Top to Bottom January Projections:
1) Long Beach St: This Dan Monson coached 49ers team is his best yet in what is his 4th season at the helm. Led by Junior forward T.J. Robinson and Junior guard Casper Ware, both averaging upward of 14 points per game, this team averages 72.3 points per game, good for 2nd in the Big West. So far this season this team is 8-6 ATS (8-8 overall) including 3 easy covers in their first three conference games. They are battle-tested, as Coach Monson loaded the schedule with tough non-conference foes to prepare them for a run to finally bring home the Big West Conference Tournament title and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament in March. They started the year with a 16 point loss to current #6 San Diego St 81-65 as a 6 point dog. They followed that up with a 14 point loss to Clemson, a team that will be near the top of the ACC, and then started to hit their stride pounding a solid MAAC contender St. Peter’s and then taking care of Iowa, a team that will make some ATS noise in the Big Ten this year (note their recent noise with an easy cover over #2 Ohio St). Long Beach St. followed up their 2-1 trip to the US Virgin Islands with two clunkers, an OT loss to Loyola Marymount and a 27 point drubbing by Washington, the PAC 10 favorite. They responded well with a nice road win as a 6 point dog as they took care of then-undefeated Boise St 69-66. The bottom line is this team is ready for Big West play. They finished up with 2 strong losses vs UNC and St. Mary’s in which they covered easily. They struggled at Arizona St but have come back well with a strong statement to the rest of the Big West starting 3-0 in conference play. This team has been very solid defensively in conference play, and look for that to continue. They dominated UC Santa Barbara 71-55 in an ESPNU game and followed that up with a road drubbing of Cal Poly. This team is the class of the Big West. This is a definite “bet on” team, so look for value when they hit the road, as well as when a posted total is too high, as oddsmakers are still adjusting from their high non-conference scores.
2) Pacific: While this team is seriously limping offensively right now, they are going to be there at the end with one of the best Big West records due to their commitment to defense. They looked awful in a 43-39 loss to Cal Poly at home tonight, as they did in a 54-51 loss at CS Fullerton last week. Here’s the key, they are led by Sam Willard, a 6’9’’ Senior forward from South Dakota and the prototypical workhorse, averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds. He singlehandedly kept them in the game at Texas A&M, and just isn’t getting enough help right now. Longtime coach Bob Thomason has had tons of success at the school, although it has been a while since they have been dancing. Senior guard Demetrece Young is their only other player averaging double figures, with 12.7 a game along with 3.8 assists per game. They are only averaging 64.4 points per game, which is why they have been involved in many close games. That low scoring average is good for 8th of 9 teams in the Big West, but they only give up 61.2 points per game, 2nd in the conference behind only Cal Poly, who outfought them tonight in a middle school-like score. This team is 6-8 ATS and 4-9 O/U, but look for them to pull out some big wins in conference play and be there to challenge Long Beach St in March. Their best win came in the opener with a 66-61 road win at UTEP, a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year, but they struggled at UCLA 57-44 and also fell to Texas A&M 79-59. No worries, though, because their veteran leadership will carry them.
3) UC Santa Barbara: This team, like many mid-majors, is seemingly up and down with every trend. They opened their conference season with a disappointing 16 point home loss to Long Beach St, but followed that up with an impressive road win at UC Davis, pulling away tonight 77-65, covering the 4 point spread. They are led by Junior forward James Nunnally who averages 19 points and 5 boards per game, while Junior G/F Orlando Johnson averages 17.8 points and 6.7 rebounds. There is a steep dip in production after those two, which is why this team has been so inconsistent. When those two aren’t producing, it is a rough go for the Gauchos. This team’s signature win came with a 68-62 win at UNLV, a huge win over a good MWC team, but they followed that with a clunker at San Diego St, a team that seems poised for a run to the 2nd week of the NCAA Tournament. This team is a solid 8-4 ATS who will make some noise with a good home advantage and a historically successful coach.
4) UC-Irvine: Besides their great nickname, there are a few other things to like about this Anteaters team. They average 76 points a game, a top-50 national mark, and their fast paced style gives them a chance against the rest of the offensively challenged Big West. They are 7-6-1 ATS and are led by Senior guard Darren Moore who puts up 16 per game, as well as Senior guard Patrick Rembert. This team has opened 1-1 in conference play, beating Cal St Fullerton but losing at home to UC Riverside. Their best win was an 83-68 victory over MWC bottom feeder Wyoming, and they haven’t done too many noteworthy things otherwise, although their first year head coach Russell Turner is going to turn this program into a winner—fast. He was an assistant for the Golden State Warriors the past 5 seasons and coached at Stanford and Wake Forest before that. This guy can recruit (he recruited Tim Duncan at WF and Josh Childress at Stanford) and even though we know Irvine isn’t an easy school to get into, this guy will get it done.
5) UC Riverside: This team is 6-3 ATS but hasn’t exactly played too many tough games. UNLV beat them by 54 and it is tough to find a good win for this team. Their best two performances came in a recent conference road game with a 73-68 win at UC Irvine, and they also beat CUSA rep SMU 73-69 in OT. However, they lost to Cal St Bakersfield and haven’t played well at home, so don’t expect much from this team. Coach Jim Wooldridge, formerly at Kansas St before Bob Huggins, has done good work with this program which was dead upon his arrival, but this year is one in transition. They are led by Senior guard Javon Borum and Junior guard Phil Martin, both averaging around 13 per game. They did play well in a 55-48 loss at Stanford, a team that is now finding its stride, and they lost at St. Mary’s by 19, not so bad considering St. Mary’s crushed Loyola Marymount on the road tonight on ESPNU. I would stay away from Riverside, but they might provide some value when the Big West favorites come to town.
6) Cal Poly: The only reason this team is #6 is because there can’t be four #9s. This team stinks, just like the next three teams in this list. Yes, they did hold Pacific to 39 points tonight in a huge win for this program, but don’t count on more big road wins from a team that can’t score. This team averages 56 points per game, good for 340th in the nation. Remember, there are 347 teams in Division I, so that isn’t very good. However, with their slow pace, they have provided some nice value and really solid covers for their backers this year. They lost to San Diego St 51-45, and beat Pacific tonight, while also beating Hawaii 54-53. They fell to UCLA by 11 and California by 10, but guess what—they covered the spread in every one of those games without a problem (except Hawaii, who somehow was catching 5 against this team). So as bad as this team is, they are doing some work against big favorites. They are 3-8 O/U, so if you see a number around 125, it isn’t a bad idea to put some dough toward that under, because with this team, scoring just isn’t cool.
7) Cal St Northridge: Well, the Matadors and coach Bobby Braswell have a cool mascot with cool colors and a great name for their arena. After that, this year’s team hasn’t produced much else to talk about. They are 4-7 ATS, but did beat up on UC Davis by 6 in their 2nd conference game following a bad loss to Pacific. Unfortunately, they took the momentum from the UC Davis win and squandered it with a double digit loss to Long Beach St. This team can score, averaging 71.4 points per game, but their depth is an issue. Their top 2 scorers, Lenny Daniel and Rashaun McLemore are both studs, averaging over 16 points per game. After that, they barely have anyone close to 7 points per game. They beat Big East cellar-dweller DePaul by 22, but they haven’t had much else to cheer about. They were crushed by UCLA and Cal to open their season, and the Big West won’t be much kinder. Stay away from this team. They depend on two guys to carry the load big time, and by the looks of it, those two aren’t up to it at this point.
8 ) UC Davis: Well, conference play got off with a bang with an 88-72 win at Cal St Fullerton, but they have lost their last two in Big West play. They hung with UCLA losing by 7, and lost to Cal by 12, but were drubbed by UW-Milwaukee and Boise St. Joe Harden averages nearly 15 a game and Mark Payne more than 12, but this team just isn’t talented, and that’s not changing anytime soon. Their best road win? Well, maybe it’s coming soon. This team shoots 46% from the field, which is solid, but they can’t get stops and don’t rebound the ball at all, so let’s avoid this 5-7 ATS team.
9) Cal St Fullerton: If this were the Big East, #9 might not be the worst thing ever. But, it’s the Big West, and rounding out this list isn’t a fun place to be. The Titans, coached by Bob Burton, are struggling. Yes, they won at San Diego, and then beat them again at home. Unfortunately, San Diego is the worst team in the West Coast Conference and doesn’t stand a chance in conference play. Somehow this Fullerton team beat Pacific 54-51 on a miracle buzzer-beating 3 after blowing a 12 point halftime lead. Outside of that win, it has been tough-sledding. They shot 45.6% but turn the ball over so much. They also can’t rebound (305th nationally in rebounding) and can’t get stops. Andre Hardy averages 15.7, Orane Chin averages, 15.0, Jer’Vaughn Johnson 14.7, and Delvon Peltier 13.5, but they have simply been inconsistent. Hardy has only played in 3 games. He missed the first 11, played the next 3, and missed the last one, so something is going on that Coach Burton doesn’t like. This team is 7-6 ATS, but they lack the defensive prowess to be a team you can depend on. We will see if they can get better as conference play wears on, because Fullerton traditionally develops into a nice offensive club as the year progresses, and at worst they should finish above UC Davis heading into the Big West Tourney.