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October 14, 2011

League preview: Big West

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

19. BIG WEST

Since Utah State left for the WAC and Pacific began its descent into mediocrity six years ago, the Big West hasn't produced a team formidable enough to win a game in the NCAA tournament or make more than a ripple nationally.

The conference hopes that changes this winter, thanks to two unusually strong teams expected to battle for the Big West crown.

The preseason favorite is defending regular-season champ Long Beach State; the 49ers return four starters, including elite point guard Casper Ware and high-scoring wing Larry Anderson. The 49ers won the Big West by four games a year ago, yet had to settle for an NIT berth after falling to UC Santa Barbara in the conference tournament title game.

Don't expect Long Beach State to run away with the conference again this season because UCSB adds some quality transfers to a nucleus that has taken the Gauchos to back-to-back NCAA tournaments. In addition to star guard Orlando Johnson and returning starters James Nunnally and Jaime Serna, UCSB will plug New Mexico transfer Nate Garth in as its starting point guard and give Colorado transfer Keegan Hornbuckle ample opportunity to earn playing time at both forward spots.

If there is a team that can challenge either Long Beach State or UC Santa Barbara, it's probably Cal State Fullerton, which should be much improved after an 11-20 season a year ago. Titans coach Bob Burton expects his team to win 20 games, thanks to the return of three senior starters and the arrival of California transfers D.J. Seeley and Omondi Amoke and San Francisco transfer Kwame Vaughn.

Cal State Northridge has been ruled ineligible for the postseason by the NCAA because of poor Academic Progress Report numbers.

ALL-BIG WEST FIRST TEAM
F Andre Hardy, Cal State Fullerton (6-6/230, Sr.)
F T.J. Robinson, Long Beach State (6-8/205, Sr.)
G Larry Anderson, Long Beach State (6-5/210, Sr.)
G Orlando Johnson, UCSB (6-5/205, Sr.)
G Casper Ware, Long Beach State (5-10/175, Sr.)
ALL-BIG WEST SECOND TEAM
F Omondi Amoke, Cal State Fullerton (6-7/225, Sr.)
F David Hanson, Cal Poly (6-5/215, Sr.)
F Jaime Serna, UCSB (6-9/235, Sr.)
G Phil Martin, UC Riverside (6-4/200, Sr.)
G James Nunnally, UCSB (6-7/205, Sr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Long Beach State G Casper Ware
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
Cal State Fullerton F Omondi Amoke (transfer from California)

ORDER OF FINISH
1. Long Beach State
2. UC Santa Barbara
3. Cal State Fullerton
4. Cal Poly
5. UC Riverside
6. UC Davis
7. Pacific
8. UC Irvine
9. Cal State Northridge


MAKING A LIST
Best frontcourt: UC Santa Barbara
Best backcourt: Long Beach State
Coach on the rise: Cal Poly's Joe Callero
Coach on the hot seat: Cal State Northridge's Bobby Braswell

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coach: Jim Les at UC Davis (was fired as coach at Bradley)
Regular-season winner last season: Long Beach State
Tourney winner last season: UC Santa Barbara
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 25th in 2010-11, 19th in 2009-10, 18th in 2008-09
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2005, Pacific as a No. 8 seed in first round
2012 conference tournament: March 8-10, Anaheim, Calif.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger, Y! Sports' college basketball blog. Email him, and follow him on Twitter.



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