Archive | October, 2013

CSU-Bakersfield, WAC season preview – Roadrunners racing Redhawks toward conference contention

30 Oct

Cal State University – Bakersfield

Preseason rankings: 3rd (coaches), 3rd (media)

Aside from Seattle, the one school with the most potential to emerge into a mid-major power has to be CSU-Bakersfield. Nestled in the basketball hotbed of California, close enough to recruit LA and the Bay Area with ease, Bakersfield is in and of itself a fairly major, rapidly growing media market. It’s the 62nd biggest metropolitan area in the US, roughly on par with Omaha and El Paso. And it’s a market that CSUB can own, because there is zero competition in the sporting landscape. No big pro teams. No other universities. A 10,000 seat arena with a shiny new court. And a developing basketball program, one that made its first NCAA postseason appearance in the 2012 CIT. They took a minor step backwards last season, finishing 14-16 as an independent, and lost five seniors. But the race between the Roadrunners and the Redhawks to establish their respective programs near the top of the WAC will still be a fierce and entertaining one to watch.

When they play: Jan. 16 at home, Feb. 15 in Bakersfield

Schedule breakdown: H – 5 A – 7 N – 2 Power Conference – 4 (WSU, Nevada, Fresno St, USC), Lower Division – 1

Home games against Nevada and Santa Clara are both very winnable. The season-opening trip to Washington State might be the toughest game Bakersfield plays all year. Interestingly, the Roadrunners have back-to-back road games against last year’s WAC opponents UT-Arlington and UTSA. Those will provide a very good early look at where CSUB might fit in this new-look conference.

One to watch: Brandon Barnes. The Roadrunners will go as far as their senior guard will take them. The son of Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes, Brandon was second on the team in scoring and first in rebounds – despite standing just 6’1”. He also shot a blistering 43% from beyond the arc. He’ll play mostly as a 2-guard and the offense will flow through him.

Blog prediction: 3rd. Bakersfield has been a D-1 school since just 2010, but has more big-game experience than any of the other conference newcomers. They’ll feature an up-tempo offense capable of scoring inside and outside. Having played many of their new WAC rivals already in past seasons, including a road overtime win at Seattle last year, the Roadrunners should be primed and ready for a strong conference debut.

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New Mexico State, WAC season preview: All eyes on the Aggies

25 Oct

New Mexico State University

Preseason polls: 1st (coaches), 1st (media)

With the departure of Utah State to the Mountain West, New Mexico State steps into the role of annual conference favorite, a role they were beginning to compete for in the old WAC. Between high-scoring guard Daniel Mullings and behemoth center Sim Bhullar, the Aggies probably have the two least guardable players in the conference. The biggest difficulty in Las Cruces this season might be the expectations. Everyone thinks they’ll repeat their conference title, and for good reason – this is, on paper, the most talented team in the WAC. Can they handle that pressure and avoid being upset in the conference tournament?

Last year: 24-11, 11-4 in WAC, good for 3rd place. Won conference tournament. As a #13 seed, lost to #4 Saint Louis 64-44 in first round of NCAA Tournament.

When they play: Jan. 9 in Las Cruces, Feb. 8 at home

Schedule breakdown: H – 7 A – 7 N – 2 Power conference  – 5 (UNM, UNM, Arizona, Gonzaga, Colorado St) Lower Division – 1

Now THIS is how you schedule when you expect to make the NCAA tournament. A season-opening trip for three games in Hawaii, culminating with a midnight national TV appearance, and visits to New Mexico, Arizona and Gonzaga – the best team from each of the west’s three best conferences. Oh, and a road trip to Colorado State, where nobody ever wins, and visits from UTEP and UNM. Buckle up.

One to watch: Sim Bhullar. Like it could be anyone else. All eyes in the entire WAC will be on the 7’5” Bhullar all season. He really does have a soft touch for such a vertically gifted person. The issues will be how long the Canadian sophomore can stay on the court due to conditioning and foul trouble. If big Sim can give the Aggies 25 minutes a game, they’re going to be hard to stop.

Blog prediction: 1st. Anything else would just be silly.

WAC Preview, Texas Pan-American: Building a fan base just north of the border

23 Oct

(This is the third in a series of articles previewing each of Seattle’s WAC opponents. If you want to read the rest, well, scroll down or up.)

Texas Pan-American

UTPA: 7th (coaches), 7th (media)

Nobody expects teams in the WAC to draw power-conference numbers on par with Arizona or Gonzaga. But triple-digit attendance? That’s not good. Texas Pan-American brought in just over 9,000 fans to their home games for the entire season, for an average of 694 fans per game. It’s hard to build much of a home court advantage if nobody is coming to watch you play at your home court – and that’s just one of the many challenges that UTPA faces in their first year in a real NCAA conference since 1998.

When they play: Jan. 11 in Texas, Feb. 6 at home

Last year: 16-16, lost to Chicago State in Great West conference tournament.

Schedule breakdown: H – 5 A – 8 N – 2 Power conference – 4 (Houston, TCU, Tx A&M, SMU), Lower Division – 1

Houston at home caps three straight games in Edinburg to open the season, before a really long road swing begins. But several of those road games are in the state of Texas, so at least the travel will be somewhat limited. Don’t be shocked if the Broncs take down TCU, who may be the worst team in any of the power conferences.

One to watch: Blake Provost. His brother Brandon, a senior last year for UTPA, did everything for the Broncs – he led the team with 15 PPG and was second in both rebounds and assists. Now Blake, a redshirt freshman, has the chance to make his own mark. He’s extremely quick but stands just 5’9”.

Blog prediction: 6th. They’re in a toss-up with Chicago State for this spot. Bizarre fact – there’s more players on the UTPA roster from Chicago (4) than from Texas (3). While the Broncs lost a lot of scoring, they also will have the services of two senior transfers, both guards with experience against very good opposition. Javorn Farell, a swingman from UMass, and sharpshooting guard Shaun Noriega, a South Florida transfer, will keep UTPA from regressing much if at all.

WAC preview, Utah Valley University: Fighting for relevance on the Wasatch Front

21 Oct

(This is the second in a series previewing each Western Athletic Conference opponent for the 2013-14 season. Watch for the rest in the coming week or two!)

Utah Valley University

Preseason rankings: 4th (coaches), 4th (media)

If it seems like the Redhawks’ attempt to break into the sporting landscape in Seattle is made difficult by the omnipresent University of Washington, consider Utah Valley’s monumental task. They, too, are a new Division-I program, but with no fewer than four competing schools in the Salt Lake City media market – BYU, Utah, Utah State and Weber State. BYU are a rising power in the WCC, Utah are slowly improving in a premier conference, and the latter two schools are programs with years of success as mid-majors. Snagging local recruits will be a challenge. All this will be eased if the Wolverines can find success in their first year in the WAC.

Last year: 14-18, 3-5 in the Great West Conference. Lost to Chicago State in the first round of the conference tournament. Oddly, they played fellow WAC newbie UMKC in a non-conference game last year, winning on the road by 12.

When they play the Redhawks: Jan. 19 at home, Feb. 13 in Orem

Schedule breakdown: H – 6 A – 5 Power conference – 3 (OK St, Oregon, Utah St), Lower Division – 1

There’s a pretty good balance of cupcakes and guarantee games here, although facing Oregon and Oklahoma State in successive road contests could be brutal. In-state matchups with Weber State (home) and Utah State (away) will be good benchmarks for how far this program still has to go. A win in either would be a pleasant surprise.

One to watch: Ben Aird. The 6’9” senior center is the only Wolverine on scholarship who tops 6’7”. A player who frequently led his team in rebounds and/or points in many of their games last season, Aird will need to play disciplined defense and avoid foul trouble. UVU doesn’t really have anyone else to defend the 7-footers of their WAC opponents.

Blog prediction: 5th. The Wolverines will have several seniors, including Aird and streaky scoring guard Holton Hunsaker, who dropped 37 on Chattanooga last year. Their experience will be crucial when conference tournament time rolls around. But I don’t think a middle-of-the-pack Great West team is likely to be anything more than a middle-of-the-pack WAC team.

WAC preview, Grand Canyon University: In which we learn how to spell “Majerle”

18 Oct

(This is the first in a series previewing each Western Athletic Conference opponent for the 2013-14 season. Watch for the rest in the coming week or two!)

Grand Canyon University

Preseason rankings: 8th (coaches), 9th (media)

All the pieces are in place. There’s a fertile recruiting base in the Valley of the Sun, a major metropolitan population to draw from, and a shiny new 5,000-seat on-campus arena. Now all the ‘Lopes have to do is actually win a game or three in Division I.

When they play the Redhawks: Jan. 25 in Phoenix, Feb. 20 at home

Last year: 23-8 in the Pac West in Division II. GCU was hammered by Seattle Pacific in the first round of the D-II tournament, losing by 26.

Schedule breakdown: Home – 3 Away – 6 Neutral – 4. “Power” conference opponents – 2 (Utah, UNM). Lower division opponents (non D-I)– 3.

This is how you schedule when you’re brand-new to Division 1 and nobody wants to play you. Three home games, all against lower-division opponents. They do play at Northern Arizona, potentially starting a new in-state rivalry, and at Utah for a three-game holiday tournament. It’s a shame (but understandable) that Arizona State seems more intent on ignoring their new Phoenix neighbors than competing against them.

One to watch: Dan Majerle. With no fewer than nine new players on the GCU roster, and only five who suited up for the ‘Lopes last year in Division 2, the first-year GCU head coach and Phoenix Suns legend will have his work cut out for him. The non-conference could be rough with so many games away from home and so many new players gelling. And with no WAC tournament eligibility this year, the most GCU has to play for is an upset here or there of a conference rival. It will be up to Majerle to keep his men motivated.

Blog prediction: 9th. As Redhawks fans know, making the jump from D-II to D-I is a huge challenge. Entering a new conference is, as well. Doing both in the same season makes it nearly impossible to not project GCU in the WAC basement.

Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar’s comments at WAC media day

16 Oct

Here’s a summary of Seattle Redhawks head coach Cameron Dollar’s comments to the media at the WAC media day in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Nothing jaw-dropping, but some good insight on his recruiting strategies.

“We’re excited about year 2 for us in the WAC. We think our prospects in this coming WAC look good in being able to compete and being able to put a good product on the floor.”

“We’ve been fortunate to be one of the top rebounding teams in the country. On the one hand we probably need to improve our shooting some (to cut down on the number of missed shots resulting in rebound opportunities). [Rebounding] is a great emphasis for us day in and day out, and I expect us to be even better rebounding and defensively.”

While Dollar agreed that the team’s two seniors, Clarence Trent and D’vonne Pickett, Jr. will be and have been leaders on the court, he expects junior transfers Isaiah Umipig and Emerson Murray to bring leadership along with Pickett and Trent.

Regarding recruiting locally, Dollar said that for players 6’6” and over, their staff is“going everywhere,” with it being obviously difficult to find quality tall post players in a small geographic radius. For players 6’6” and under, he likes to look primarily in the Seattle area. Recently though, that talent base his staff has focused on has been expanding to Vancouver, because Seattle U is as close to a local team as the BC area has.

“One of the first things we wanted to do as a program was to go international and recruit. Things we did from day one are paying dividends in year three, four, and five.”

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