Men’s B-Ball Tournament Preview

The Men’s Big West Conference Tournament kicks off from March 7 to 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The winner will receive an automatic berth into the upcoming NCAA Tournament and will have a chance to write its own Cinderella story when the first round of college basketball’s March Madness begins on March 15. Here is a preview of what to expect during the four-day tournament in Anaheim.

(All statistics mentioned are conference games only and include games played up to March 2.)

Team to Beat:
Long Beach State
(22-7 overall, 12-2 Big West)

The Long Beach State 49ers are the favorites to win the Big West Tournament after finishing in first place during conference play.

Led by senior guard Aaron Nixon and senior guard Kejuan Johnson the 49ers have cruised to wins in conference play mainly because of their hot outside shooting and balanced offensive attack. Long Beach has four seniors who are averaging 13 or more points per game and as a team, the 49ers are averaging over 86 points per game.

Long Beach will have to win just two games to advance to the NCAA Tournament and if it ever needs a last-second shot look no further than Nixon. Nixon tends to elevate his play during the second half of most games and will be Long Beach’s biggest asset on the offensive side of the ball.

With over half its roster made up of seniors, the 49ers should have the experience to deal with the pressure situations during the tournament.

If all goes to plan, Long Beach will be cutting down the net on Saturday.

Look Out For:
Cal State Fullerton
(19-9 overall, 9-5 Big West)

Even though Fullerton lost twice to Long Beach State and has struggled toward the end of the season, its high-scoring offense will keep the Titans in every game.

Dynamic senior guard Bobby Brown will be leading the Titans at the point guard position as he averaged over 20 points per game during conference play.

Junior Scott Cutley has come along nicely for the Titans, providing Brown with a solidified second scoring option with over 15 points while grabbing 9.5 rebounds per game.

With the third seed in the tournament, the Titans will have to win three games to make the tournament. Expect Brown to come out shooting as it is his last chance to make the NCAA and to impress NBA scouts.

A finals match-up between Long Beach and Cal State Fullerton would be an offensive-minded fan’s dream as both teams can easily score over 100 points on any given night.

Hottest Team:

Cal Poly
(18-10 overall, 9-5 Big West)

After starting conference play with a 2-4 record, Cal Poly has been literally unbeatable during the past month and a half.

Cal Poly won seven of its last eight conference games in convincing fashion to grab the second seed and seems to be peaking at just the perfect time to make an upset run through the Big West Tournament.

Senior Derek Stockalper leads the Mustangs averaging 13.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game while making close to half of his three-point attempts.

One of Cal Poly’s biggest strengths has been its ability to shoot at a high percentage from the field. The Mustangs are second in the league, shooting over 47 percent from the field.

If anyone was going to upset Long Beach and make it to the NCAA Tournament, my money would be on Cal Poly. The last time these two teams matched up, the Mustangs only lost by three points, 80-77.

Sleeper Pick:
UC Irvine
(13-17 overall, 6-8 Big West)

Depending on which UC Irvine team shows up to play during the tournament, the Anteaters could be either exiting the tournament early or cutting down the net on Saturday night.

Led by junior guard Patrick Sanders and junior forward Darren Fells, the Anteaters grabbed the No. 5 seed in the tournament, forcing the squad to play in all four days of the tournament.

The Anteaters have been fairly inconsistent this year and have had trouble holding on to early leads. Thursday’s 85-80 loss to Long Beach was a prime example. The Anteaters held a 60-50 lead only to see it disappear.

The play of freshman guard Michael Hunter and junior guard Chuma Awaji will be crucial in containing some of the conference’s top guards such as Bobby Brown from CSF and Kejuan Johnson from CSULB.

Awaji said that he is confident his team will be ready to play when the tournament begins.

‘Everyone is looking at Fullerton and Long Beach but I think that we are the sleeper team in the tournament,’ Awaji said, following UCI’s 73-59 win over UC Davis on Feb. 22.

One advantage for the Anteaters will be the fact that they have only played two games during the past two weeks. Fatigue should not be a factor, and if defense wins championships, UCI should be in good shape.

UCI has allowed only 69.6 points per game from their opponents which is second best in the conference.

If Irvine is able to make it into the semifinals, they would likely face Long Beach again and, for whatever reason, they seem to match-up fairly well with the 49ers, having already beat them this season.

UCI will be led by Sanders, who is averaging close to 12 points per game, senior forward Nic Campbell on the perimeter and the reemergence of senior forward Mark Kelley in the post.

Sophomore guard Adam Templeton has struggled with his outside shot in recent games. If he is able to break through his slump, the Anteaters would add another perimeter player to compliment their inside game.

The Anteaters will need to play with more consistency and depend on their defense if they hopes to make a push deep into the conference tournament. Look for UCI to make it to at least the semifinals of the tournament.

The Rest:
UC Santa Barbara
(18-10 overall, 9-5 Big West)

After starting conference play 6-2, UC Santa Barbara has slid back to reality, posting a 3-3 record in its final six conference games.

Santa Barbara will be led by junior Alex Harris who is one of the top three players in the conference, averaging 20.6 points per game.

With a fourth-place finish, the Gauchos will most likely face UCI in the second round.

Cal State Northridge
(14-16 overall, 5-9 Big West)

Pacific
(11-18 overall, 5-9 Big West)

Cal State Northridge and Pacific have been in almost every game this season but have been unable to finish at the end.

Both teams like to slow the game down and are not looking to get caught up in the up-and-down tempo of most of the top teams in the conference.

Pacific has won the tournament for two straight years and won’t go down easy.

UC Riverside
(7-23 overall, 1-13 Big West)

UC Riverside has been in the cellar for much of the season with a dismal 1-13 record in the Big West Conference. Its one win was against Cal State Fullerton, so the Anteaters should not take Riverside lightly in the first round of the conference tournament.