Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Big West Conference Preview


The Big West Conference had a season where there was a fairly large gap between the top teams and the bottom teams. Pacific ran away with the league, going undefeated in conference play. Now-departed Utah State finished 5 games back, with Cal State-Fullerton and Cal State-Northridge one game behind the Aggies. After that, there was a full four games between Northridge and the next team in the standings. In the conference tournament, Utah State handed Pacific their first loss in the Big West. Both teams went to the NCAA Tournament, with Utah State losing to Arizona in the first round, and Pacific defeating Pitt in the first round before falling to top-seeded Washington in the second round. Expect more balance and more parody in the league this season.

Favorites: Cal State Fullerton had a successful season a year ago, winning two NIT games and finishing 21-11. They should make the NCAA Tournament this year. Bobby Brown is the best guard in the league, and possibly the best player overall. He can do it all, whether it is in the form of points, rebounds, assists, or steals. Jamaal Brown is also going to be a first team all-Big West pick. The 6-7 forward is an excellent low-post player. Jermaine Harper is a versatile third option on the wing. East Carolina transfer Frank Robinson should have an immediate impact on the perimeter. Several players could play important roles up front, including returnees Justin Burns and Derek Quinet, and newcomer Gary Nunez. Pacific has the preseason Player of the Year in center Christian Maraker. He has an excellent inside-outside game. The problem for the Tigers is that he is the lone returning starter. Guards Johnny Gray and Mike Webb saw extensive minutes a year ago, so the backcourt will be in good shape. Maraker needs help up front, though. Mike White needs to pick his game up if he wants to start, while Anthony Esparza leads a talented group of newcomers.

Contenders: Cal State Northridge loses their top three scorers from last season, but return two starters and an abundance of role players that are ready to make bigger splashes in the Big West. Calvin Chitwood is expected to become an all-conference-caliber player, while 6-10 Thomas Shewmake also has the potential to be one of the best low post players in the league. Joining them in the frontcourt is Jonathan Heard, who was one of the best freshman in the conference last season. Three transfers will be counted on to make immediate impacts. JC transfer Jonathan Smith and UC Irvine transfer Mike Efevberha will form a decent backcourt combo, while San Jose State transfer Keith Everage should have a big year in the frontcourt. UC Santa Barbara return a very deep and talented team that lost two starters from a season ago. Josh Davis is a blossoming guard, and could develop into a top-notch offensive player. He is already an excellent defender. 6-6 Alex Harris also returns on the perimeter and should see his numbers increase. Joe See is a good scorer at guard as well, while Cecil Brown returns from injury to continue his solid play on the perimeter. Up front, Glenn Turner returns at center, although Cameron Goettsche is healthy now and could become an all-conference player. He is a legit post presence. Derek Rasp and Michael Chambers will also see minutes for the Gauchos. Sophomore forward Chris Devine hasn't played since he got to school two years ago. He is a superb athlete.

Sleepers: Long Beach State returns a very good inside-outside combination in guard Jibril Hodges and forward Shawn Hawkins. Both could be all-league performers by the end of the season. Onye Ibekwe is back at center after a solid sophomore season. Guards Kevin Houston and Louis Darby are ready for bigger roles after contributing off the bench last season. Several freshman are coming that could contend for starting jobs, but will make an impact no matter what. UC Irvine returns four starters from a 16-13 team. Ross Schraeder and Aaron Fitzgerald comprise one of the top backcourts in the conference, with both averaging nearly 13 points per game. Jeff Gloger also returns to start on the perimeter; he went for 10 points and 5 boards per contest. However, he may not be able to play because of injuries he sustained during the offseason. Tenacious defender Shamar Armstrong could replace him if he can't go. In the frontcourt, Nic Campbell and Darren Fells make up a decent starting duo, while 6-10 Adam Metelski provides a big body down low.

Rounding Out the Pack: UC Riverside has an above-average backcourt coming back in Rickey Porter, an all-around talent, and Larry Cunnigham, one of the best scorers in the conference. Versatile Steve Williams produces in several categories. Center Klaus Schille needs to improve his numbers if the Highlanders are going to improve from a year ago. Cal Poly returns two starters from a 5-22 club. Guard Dawin Whiten is the best player on the Mustangs. Fernando Sampson is back to help Whiten on the perimeter. Up front, Andew Haskins returns as a starter, while Joe Henry will provide depth off the bench. Freshmen Coby Leavitt and Chaz Thomas could have major impacts down low and at the point, respectively. Derek Stockalper was the team's best rebounder before his season ended prematurely due to injury. He should start at small forward.

Prediction: Cal State Fullerton should break the Pacific-Utah State trend of recent seasons, although Utah State isn't in the Big West anymore. They have two of the three best players in the league in Bobby Brown and Jamaal Brown. If a couple of role players step up to play major roles, the Titans should win the league. As usual, Pacific will be right there, while UC Santa Barbara could make some noise. Every team has a chance of winning some games within the conference--that's how balanced the Big West is this season. When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, though, the Big West is going to be a one-bid league--and that lone ticket will go to Cal State Fullerton.

Player of the Year: Christian Maraker, C, Pacific

All-Conference Team:
G- Bobby Brown, Cal State Fullerton
G- Jibril Hodges, Long Beach State
G- Aaron Fitzgerald, UC Irvine
F- Jamaal Brown, Cal State Fullerton
C- Christian Maraker, Pacific

Second Team:
G- Rickey Porter, UC Riverside
G- Josh Davis, UC Santa Barbara
G- Ross Schraseder, UC Irvine
F- Calvin Chitwood, Cal State Northridge
F- Shawn Hawkins, Long Beach State

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