Russell Turner, Will Davis II

2013-2014 Big West Conference Preview: Long Beach St., UC Irvine among the contenders

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source:
AP

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With defending WCC tournament champion Pacific now in the WCC, the conference will have a new representative in the NCAA tournament. Which teams have the best shot of earning that bid? Start with UC Irvine, thanks to the return of guard Alex Young and forwards Will Davis II and Chris McNealy. UC Irvine also adds a transfer in guard Dominique Dunning and 7-5 center Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college basketball. However head coach Russell Turner does have to account for the graduation of key contributors Adam Folker, Daman Starring and Michael Wilder, so by no means is UC Irvine the clear favorite to win the Big West.

Despite losing four of their top six scorers from a season ago Long Beach State will once again be in the mix, with point guard Mike Caffey leading the way. Head coach Dan Monson added five junior college transfers to the mix, and UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb will be eligible to take the floor in December. UC Davis, Hawai’i, Cal Poly and UCSB should also be contenders this season.

UC Davis head coach Jim Les welcomes back the Big West scoring champion, junior guard Corey Hawkins, and three other starters who helped the Aggies improve their win total by nine games. Hawai’i loses center Vander Joaquim but forwards Isaac Fotu (shared Big West Freshman of the Year honors with Alex Young) and Christian Standhardinger return, and there’s optimism regarding the addition of San Jose State transfer Keith Shamburger.

Cal Poly and UCSB can both claim to have one of the league’s best forwards, with Chris Eversley leading the way for Cal Poly while Alan Williams controls the paint for the Gauchos. Joe Callero’s Mustangs have won 14 straight games at home, and they’ve led the conference in scoring defense in each of the last three seasons. As for Bob Williams’ UCSB squad, Alan Williams returns and sophomores Michael Bryson and Taran Brown will look to take the next step after proving to be valuable pieces as freshmen.

Long Beach State could very well manage to win the Big West for a fourth consecutive season, but the list of challengers may be the strongest they’ve faced during this current run of success.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: None
Out: Pacific (WCC)

source:
AP

PRESEASON BIG WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Corey Hawkins (UC Davis)

Hawkins averaged 20.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest in his first season as an Aggie, including a 41-point explosion in a win at Hawai’i. With a year in Jim Les’ system under his belt, look for Hawkins to emerge as the best player in the Big West.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G Mike Caffey (Long Beach State): With leading scorer James Ennis out of eligibility Caffey (12.0 ppg, 3.8 apg in 2012-13) may be asked to score more this season.
  • F Chris Eversley (Cal Poly): Eversley (15.4, 7.0) posted seven double-doubles last season, including a 30-point, 14-rebound performance in a win over Cal-State Northridge in late-January.
  • F Christian Standhardinger (Hawai’i): In his first season at UH the former Nebraska forward posted averages of 15.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
  • F Alan Williams (UCSB): With averages of 17.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game last season, an argument can be made that Williams is the Big West’s best returnee.

PREDICTED FINISH
1. UC Irvine
2. Long Beach State
3. UC Davis
4. Hawai’i
5. Cal Poly
6. UC Santa Barbara
7. Cal State Fullerton
8. Cal State Northridge
9. UC Riverside

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.