game: Phil Martin 14.1
Rebounds per game: Phil Martin 5.0
Assists per game: Kareem Nitoto 3.2
It has been a disappointing regular season for the UC Riverside Highlanders, whose campaign was defined by two conference losing streaks of four and five games, respectively.
The Highlanders ended the regular season with a 75-66 victory over UC Irvine, avoiding in the process a second meeting in eight days with the Beach to open the first round.
Riverside is led by Phil Martin, who averages 14.1 points and 5.0 boards a contest. Javon Borum provides another scoring option for UCR, averaging 13.1 points a contest.
The team's main provider is Kareem Nitoto, who averages 3.2 assists a contest. Nitoto also averages 9.4 points a game and will be counted on to take slack off of Martin and Borum.
Also look for contributions from Kevin Bradshaw (7.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG), B.J. Shearry (6.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and Elliott Berry (6.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG).
8. UC Irvine
Head Coach: Russell Turner
Overall Record: 13-18
Conference Record: 6-10
Points per game: Darren Moore 17.3
Rebounds per game: Eric Wise 8.2
Assists per game: Patrick Rembert 3.4
The UC Irvine Anteaters have good news and bad news coming their way as they begin their Big West Tournament run.
The bad news: they're facing Long Beach State to open the first round. The good news: they facing Long Beach State in Orange County. Whether or not this will lead to the same sound execution that helped them in their 86-76 victory at the Bren Events Center on Jan. 22 remains to be seen.
However, the Anteaters, who have the conference's leading scoring offense with 75.5 points per contest, stumble into Honda Center having dropped two of their last five games, and that comes on the heels of a four-game losing streak in December and a five-game conference losing streak between January and February.
Still, this UCI side has players capable of putting their regular season woes behind them. Among those, the trio of leading scorer Darren Moore (17.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.7 APG), leading rebounder Eric Wise (15.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.7 APG) and assists leader Patrick Rembert (12.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.4 APG).
Mike Wilder (9.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.7 APG) and Daman Starring (7.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) provide depth to the lineup. Pavol Losonsky (7.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG), Derrick Strings (5.2 PPG) and Chris McNealy (4.9 PPG) have contributed off the bench for Irvine.
Long Beach State 90, UC Irvine 76
Cal Poly 61, UC Riverside 50
Cal State Northridge 80, Cal State Fullerton 67
Pacific 66, UC Santa Barbara 61
Long Beach State 69, Pacific 68
Cal Poly 69, Cal State Northridge 65
Long Beach State 65, Cal Poly 54