Bob Thomason

Big West conference tournament preview

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Long Beach State, even with heavy personnel losses from last season’s NCAA tournament team, was the preseason pick to win the Big West and Dan Monson’s team did just that. But the 49ers didn’t lack for challengers and that will be the case this weekend when the top eight teams get together at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Any of the eight teams in the field are capable of winning at least one game this weekend, which should make for an entertaining three days in Anaheim.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Anaheim, California (Honda Center)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Long Beach State

The 49ers enter the tournament having lost three of their last four games, with two of those defeats coming on the road against UC Irvine and Pacific, so they don’t enter the weekend rolling so to speak. But the talent for another title run is certainly there, with Ennis and sophomore point guard Michael Caffey leading the way. The addition of DePaul transfer Tony Freeland allowed Ennis to move back to small forward after having to play as an undersized four for much of non-conference play. Also of note are shooting guard Keala King and power forward Dan Jennings, with King giving the 49ers the slasher (in addition to Ennis) this team didn’t have during non-conference play.

And if they lose: Pacific

Seven players average at least five points per game but just one, Lorenzo McCloud (11.4 ppg) is in double figures, which underlines Pacific’s reliance on balance and controlling tempo. The Tigers shoot nearly 39% from beyond the arc and they share the basketball, as their assists per game (15.4) and assist percentage (63.1% of their made field goals are assisted) lead the Big West. With their pending move to the WCC and head coach Bob Thomason retiring, the Tigers won’t lack for motivation this weekend.

Sleepers: This area is loaded with possibilities, beginning with UC Irvine and Hawaii. Both have depth in the front court, with Michael Wilder, Will Davis II and Adam Folker leading the way for the Anteaters while Vander Joaquim, Christian Standhardinger and Isaac Fotu anchor things insider for the Warriors. Cal Poly is similar to Pacific in that they have one player averaging double figures (forward Chris Eversley) and shoot well from beyond the arc. Lastly there’s UC Davis, a team capable of lighting it up offensively with Big West scoring champ Corey Hawkins leading the way.

Studs: 

– F James Ennis (Long Beach State): Big West Player of the Year, Ennis ended the season ranked in the top ten in the Big West in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and blocked shots.

– Corey Hawkins (UC Davis): Averaging 20.9 points per game on the season, and he lit up Hawaii for 41 earlier this season.

– Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara): The only player in the Big West averaging a double-double, Williams (17.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg) leads the way for the Gauchos.

Prediction: Go with the “storybook” ending here. Pacific leaves the Big West on top, sending their retiring head coach to the NCAA tournament one last time.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.