Men's Basketball Title Race Begins Wednesday
2015-16 Men's Basketball Release No. 9
ESPNU, Prime Ticket and ESPN3 will broadcast five of the eight games on this week's schedule to tip off the Big West men's basketball race that will run up to March and the postseason tournament at Honda Center.
Opening Act: Cal Poly opens Big West play with Hawai‘i for the third straight season. The Mustangs won both meetings against the Rainbow Warriors, including a 61-57 overtime victory in Honolulu last year. The Mustangs have won three consecutive conference openers overall under head coach Joe Callero.
One-Two Punch: The Mustangs boast the top two three-point marksmen in the Big West in senior Reese Morgan and sophomore Taylor Sutlive. Both guards are shooting over 50 percent from distance, with Sutlive leading the circuit at 50.9 (28-for-55) percent.
More On Morgan: Morgan hit five threes against No. 19 Texas A&M en route to a team-high 16 points. He is shooting 58.3 (14-for-24) percent from three-point land over the last four games.
Offensive Overtures: Cal Poly enters Big West play ranked No. 2 in scoring offense, averaging 75.5 points per game. The Mustangs have scored 70 or more in all but two games.
CAL STATE FULLERTON
Streak Broken: Cal State Fullerton ended a five-game losing streak with a 75-52 triumph over Cal State East Bay Saturday, finishing out non-conference play at 7-6. It’s the second straight season the Titans have entered the conference schedule with a winning record.
Opening Act: The Titans visit UC Riverside to commence Big West play on Thursday. CSF has lost seven straight Big West road openers. Their last road opening win in conference came during the 2007-08 campaign, and that was at UCR.
Holding Court: Junior Tre’ Coggins has hit at least two threes in all 13 games this season. The 6-2 guard ranks No. 2 in the Big West in total threes made (40) and threes made per game (3.1). In addition, Coggins has averaged 18.6 points over the last five games.
Sticklers: The 52 points allowed to Cal State East Bay was the fewest by a Titan opponent this season.
Opening Act: CSUN begins conference play at home on Wednesday against Long Beach State in an ESPN3 game. The Matadors are seeking to win their conference home opener for the third straight year.
Good Show: The Matadors are coming off an 88-74 win over Morgan State in which they shot 49.1 (28-for-57) percent overall and 83.9 (26-for-31) percent at the free throw line, while recording season-highs in rebounds (44) and blocked shots (7).
The Smith Effect: Since becoming eligible on Dec. 17 at Portland State, junior transfer Kendall Smith has registered 20 or more points three times in five games.
Reinforcements: The recent additions of Smith (17.0 ppg) and sophomore Jerron Wilbut (12.3) has given the CSUN offense more pop as the lineup now features four players who are averaging in double figures – Micheal Warren (15.0) and Tavrion Dawson (12.1) are the others.
LONG BEACH STATE
Shooting Stars: Long Beach State finished out the non-conference slate with a pair of losses at No. 8 Arizona and at No. 12 Duke, but shot a collective 47.5 (58-for-122) percent against the two behemoth programs. The hurt occurred at the free throw line, where Duke and Arizona doubled up The Beach in total attempts (64-32).
Opening Act: The Beach has won six of their last seven Big West home openers going into Saturday’s ESPN3 matchup with UC Davis in the Walter Pyramid.
Blackwell Makes First Career Start: Freshman guard Noah Blackwell made his first career start at Duke, and responded with a career-high 19 points. He hit a career-best four three-pointers, and ranks second on the team with 26 treys this season.
Huge Improvement: In 2014-15, LBSU ranked fifth in the Big West in three-point field goal percentage (.342). This season, the Beach leads all conference teams, connecting at a 39.6 percent clip from distance. That figure is also good for 25th nationally.
Extinguished: UC Davis halted a six-game losing streak with Saturday’s 74-49 victory over Holy Names. The six-game skid was the longest for the Aggies since a seven-game slide during the 2013-14 season.
Schneider’s Emergence: Following the continued development of freshman guard Siler Schneider should be fun throughout conference play. Since joining the starting lineup, Schneider has posted 13, 21 and 18 points for an average of 17.3. He has scored in double figures in five of the last six games.
Opening Act: UC Davis opens Big West action with two tough opponents out of the gate in UC Irvine and Long Beach State. The Aggies swept both opponents last season, the first time they’ve done so since joining the conference.
Monson’s Mark: Junior Neal Monson notched a career-high 20 points against Holy Names and added eight rebounds, the ninth time in 13 contests that the center gobbled up eight or more caroms. He enters conference play as the Big West’s second-leading rebounder (8.8 rpg).
Momentum: UC Irvine eked out a 54-52 win against New Mexico State to close out its non-conference schedule, and the Anteaters enter league play tied for the most victories with 11.
Victory March: The 11 non-conference wins is the highest total in head coach Russell Turner’s six-year tenure at UCI, and the most for the program since Bill Mulligan won 12 in 1981-82.
He Got It: Senior Alex Young became UCI’s career assist leader last week, breaking the old mark of 475 held by Raimonds Miglinieks. Young enters this week with 479. He is 21 assists shy from becoming the 12th player in Big West history to reach the 500-assist mark.
The Benchmark: UCI is 5-0 this season when holding the opponent to 60 points or less, and has won 53 of its last 55 games when reaching that benchmark defensively.
Setting The Standard: The Anteaters have won 35 conference games over the last three seasons, the most of any Big West school in that span.
Strong Side: UC Riverside is 9-7, and the nine wins represent the most for the program prior to Big West competition in the school’s Division I history. That figure also ties the 2008-09 squad for the most non-conference wins in Division I history.
Bland’s Blah: Senior Jaylen Bland entered the team’s final non-conference game against Bakersfield with a streak of 43 straight games with at least one made three-pointer, but went 0-for-2 beyond the arc against the Roadrunners. Prior to that game, Bland had made 17 threes during a four-game stretch.
Three-Point Talk: Bland’s 57 made three-pointers are tied for the third-most nationally, and just one off the national lead held jointly by Jacksonville’s Darius Dawkins and North Florida’s Trent Mackey.
Guarding The Line: The Highlanders have been stingy at defending the three-point line, and rank 15th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage defense (.287). No opponent has made more than nine in a game this season.
UC SANTA BARBARA
On A Roll: UC Santa Barbara takes a season-best four-game winning streak into Big West play, and looks to return to the .500 mark with a win at Hawai‘i on Saturday. The Gauchos have scored 80 or more points in four straight games after failing to hit the 70-point plateau in each of their first eight contests.
Scoring Scope: UCSB’s four straight games with at least 80 points is an accomplishment the program has not witnessed since February of 1973 when it scored 80 or more in five straight.
Bryson’s Ladder: Senior Michael Bryson, who has planted totals of 29 and 36 points in recent games, has raised his season scoring average to a Big West-leading 19.8 points per game. He is now No. 13 in Gaucho career scoring history with 1,281 points.
Three-Point Trivia: Bryson’s nine made three-pointers against Seattle tied the school single-game record and tied him for seventh on the Big West list. Bryson needs three more treys to reach 200 for his career.
Statement: Hawai‘i tallied a league-high tying 11 victories, all at home, with its only losses coming to Big 12 opponents Texas Tech and Oklahoma during non-conference play. The ‘Bows now focus their attention on trying to win their first Big West regular season title.
Discovery: Senior Roderick Bobbitt, who had made seven three-pointers through his first eight games played, has discovered a prowess from distance. The 6-3 guard has canned 17 threes over the last four games, including a career-high seven against Howard on Saturday. Bobbitt is shooting a blistering 65.4 (17-for-26) percent from three-point land during that four-game stretch.
Valdes Joins Exclusive Club: Junior Aaron Valdes recorded 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists against Howard to become just the third player in UH history with a triple-double.
Opening Act: UH opens Big West play against Cal Poly for the third straight season, and seeks to avoid a third consecutive league-opening loss to the Mustangs.