Big West Men's Basketball Summer Preview
The race for the 2012-13 Big West men's basketball crown is a wide open one as several programs feature a mixture of new and established talent. Newest conference member Hawai‘i joins the fray.
• Cal Poly returns two starters and five letterwinners from last season’s squad that finished 18-15 overall and 8-8 in the Big West, good for fourth place in the standings. The 18 victories represented the second-most in school history, trailing only the 2006-07 outfit that produced a 19-11 mark.
• Under fourth-year head coach Joe Callero, the Mustangs have steadily improved since his arrival in 2009. After a 12-19 finish in 2009-10, the ensuing two seasons have yielded 15 and 18 victories, respectively.
• Callero’s teams have predicated their success on defense. In 2011-12, the Mustangs led the Big West and ranked 24th in the nation in scoring defense as opponents managed just 60.5 points per game. They were even better in 2010-11 after ranking sixth nationally in that category (58.9 ppg).
• The Mustangs lost their top three scorers from last season and look for others to step up to provide offensive production. Junior Chris Eversley is one of the prime candidates to fill that void. The Rice transfer ranked fourth in scoring (8.2 ppg) and third in rebounding (4.8 rpg) among the team leaders. Eversley didn’t really hit his stride until the midpoint of the season either. After scoring a combined 52 points through the first 15 games, Eversley scored in double figures in 13 of the last 18 contests. He tallied a career-high 19 points in just 15 minutes against Cal State Northridge (Jan. 11).
• Senior Dylan Royer is one of the Big West’s premier threats from the perimeter. Seeing the first extensive action of his career with 22 starts among his 33 appearances, Royer responded with 72 three-pointers for the ninth-highest single-season total in school history. He also led the Big West in three-point field goal percentage with a .465 (72-for-155) mark.
• The Mustangs feature a slew of youngsters who will most likely see immediate minutes on the frontline, an area they lost a high percentage of their production. All five true freshmen on the roster stand 6-foot-7 or taller. No returning Mustang is taller than 6-foot-6.
CAL STATE FULLERTON
• Cal State Fullerton returns just three letterwinners from a 2011-12 squad that finished 21-10 overall and participated in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
• The Titans have a solid base to build around despite the initial impression they might be rebuilding due to the dearth of returning players. However, CSF boasts two of the top players in the Big West in senior all-conference standouts D. J. Seeley and Kwame Vaughn.
• Seeley polished of a solid 2011-12 campaign with All-Big West First Team accolades. The transfer from Cal ranked among the Big West leaders in several categories, including scoring (4th – 17.3 ppg), rebounding (14th – 5.5 rpg), field goal percentage (8th - .439) and steals (3rd – 1.5 spg). He also placed in the top 10 in three-point field goal percentage (4th - .434) and three-point field goals made (8th – 2.1). Seeley had 13 games with 20 points or more, punctuated by a career-high 32-point performance against Loyola Marymount in the first round of the postseason CIT.
• Vaughn is every bit as dangerous a scorer as Seeley while running the Titan offense. He erupted for a career-high 37 points against UC Santa Barbara (Feb. 4) and notched 20 points or more nine times last season. In addition, he led the Big West in assists (3.7 apg) and free throw percentage (.847). The 6-3 guard also placed fifth on the league leaderboard in field goal percentage (.458). An All-Big West Second Team selection, he and Seeley join UC Irvine’s Michael Wilder as the only three returnees from the 2011-12 all-conference first and second teams.
• The Titans excelled in several offensive categories in 2011-12. They topped the Big West in scoring offense (78.0 ppg), field goal percentage (.472) and three-point field goal percentage (.404). To stay at the top, CSF needs a third scorer and one of the top candidates for that role is TCU transfer Sammy Yeager. The 6-4 forward averaged 9.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Horned Frogs in 2010-11. Another potential source of offense is 6-6 redshirt freshman forward Darius Nelson. He attended UTEP for the fall semester in 2011-12 but did not play, and becomes eligible for the Titans in December.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
• Cal State Northridge struggled last season with a 7-21 overall record and tied for last place in the Big West at 3-13. It was the fewest victories – both overall and conference – in the 11 seasons the Matadors have competed in the Big West.
• Three starters and 10 letterwinners return under head coach Bobby Braswell, who ranks 12th all-time in the Big West with 152 victories. The Matadors were one of the nation’s youngest Division I programs in 2011-12.
• The Matadors boast one of the better young backcourts in the Big West with the return of junior Josh Greene and sophomore Stephan Hicks. Both players were named all-conference honorable mention last season. Greene finished 10th in the Big West in scoring (12.4 ppg), third in free throw percentage (.831) and ninth in three-point field goals made per game (2.0). He hit a team-leading 57 three-pointers, which also tied for No. 8 in the program’s single-season record book.
• Hicks, the 2011-12 Big West Freshman of the Year, exploded on the collegiate scene with impressive 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. In the Big West, he ranked seventh and third in scoring and rebounding, respectively. Hicks also displayed accuracy with his shooting touch, placing No. 7 in field goal percentage (.440) and No. 5 in free throw percentage (.813). He started the most games (23) of any Matador in a year when 12 different players appeared in the starting lineup. Hicks topped off the campaign as one of 25 players named to the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Freshmen All-America Team.
• The Matadors got strong minutes out of another freshman in 6-5 forward Stephen Maxwell. He finished third on the team in scoring (8.6 ppg) and second in rebounding (6.4 rpg) while starting 12 of 23 games. Maxwell also shot a team-best .524 (75-for-143) from the field.
* Cal State Northridge led the Big West in free throw percentage (.755) by a landslide in 2011-12. The next closest team was Cal Poly, which hit at a .698 clip.
LONG BEACH STATE
• A vastly different Long Beach State team takes the floor in 2012-13. The two time defending regular season champion 49ers lost three first team all-conference players (Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and T.J. Robinson) and a second team all-league performer (Eugene Phelps) to graduation. The foursome combined for 1,743 of LBSU’s 2,510 points, or 69.4 percent of the total offense from last season.
• However, the 49ers are fielding enough talent that a run at a second consecutive NCAA Tournament is certainly not far-fetched. Head coach Dan Monson, who led his team to a 25-9 record in 2011-12, brings back a couple of key returners along with a crop of Division I transfers in pursuit of another championship. Monson is the architect of a program that won just six games in his first season (2007-08) to the near school record 25 in 2011-12.
• Senior James Ennis is a top candidate for Big West Player of the Year honors in 2012-13. He looks to assume a primary role in the 49er offense while maintaining his status as a lockdown defender. He ranked fourth on the club with 10.0 points per game while averaging 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 2.6 assists and 0.8 blocks. Ennis was second in the Big West with 54 steals. He came up huge in the Big West Tournament after averaging 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in the three games en route to all-tournament team honors. The 6-6 guard/forward, who also knocked down 43 three-pointers, earned All-Big West Honorable Mention recognition.
• Sophomore Michael Caffey takes over the point guard reins from Casper Ware, who left the program as a two-time Big West Player of the Year. Caffey earned significant minutes as a freshman and played in all 34 games. He averaged 5.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists. The Riverside, Calif. native dished out 76 assists against only 43 turnovers. Caffey made his only two starts in the Big West Tournament with regular Larry Anderson sidelined due to injury, and had 11 points in the semifinal victory over UC Irvine.
• Division I transfers look to help keep the LBSU program rolling at a high level. Dan Jennings, a 6-9 forward who played two seasons at West Virginia, could be a key factor in the post. Keala King averaged a team-high 13.7 points through 13 games as a sophomore at Arizona State before the 6-5 guard left the team at the semester. Tony Freeland, a 6-7 forward, is another potential starter for the 49ers after playing two seasons at DePaul. Redshirt sophomore Kris Gulley is another candidate for the rotation who could provide scoring from the inside or outside.
• LBSU owns a current 22-game winning streak in the Walter Pyramid. The 49ers were 12-0 inside their home building last season. LBSU has not lost at home since Nov. 27, 2010 to Loyola Marymount. The 49ers hope to extend the streak in the 2012-13 opener against North Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 10.
• LBSU is playing its customary rugged non-conference schedule against the nation’s top programs – the majority of which on the road. However, 49er fans are in for a treat this season as five-time NCAA national champion North Carolina invades the Walter Pyramid on Nov. 16. The 49ers also will encounter road tests at Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State and UCLA.
• Head coach Jim Les enters his second season at the UC Davis helm hoping to turn around the program. The Aggies posted a 5-26 record, although four of those victories came in the last nine games. Three returning starters and several new faces look to give Les the ammunition to dent the win column more often in 2012-13.
• Junior Josh Ritchart is the leading returning scorer for the Aggies. He averaged 11.3 points and added 5.1 rebounds per game in 2011-12. Named the Big West Co-Freshman of the Year in 2010-11, Ritchart excelled at times and struggled at others last season. He hit seven three-pointers and collected 24 points against league champion Long Beach State (Feb. 11) but was scoreless against the same 49ers in the quarterfinals of the Big West Tournament (Mar. 8). His 69 three-pointers ranked fifth all-time in the Aggie single-season record book.
• Junior Tyler Les, the son of head coach Jim Les, lived up to the family name in terms of being a sharpshooter last season. The 6-2 guard knocked down 82 three-pointers and ranked third in the Big West with 2.6 made threes per game. His .410 three-point field goal percentage placed him eighth among the conference leaders. In addition, the 82 threes put Les at No. 2 on the UCD single-season list and left him just one short of tying the record.
• A healthy Ryan Sypkens will certainly help the UC Davis cause this season. The 6-4 guard averaged a team-best 14.0 points through the first four games of 2011-12 before a knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Sypkens contributed 9.7 points per game and led the Aggies with 66 three-pointers as a sophomore in 2010-11. His absence hindered UC Davis greatly on offense, a big reason why the team finished eighth in the Big West in scoring (62.1 ppg) last year.
• The coaching staff bolstered the frontline with the signing of junior college transfer Clint Bozner. JucoRecruiting.com rated the 6-8, 250-pound forward the 86th-best recruit and he is expected to provide inside scoring. Sophomore guard Corey Hawkins, a transfer from Arizona State and son of former NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins, adds to an improved backcourt as he played 24 games for the Sun Devils in 2010-11.
• UC Irvine was one of the youngest Division I teams in 2011-12 with no seniors on its roster. The Anteaters are now one of the conference’s more experienced squads with five starters and nine letterwinners returning. The returning players accounted for 2,105 of the 2,179 total points scored, or 96.6 percent of the offense from last season. It could be a motivated group looking to rise to the upper echelon of the Big West after going 25-39 during the first two seasons of head coach Russell Turner’s tenure.
• Three returning players received some type of postseason honor from the conference for their work last season. Senior Michael Wilder captured All-Big West Second Team honors averaging a team-high 11.5 points (No. 13 in Big West) and 5.2 rebounds per game. The 6-2 forward/guard also drained 78 three-pointers and ranked fourth in the conference with 2.4 threes made per game. Senior guard Daman Starring received all-conference honorable mention praise while senior forward/center Adam Folker claimed the Big West Best Hustle award.
• Folker turned out to be one of the Big West’s most improved players down the stretch. He scored in double figures nine times in the last 11 games after doing so on only three occasions through the first 21. Folker exploded for a career-high 28 points on 11 of 14 shooting in UCI’s win over Cal State Northridge (Feb. 25). The native of Canada led the Big West with a .569 field goal percentage in conference games only.
• Junior Chris McNealy joins Wilder and Starring as three ‘Eaters who started all 32 games last season. McNealy had a standout performance in UCI’s upset of No. 2 seed Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals with a career-high 24 points that helped him earn all-tournament accolades. He finished third on the team with 10.2 points, but the 6-4 guard contributed in other areas with 98 assists, 17 blocked shots and 27 steals.
• Forward Will Davis II posted a school record 55 blocked shots as a freshman in 2011-12. The 6-8 forward/center looks to improve upon his 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. The combination of Davis II, Folker and redshirt transfer John Ryan (Fresno State) gives UCI as formidable a frontline as any in the Big West. Add to the mix Turkish import Ege Mala (6-7, 210), who competed in the Under-18 Turkish Championships and was an invitee of the U18 Turkish National Team, and the pieces are in place for a solid year at UCI.
• UC Riverside fields the youngest team in the tenure of sixth-year head coach Jim Wooldridge. The roster includes six freshmen and two sophomores among the 13 players on the roster.
• Senior guard Robert Smith is the top returning player from last season’s squad that went 14-17 overall and 7-9 (5th place) in the Big West. The 5-11 guard started 18 of 23 games and ranked second among Highlander players with 9.2 points per game. He dished out a team-best 77 assists and knocked down 23 three-pointers on the season. Smith handed out a career-high nine assists at Pacific (Jan. 7).
• With the departure of first team all-conference standout Phil Martin, who averaged 17.5 points in 2011-12, the Highlanders look for big things from transfer Chris Harriel. The 6-4 forward started 29 games for Portland State in 2010-11, contributing 12.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. He notched 42 three-pointers and hit at a .788 (89-for-113) clip from the free throw line. Harriel is familiar with the UCR system after redshirting last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
• Playing time is up for grabs with so many new faces. Among the freshmen, 6-6 forward Josh Fox was named the San Francisco City Player of the Year and First Team All-Bay Area at Sacred Heart Cathedral as the team’s leading scorer at 19.0 points per game. His high school teammate, 6-6 forward Taylor Johns, helped the team to the California State Championship game where he tallied 13 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks. Help in the post comes in the form of 6-8 forward Chris Patton, a native of Australia who was rated at No. 106 of the 2012 JucoJunction Top 150 . He averaged 15.0 poins and 10.0 rebounds at Neosho CC.
• The Highlanders compete in tournament play during Thanksgiving weekend for the second consecutive season. After participating in the Anaheim Classic in 2011, UCR heads to snowy Anchorage, Alaska to play in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Highlanders open the tournament against Northeastern.
UC SANTA BARBARA
• UC Santa Barbara graduated the bulk of its production from the 2011-12 squad that went 20-11 overall and lost in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, marking the program’s third straight postseason appearance. Three-time Big West scoring champion Orlando Johnson departed via the second round of the NBA Draft (Indiana Pacers) with key starters James Nunnally and Jaimé Serna having also moved on. The trio combined for 1,375 of the team’s 2,262 points – more than 60 percent of the total offense.
• The Gauchos enter the 2012-13 campaign with one of the youngest squads in program history. Many of the six returning letterwinners must adopt primary roles after serving in more of a complementary capacity last season. UCSB’s top returning scorer is junior guard Kyle Boswell. He averaged 7.5 points per game and led the team in three-point field goal percentage (.435). He made 54 three-pointers as the team’s primary threat off the bench.
• Forward Alan Williams became a force down low for the Gauchos as a freshman in 2011-12. He averaged 6.9 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds, and set UCSB’s freshman record with 41 blocked shots. Williams started 19 of the team’s final 20 games and especially emerged during Big West play when his averages increased to 9.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots.
• Senior guard Nate Garth, junior forward Keegan Hornbuckle and sophomore guard T.J. Taylor were part-time starters last season. Garth and Taylor split point guard duties, and combined for 132 assists and 63 turnovers. All three players made at least 10 three-pointers.
• Redshirt freshman John Green is a potential prime scoring option for the Gauchos. He was expected to make key contributions last season, but suffered a broken foot in the opener and missed the remainder of the season. The 6-5 guard is likely slated for a starting role.
• Head coach Bob Williams enters his 15th season at the helm. He led the Gauchos to 20 wins for the fourth time in his tenure last season. Williams enters the 2012-13 season ranked No. 4 in both overall (237) and conference (140) victories in the all-time Big West coaching annals. He sits just three conference wins away from moving into the No. 3 spot.
• The 2012-13 schedule features a pair of opponents that competed in last year’s NCAA Tournament – San Diego State and Cal. The non-conference slate also includes a season-opening roadtrip to LSU and Illinois State, and a home-and-home series with Wyoming.
• The 10th and newest member of the Big West is Hawai‘i. The Rainbow Warriors play their home games in the 10,300 seat Stan Sheriff Center, where they posted a 10-7 record last season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. UH plays its first Big West game at home on Dec. 29 against Cal State Northridge.
• Head coach Gib Arnold enters his third season at UH. He is 35-29 overall. In 2011-12, he helped the Rainbow Warriors advance to the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time in nearly a decade. The 19 victories he compiled in 2010-11 tied for the most in UH history by a first-year head coach.
• A combination of new recruits and Division I transfers mixes with four returning letterwinners to form a solid roster in year one of the Big West.
• Senior Vander Joaquim is UH’s top returning player. He put up impressive numbers of 14.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game en route to All-WAC First Team honors and NABC All-District 6 First Team accolades. The 6-10 center also led the club with 58 blocked shots and hit at a .560 (172-for-307) clip from the field.
• Joining Joaquim up front is Nebraska transfer Christian Standhardinger. The 6-8 forward, a native of Munich, Germany, played two seasons for the Huskers and averaged 8.5 ppg in 22 career games. He started the final five games as a freshman, erupting for 25 points and eight rebounds against Iowa State.
• Overseas recruit Isaac Fotu is a 6-9, 235-pound freshman expected to contribute immediately. His presence gives the Bows one of the Big West’s most formidable frontcourts.
• UH is a bit thin in the backcourt and needs a playmaker to account for the departures of Jeremiah Ostrowski and Shaquille Stokes. The likely candidate for starting point guard duties is another Division I transfer – Jace Tavita. He played three seasons at Utah and started 19 games as a sophomore. After a redshirt season in the UH program, he could become the team’s primary distributor.
• Pacific enters its 42nd and final season of Big West membership in 2012-13. The Tigers move to the West Coast Conference beginning in 2013-14. They have compiled an all-time record of 618-576 (.518) and are an even 324-324 in conference games.
• The architect of Pacific’s program since 1988 is Bob Thomason. He is retiring after his 25th and final season as the Tiger head coach. He reached a career milestone in 2011-12, becoming the Big West’s all-time leader in overall wins with 414. Thomason also owns the most league victories with 235. He is 414-309 (.573) all-time with a 235-169 (.582) mark in Big West play. His teams have won 20 or more games nine times in the last 16 seasons.
• The Tigers played last season with an almost entirely revamped roster. Pacific finished 11-19 overall and 6-10 in the Big West as the influx of new players adapted to Coach Thomason’s system. All five starters return and the roster is loaded with upperclassmen (7 seniors, 8 juniors).
• Senior Lorenzo McCloud topped the team with 11.2 points per game last season. He ranked third in the Big West with 3.5 assists per game and eighth in steals (1.1 spg).
• Pacific’s two all-conference performers in 2011-12 were forwards Travis Fulton and Ross Rivera. The senior duo contributed in different ways – Rivera ranked No. 2 in Big West games only for free throw percentage (.865) and Fulton was the league’s eighth-best rebounder (6.1 rpg). Rivera averaged 11.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game en route to the Big West “Best Sixth Man” award. Fulton chipped in 9.5 points per contests and ranked second on the team with 40 three-pointers.
• Senior guard Markus Duran started 24 of 30 games and gave the Tigers a perimeter presence. He drained a team-high 55 three-pointers and ranked fourth on the squad in scoring (7.0 ppg).