Non-Conference Play Hits Stretch Run
Men's Basketball Release No. 8
With New Year's on the horizon, that means conference play is imminent, but first one more week of non-conference games must take place. Nine of the 13 games on this week's docket will be played on Big West home courts.
Non-Conference Play Enters Final Stretch
The last week of non-conference play includes 13 games. Nine of those games are at home, beginning Tuesday as UC Santa Barbara entertains CSU Bakersfield. UC Riverside hosts a pair of contests in Utah Valley and Grand Canyon. Cal Poly continues a six-game roadtrip with tough games at Grand Canyon and Princeton. Long Beach State, a winner in four of its last five contests, closes out non-conference action at Eastern Michigan on Thursday.
A Tough Road
The numbers don’t lie. Big West schools have played an extremely difficult non-league schedule, primarily due to the sheer number of non-home games. Of the 108 non-conference games against Division I opponents spread out among the nine Big West members, 74 of those have been or will be played on neutral or away courts. That equates to 68.5 percent of the total non-conference Division I games.
Big West action begins on Wednesday, January 4 with the top three preseason favorites taking the court. Long Beach State, the favorite according to the media poll, takes on projected runner-up UC Irvine from the Bren Events Center in a game that will appear on ESPN3. CSUN, which finished third in the preseason poll, hosts UC Riverside. In all, eight games take place that first week of Big West play.
Ahmad Makes Triumphant Return
The 2015-16 Big West Freshman of the Year had the start of his sophomore season delayed, but it was well worth the wait in last Thursday’s game against Portland. After missing the first 11 games of the season, Ahmad came off the bench for 32 effective minutes, scoring 21 points with five rebounds and four assists in the 77-72 victory. Moreover, he reeled off FIVE consecutive three-pointers on five straight possessions to turn a 6-6 tie into a 21-6 advantage over a span of 3 minutes and 27 seconds. Ahmad averaged 14.3 points per game, No. 7 in the Big West, during the 2015-16 campaign.
Long Beach State picked up a solid win against Colorado State last week thanks to some yeoman’s work on the glass. The Beach pulled down 56 rebounds, including 21 on the offensive end, the last one leading to Roschon Prince’s putback with 4.6 seconds left for the final margin of victory, 56-55. The 56 boards were the most against a Division I opponent in the last 20 years, and the first time since 2009 that the team corralled over 50 against a Division I foe.
Strength Of Schedule
The NCAA’s Dec. 27 RPI report lists three Big West schools that are ranked in the top 75 of toughest non-conference strength of schedule – UC Santa Barbara (2), Long Beach State (12) and UC Irvine (64).
BIG WEST BY THE NUMBERS
166 - Career threes for Gabe Vincent, now No. 10 all-time at UC Santa Barbara.
5 - Threes made on consecutive possessions by Cal State Fullerton’s Khalil Ahmad in his first action of the season against Portland.
3 - CSUN players ranked in Big West top 10 in scoring – Kendall Smith, Tavrion Dawson and Darin Johnson.
Lou Henson Award Watch List
Juniors Justin Bibbins of Long Beach State and Gabe Vincent of UC Santa Barbara represent the Big West on the 50-player Lou Henson Award Preseason Watch List, as announced by online publication CollegeInsider.com. The two guards are up for the award presented annually to the nation’s top mid-major player. Bibbins, a second team all-conference pick last year, registered 164 assists for the third-highest single-season total in 49er history. Vincent, who earned All-Big West Honorable Mention praise, knocked down 80 three-pointers to rank No. 2 on the Gaucho single-season chart.
Long Beach State Earns Media Nod
With 203 points and 19 first-place votes, Long Beach State was the choice of the media to win the 2016-17 Big West men’s basketball regular season title. Head coach Dan Monson’s 49ers, which return three starters and eight letterwinners from last season’s 20-15 club, was cast in the favorite’s role for the first time since the 2012-13 season. In addition to returning Bibbins, LBSU also welcomes back junior forward Gabe Levin, an honorable mention all-conference selection who averaged 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Once again, LBSU faces one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules with road games against the likes of Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, Washington, Kansas and Texas.
Graham Nominated For Allstate Good Works Team
UC Davis senior guard Darius Graham was nominated to the 2017 Allstate NABC Good Works Team, which represents the sport’s finest in the areas of community service and leadership among their peers, and recognizes players at all levels of college basketball whose charitable involvement and altruistic acts stand out amongst all other student-athletes participating in the sport. A total of 181 players were recognized from the NABC, and the final 10-member team will be announced in February and be honored during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four® in Phoenix, where they will participate in a community service project benefitting the city. Graham has been involved in the UC Davis Reading Program, which includes more than 23,000 elementary-aged children from 35 schools throughout Yolo and Sacramento counties. In addition, he helped organize food drives, toy drives and classroom visits during his junior season.