Dates: March 10-12
Site: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Championship game: Saturday, 5 p.m. on ESPN2
Outlook: Top-seed Long Beach State (20-10, 14-2) cruised to the regular-season title, finishing four games ahead of second-place Cal Poly (15-14). That’s more than enough to make the 49ers the big favorite to win, though there’s enough uncertainty that Dan Monson’s team can’t sleepwalk through this thing.
For one, Cal Poly plays pretty solid defense. UC-Santa Barbara (15-13) and Pacific (16-14) are hovering right around .500, but are just as good of a bet to reach the title game as the Mustangs.
Even Cal State Fullerton (11-19) and UC Irvine (13-18) shouldn’t be completely ignored. Both beat Long Beach State in the regular season.
Player to watch: Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara
The 6-5 junior accounts for nearly every aspect of the Gauchos’ offense. He leads the Big West in scoring (20.3) and scoring efficiency (1.123 points per possession) as a high-usage, shot-taking guard. And when he’s not leading the Gauchos, it’s junior James Nunnally.( Just watch the UCSB. I promise you’ll be entertained.)
Champion: Long Beach State
Except for last season when Pacific and UC Santa Barbara tied for the regular-season title, this is a league where the best team usually wins the tournament. The 49ers fit that profile perfectly this season. They’ve beaten Iowa, St. Peter’s and gave North Carolina all it could handle back in December.
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