Upcoming 2015-16 Men's Basketball Season Previewed
With the 2015-16 Big West men's basketball just over a month away, read up on the team capsules and watch the head coach interviews offered up by the conference's ESPN3 crew.
• Cal Poly returns three starters and seven letterwinners from last year’s 13-16 club. The team features a solid senior class comprised of starters Joel Awich, Brian Bennett and David Nwaba, and top reserve Reese Morgan. They represented Cal Poly’s top four scorers, accounting for 1,128 of the overall point total (1,752), or nearly 65 percent of the offense in 2014-15.
• With 839 career points, Bennett is closest to becoming the 22nd player in school history to reach the 1,000-point milestone. He led the Mustangs in scoring (11.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg) last season en route to All-Big West Second Team accolades.
• Awich’s 38 blocked shots tied for fifth-most in a single-season at Cal Poly, while his 82 career swats place him third all-time in the school’s record book.
• Two cornerstones of the Mustang program under seventh-year head coach Joe Callero is the ability to take care of the ball and defend solidly. The Mustangs ranked No. 2 nationally in fewest turnovers per game (8.8) last year. In 2013-14, they were ranked fourth (8.9). Defensively, the Mustangs have led the Big West in scoring defense for five straight seasons. Cal Poly allowed 59.3 points per game last year.
• Cal Poly benefited from an opportunity to prepare early for the 2015-16 with an eight-day, three-game tour of France in August. The Mustangs played against a 24-second shot clock under international rules against their three opponents, and used the experience as a training ground for this year’s NCAA rule change that will incorporate a 30-second shot clock. COACH JOE CALLERO SAYS: “We just feel like our offense needs to be more aggressive, push it, take the first early shot, so we’re going right at it this year and decide to change our tempo. We’ve got to improve our field goal percentage. When you have some talent, you’ve got to push it and allow them to score in space and be aggressive.”
CAL STATE FULLERTON
• Cal State Fullerton has posted an overall record of 20-42 during Dedrique Taylor’s first two seasons of leading the program. The Titans finished 9-22 in 2014-15, and return one starter in senior center Kennedy Esume.
• Esume, a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho, made 15 starts for the Titans and averaged 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He shot 50.0 percent (54-of-108) from the field and collected a team-leading 19 blocked shots.
• Lanneryl Johnson split time between the starting lineup and the bench, showing signs of being an explosive scorer in his first year with the program. Among his prolific scoring efforts, the 6-1 guard erupted for 31 points at S.C. Upstate and churned out 29 against UC Riverside. In all, he posted seven games of 20 points or more to emerge as Fullerton’s second-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game. He also drained a team-best 58 three-pointers, and his success rate of 43.0 percent from distance is the fourth-best single-season performance in Titan history.
• A couple of Division I transfers look to impact the Titan lineup after redshirting the 2014-15 season. Tre’ Coggins, a 6-2 guard, played two years at Air Force. As a sophomore, he pumped in a team-leading 16.0 points per game and led the Falcons with 72 three-pointers. Pepperdine transfer Malcolm Brooks started 28 of 30 games in his lone season in Malibu. A 6-5 guard, Brooks averaged 10.3 points and knocked down a team-best 44 threes. The two players look to fortify a Titan offense that lost five of its top six scorers from a year ago. COACH DEDRIQUE TAYLOR SAYS: “I think if we can get to a point where we can consistently execute, particularly in the last three to five minutes of games, I think it changes our fate tremendously. I think you can expect a different level of execution when it matters.”
• Head coach Reggie Theus enters his third season at the CSUN helm having taken the Matadors to the Big West Tournament twice, including the tournament final in his first tour. He has assembled a mixture of veterans and youth, a roster that features a combined seven freshmen and sophomores to go along with three likely upperclassmen starters.
• One of two seniors, the versatile Tre Hale-Edmerson ranks among the Big West active career leaders in several categories. He is ninth in points (561), second in rebounds (537) and blocks (136), sixth in assists (209), and first in steals (111). Edmerson, a 6-9 forward/center, is also the third-longest current tenured Big West player with 2,569 career minutes played.
• Fellow senior and point guard Landon Drew returns to the lineup, having made 62 starts among his 96 career games played. He has dished out 367 assists, second among active Big West players, and third on the CSUN all-time top-10 list. He is within range of the No. 2 spot, occupied by Andre Chevalier (481, 1990-94).
• Junior guard Aaron Parks broke the Big West single-game record for free throws made (19) and attempted (23) when he accomplished the feat on Feb. 28, 2015 against UC Riverside. Parks churned out a career-high 29 points on that night and went on to close out the 2014-15 campaign with 10 straight double-digit scoring games.
• CSUN led the Big West in free throw percentage for the second straight season and third time in the last four years. Shooting .765 from the charity stripe, that figure put the Matadors 10th nationally. In 2013-14, CSUN was No. 1 in the country in free throw percentage (.791). COACH REGGIE THEUS SAYS: “Our guys have never watched as much film as they watch. And when I tell them, ‘this is how we did it in the NBA, this is how I coached in the NBA,’ this is how you get better. In basketball, you have to study. You have to be mindful and be mental about it.”
LONG BEACH STATE
• Long Beach State lost all five starters from last year’s 16-17 club that made head coach Dan Monson the winningest in program history. Monson, who surpassed Jerry Tarkanian (122) for the record, enters the 2015-16 season with 135 wins at LBSU.
• The 49ers get one starter back from the 2013-14 club in senior guard A.J. Spencer. He missed all of last season due to a knee injury, but averaged 9.1 points in 28 starts in his first season as a 49er.
• Division I transfers are primed to play a major role in the team’s overall fortunes this year. Nick Faust (Maryland), Roschon Prince (USC) and Gabe Levin (Loyola Marymount) provide the 49ers with an influx of talent needed to compete against once again one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, which includes Oklahoma State, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona and Duke in road tilts.
• Faust is the most experienced of the transfers, having played for three years with the Terrapins, and starting 66 games over the last two. He was an All-ACC Freshman team selection and averaged 9.4 points per game in each of his two seasons.
• Other returners include sophomore forward Temidayo Yussuf and junior guard Branford Jones, who were part-time starters a year ago. Yussuf averaged 3.5 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 33 games (10 starts), while Jones ranked fourth on the team in scoring (7.0 ppg) with 12 starts. Junior guard/forward Travis Hammonds is another candidate to play extended minutes after averaging 6.4 points and hitting 18 three-pointers last season. COACH DAN MONSON SAYS: “Historically, in my nine years here, we have not had great success with our transfers. They have not had great results for us. To be optimistic about our transfers, I’m very cautious right now. But I like the makeup of this group; I like their mentality. All three of them transferred because of coaching changes, not because of dissatisfaction with a program. They were just loyal to the coach that recruited them. I think that gives me hope that they’re going to come in with a little different attitude than some of the other ones we’ve had along the way.”
“We feel like we’re the premier program in this league, and for the last two years we haven’t been. And that’s unacceptable. We feel like we need to win the league every year. So there’s a sense of urgency there, especially from a coaching standpoint, that we have to have a good year this year and get ourselves back.”
• UC Davis had a memorable 2014-15 season. The Aggies captured their first Big West regular season title, won a school Division I record 25 games, finished 14-0 at home, and made its first D-I postseason appearance with a trip to the National Invitation Tournament.
• The Aggies must confront life without two-time Big West scoring champion Corey Hawkins. The conference’s Player of the Year in 2014-15, Hawkins led the nation in three-point field goal percentage (.488). In fact, UC Davis lost three of its top four scorers from a year ago, but returns an intriguing cast of talent that seeks to repeat as champions.
• Senior Josh Fox could shoulder an increased role in 2015-16 as the leading returning scorer for the Aggies. The 6-6 forward averaged 9.0 points per game and shot nearly 60 percent from the field en route to Big West Sixth Man of the Year honors last season.
• While Fox appears headed for the starting lineup this year, the Aggies also return two incumbent starters. Senior forward J.T. Adenrele and junior guard Darius Graham combined to start all but one game during last season’s championship run. Adenrele is 245 points shy of 1,000 for his career, while Graham dished out a team-best 102 assists as the Aggie floor general.
• The Aggies typically have been a solid shooting team, having led the Big West in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage in three of the last five seasons. COACH JIM LES SAYS: “The challenge is we don’t want our guys to relax. We don’t want them to get comfortable. UC Davis basketball is here to stay to be a force. It’s building off that foundation of our work ethic, our attention to detail, and having an appreciation for the hard work that went into building the program. Continuing to infuse it with guys who are team-oriented, and concerned about “we” versus “I.” We feel we have that group. We feel that even though we lost some guys that were very productive and valuable to our program, that we’re not taking a step backwards.”
• Head coach Russell Turner’s Anteaters have strung together three straight 20-win seasons, and have won 65 games over that span.
• UCI achieved two program firsts during the 2014-15 season – winning the Big West Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Anteaters downed UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Hawai’i to secure their first league tournament crown since joining Division I on July 1, 1977. UCI nearly pulled off an upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, falling 57-55 in the Second Round.
• The Anteaters have led the Big West in blocked shots in each of the last two seasons, amassing 392 blocks over that span, including a school-record 224 in 2013-14. Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7-6 center, is at the forefront of those totals, having broken the Big West single-season record for blocks with 106 in 2013-14. Ndiaye started in 11 of 15 games played during an injury shortened 2014-15 season, averaging 10.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
• In addition to Ndiaye, the Anteaters return two other starters in backcourt mates Alex Young and Luke Nelson. They have formed UCI’s starting backcourt in each of the last two seasons. Barring injury, both players should surpass the career 1,000-point mark this season, with Young (935) the closest to the milestone. Young also is poised to become the school’s career assist leader. He’s currently No. 3 on the all-time list with 414 helpers, well within range of record holder Raimonds Miglinieks (475, 1994-96). Nelson ranks second among Big West active players in career three-pointers made (121).
• UCI has won 48 of its last 50 games when holding the opposition to 60 points or less. The Anteaters were 15-2 in those games last season. COACH RUSSELL TURNER SAYS: “I don’t think that our team came away from last year fully satisfied because we were close in the NCAA Tournament, but also in a lot of games in our non-conference schedule. There’s a lot more out there for us to play for and achieve as a program, and I’m excited with how my guys have worked to get better during this offseason.”
“We were a play away from pulling off a win on a really big stage, and there’s something really positive in that, but it’s also a reality that we weren’t able to do it last year. What I’m hoping is that we will be hungry for that opportunity to emerge again and we’ll be more successful when we have that chance in front of us. I think that can be what happens. I think that our team last year was able to win in the Big West Tournament because of the disappointment we had faced the year before.”
• UC Riverside finished 14-17 and 7-9 in Big West play in 2014-15, which totaled the second-most wins both overall and conference in the program’s Division I history. The Highlanders also established a Division I high water mark for most home court wins (12). The improvement from six to 10 to 14 wins over the last three seasons led the school to sign head coach Dennis Cutts to a contract extension through the 2019-20 season.
• Senior Taylor Johns is one of two returning All-Big West First Team players, and a candidate for Big West Player of the Year honors in 2015-16. The 6-7 forward ranked No. 3 in scoring (16.3 ppg), and No. 2 in rebounding (8.2 rpg) and blocked shots (1.7 bpg) among the conference leaders. His 150 career blocks already ranks as the eighth-most in the Big West record book.
• Johns and guard Jaylen Bland combined to score 975 points last season, making them the top returning scoring duo in the Big West. Johns surpassed the 1,000-point career milestone as he enters the campaign at a 1,042 total. Bland led the league with 95 three-pointers en route to second team all-conference kudos.
• Alex Larsson, a 6-9 forward from Sweden, started 30 of 31 games as a freshman last year. He shot 46.8 percent (52-of-111) from the field while averaging 4.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Larsson led all Big West freshmen in the rebounding category.
• The Highlanders also are excited to have a healthy Steven Jones returning. The 6-0 senior guard missed the final 12 games of the regular season and the Big West Tournament with a foot injury. Despite all the missed time, Jones still finished fourth on the team in assists (57) and led the team in that category on eight occasions. COACH DENNIS CUTTS SAYS: “I don’t feel Taylor (Johns) with a burden on him. I think he’s excited about the pieces around him. He’s worked extremely hard to continue to develop his game. This is a young man that went from 6 to 12 to 16 (points per game) and 8 (rebounds per game) as a junior. He’s bought into expanding his game.”
UC SANTA BARBARA
• UC Santa Barbara appeared in the postseason for the seventh time in the 17-year head coaching tenure of Bob Williams, closing out the 2014-15 campaign at 19-14 overall after playing in the College Basketball Invitational. The Gauchos return three starters, but must deal with the losses of Alan Williams, the Big West’s No. 2 all-time leading rebounder, and starting point guard Zalmico Harmon.
• Williams is in line to reach a career milestone with his 300th victory at UCSB. He is 288-224 (.563) all-time at the school, and only two other coaches have achieved at least 300 wins in Big West history – Pacific’s Bob Thomason (436) and Long Beach State/UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian (405).
• Senior Michael Bryson was selected All-Big West First Team after emerging as one of the league’s top wings in 2014-15. He was the ninth-leading scorer (13.9 ppg) in the Big West and his 1,043 career points is tops among active players. He became the 27th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 career points with 22 points at Hawai‘i on Mar. 4, 2015.
• Despite playing in a total of just four games during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons due to an assortment of injuries, John Green had himself a productive, and healthy, junior campaign. Competing in all 33 games (19 starts), Green finished as the third-leading scorer (11.3 ppg) on the Gauchos and received all-conference honorable mention recognition.
• UCSB also welcomes back the Big West Freshman of the Year in guard Gabe Vincent. Draining 57 three-point baskets, second-most all-time by a UCSB freshman, Vincent ranked fourth on the team in scoring (10.1 ppg). He was third in assists (60) against just 28 turnovers. Vincent reserved two of his best games for the end of the season, collecting a career-high 25 points at Hawai‘i and 22 against Oral Roberts in the CBI First Round. COACH BOB WILLIAMS SAYS: “Your job as a coach is to put the ball in the hands of the player that you gives you the best chance to win games. Al (Williams) was the most productive player in the country the previous two years, so Al touched the ball more than any player in Division I basketball the last two years. Now the players that give us the best chance to win games are going to be our twos, our threes and our fours.”
• Hawai‘i is under the new leadership of head coach Eran Ganot, who comes to Honolulu following a stint at Saint Mary’s as the associate head coach. Formerly a UH assistant coach, Ganot inherits a squad that finished 22-13 overall and reached the championship game of the Big West Tournament. Four starters and nine letterwinners return to give Ganot a solid foundation from which to build his program.
• UH’s 22-win campaign gave the program back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1996-97 and 1997-98 squads accomplished the feat.
• Senior Roderick Bobbitt led the nation in steals last season with 100 and ranked third in steals per game (2.86). The 6-3 guard joined elite company after accumulating his 100th steal in the Big West Tournament final against UC Irvine, becoming just the fourth player in league history to hit the century mark – UNLV’s Greg Anthony (106), Utah State’s Jay Goodman (102) and Long Beach State’s Rasul Salahuddin (101) were the others. Bobbitt, an all-conference second team pick, was the ringleader behind UH’s aggressive defense, which racked up 337 steals last season to rank No. 3 in the country.
• Optimism around the Stan Sheriff Center is buttressed by the return of two more all-conference performers from 2014-15 – juniors Aaron Valdes and Stefan Jankovic. Valdes led the Rainbow Warriors and ranked No. 10 in the Big West in scoring at 13.7 points per game. He had a career-high 34 points against CSUN in a win. Jankovic averaged 10.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 24 contests, and he scored in double figures in 13 of his last 18 appearances.
• Hawai‘i has led the Big West in scoring offense in each of the last two seasons. The Rainbow Warriors averaged 72.9 points per game last season, topping the 70-point plateau in 23 of 35 games. UH went 17-6 in those 23 contests. COACH ERAN GANOT SAYS: “It’s a blank canvas. We have an idea of what (the players) have been about based on film last year and the little bit of work we’ve been able to do with them so far. It’s also exciting to get to know them better. People make their predictions based on what you’re returning, but the reality is it’s the improvement of those returning guys and the improvement of the new guys. It’s really exciting to see how the team can come together. There’s obviously things we can build off of, and I hope there’s some surprises in there as well.”