Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Big West Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big West Conference was wide-open midway through the league season, but the second half belong to Long Beach State. LBSU won nine of their final ten games to come back from a 4-2 start to win the league at 12-2. Three teams finished 9-5 (and within three spots of each other in the RPI). No one else finished above .500 in league play. Despite LBSU’s three-game lead over everyone else in the standings, the Big West tourney should be exciting.

Favorite: Long Beach State was the preseason favorite coming into the season, but it looked like they would disappoint after their 1-4 overall start, and unimpressive beginning to conference play. However, they are playing very well now, and could be a sleeper in the Dance. They are extremely efficient offensively and love to get up and down. They have the best perimeter group in the conference, led by one of the best players in the conference, Aaron Nixon. He does everything. Kejuan Johnson and Kevin Houston are also very good guards. Sterling Byrd anchors the frontcourt.

Contenders: UC Santa Barbara won the final three of the season after dropping four in a row to drop out of the league race. They are the best defensive team in the conference. 6-6 wing Alex Harris is one of the best players in the conference, putting up 21 points per game. Cecil Brown is another good perimeter play. Up front, Chris Devine leads the way. He can score and rebound very well. Cal Poly has won seven in a row, and twelve of their last fourteen games. They are balanced and deep. Wing Derek Stockalper can do a variety of things for the Mustangs, and he is a very good rebounder and scorer. Dawin Whiten is a quick scoring guard, while Tyler McGinn has come on strong towards the latter part of the season. Cal State Fullerton is not hot heading into the tournament, losing four of their last five. However, they have arguably the best player in the league in guard Bobby Brown. He is a terrific scorer and passer. Providing balance on the inside is Scott Cutley, a double-double threat every night out. Marcus Crenshaw can really shoot, and Frank Robinson can do it all. Five guys average double-figures for the Titans.

Sleeper: UC-Irvine has been up and down all year, finishing 6-8 in the Big West. However, they play good defense and are tough on the glass. The Anteaters have an extremely deep frontcourt, led by Patrick Sanders and Nic Campbell at the forward spots. Darren Fells and Mark Kelley form a two-headed post combo. Chuma Awaji leads the way from the perimeter, while Michael Hunter is a good passer.

Prediction: The Big West Conference Tournament is going to be an interesting thing to watch. Only two teams are really playing well heading into March—Long Beach State and Cal Poly. Because those teams are the top two seeds, they will both get byes into the semi-finals. However, I feel that Poly will get upset by Fullerton in the semi-finals, with Bobby Brown leading the way. In the finals, though, Long Beach State will have too much perimeter firepower and balance for whomever they face. Look out for this high-scoring bunch in the Dance.

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