Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Big West Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big West Conference is always an entertaining and competitive league, and this year was no different. Three teams tied for the regular-season title, with UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge all going 12-4. Pacific finished one game back of those three, at 11-5. UCSB won nine of its last 11 games, including a key road win over Northridge in the next-to-last game of the season, while Northridge lost three of its last five. Fullerton won 11 of its last 13 – the league tourney will obviously be wide-open.

Favorites: With not much separating the top three teams in the league, all three should be considered the favorites to get the automatic bid. UC Santa Barbara finished on a hot streak after struggling to a 3-3 start at the beginning of league play. Alex Harris is one of the best shooters in the country, and one of the better scorers at the mid-major level. Chris Devine and Ivan Elliot are solid forwards, while James Powell can score. Cal State Fullerton also struggled at the outset of league play, going just 3-2 in its first five games. The Titans bounced back, though, to grab a share of the title. They have arguably the most explosive offense in the league, with guards Josh Akognon and Frank Robinson both capable of really filling it up. Robinson is also an outstanding rebounder for his position, while Marcus Crenshaw leads a trio of perimeter role players that can score. Scott Cutley is a 15-8 guy every night inside. Northridge struggled down the stretch but still has to be considered one of major threats in this conference. The Matadors are balanced, with four guys averaging double-figures. Deon Tresvant is a big-time scorer who can really shoot, while Jonathan Heard is solid on the wing. Josh Jenkins is a terrific distributor. Up front, Calvin Chitwood is a good inside-outside threat, while Tremaine Townsend averages nearly a double-double.

Contender: Pacific might be the only other legit contender in the conference outside of the top three squads. The Tigers have won their last four games of the season, and have already knocked off each of the “big three” once this year. Steffan Johnson is an excellent all-around player in the backcourt, while Chad Troyer can also score. Up front, Anthony Brown is capable of dominating in the paint.

Sleeper: UC-Irvine finished just 9-7 on the season, but the Anteaters have a chance to make some noise in the tournament. They had won four in a row before falling in the season finale to Fullerton. They have arguably the best inside tandem in the conference in forward Patrick Sanders and center Darren Fells, who combine for nearly 30 points and 13 rebounds per game. Michael Hunter provides balance from the perimeter.

Prediction: As I said earlier, the Big West is always one of my favorite conferences to keep an eye on due to the fact that it normally has a tremendously competitive league race and conference tournament, and it nearly always produces a team capable of pulling off an upset in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. This year, any of the top three teams are going to be a team to look out for come Selection Sunday. Who is it going to be? UCSB has Alex Harris, Fullerton has a multitude of weapons, while Northridge has arguably the best starting five. I’m going with Fullerton for the automatic bid – the Titans have a sensational group of guards, as well as threats up front. That sort of balance will give them the edge.


  1. cant argue too much with a fullerton pick. Scott Cutley is beast inside. UCSB gets the advantage of the double bye, though, and something seemed different in that team, starting at about their win at Pacific. Their defense and rebounding (the latter a big weakness) have improved and I think they are playing their best basketball of the year. UCSB over CSF in the finals.

  2. I really like UCSB -- I picked them at the start of the season to win the conference, and one of my favorite players in the country is Alex Harris.

    However, I'm not sure if they have the firepower or the inside-outside to beat Fullerton. I thought about the whole double-bye advantage, but I just think Fullerton has so many weapons that they are going to take the title.

    It's going to be a great tourney, though.