Tuesday, September 24, 2013

32 In 32: Big West Conference

Once the architect of Gonzaga's dynasty, Dan Monson hopes to build a similar one at Long Beach State. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Before we resume with the latest preview in our "32 In 32" series, we would like to take some time to thank a fan of ours for supporting this endeavor we have embarked upon throughout the month, that being the incomparable Dylan Jenkins; an integral part of the athletic communications office and production team at St. John's University in New York, who was gracious enough to share his satisfaction with our previous 21 previews on Twitter this morning, and also to implore others to read our insights as well. Thanks again, Dylan, and we'll see you at Carnesecca Arena soon enough. With that said, let's take a look at the Big West Conference, which is no longer a California-exclusive league now that Hawaii has joined it.

1) Long Beach State - Much like the professional football team in California that shares a nickname with Dan Monson's program, the 49ers are among the favorites once again in the Big West, slowly transforming themselves into one of the elite mid-major teams in the nation. With team MVP James Ennis gone, junior point guard Mike Caffey now becomes the face of the team, and will get mounds of support from 6-9 senior forward Dan Jennings, a Staten Island native who transferred from West Virginia, and freshman guard Branford Jones, who is back after a medical redshirt following a leg injury suffered in last year's season opener.

2) UC Davis - Best known as the alma mater of former New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien, Jim Les has perhaps his best chance to win the Big West since arriving at the helm of the Aggies, as he returns four starters from last season's 14-17 squad. After a sophomore season in which he averaged over 20 points per game, expect shooting guard Corey Hawkins to challenge for the title of leading scorer in the nation while further enhancing his all-around capability. Senior Ryan Sypkens provides a high-major talent in the backcourt alongside Hawkins, with junior J.T. Adenrele and 6-9 senior Josh Ritchart taking care of business up front. Following the departure of Paolo Mancasola, Les' son Tyler will likely take over as the starting point guard as he enters his senior season.

3) Hawaii - German import Christian Standhardinger, a 6-8 senior who averaged nearly sixteen points and eight rebounds per game last season, should increase his output enough to average a double-double on the year this time around for coach Gib Arnold and the Rainbow Warriors. Sophomore Isaac Fotu gives Standhardinger a physical presence alongside him in the paint, while senior Brandon Spearman anchors the backcourt.

4) Cal State Northridge - Guards Stephan Hicks and Josh Greene return for their junior and senior seasons, respectively, and each will build off a campaign in which they combined to average 30 points per game for the Matadors. Junior forward Stephen Maxwell is a burgeoning big man who could average a double-double this season, and will be even better once new coach Reggie Theus gets Kevin Johnson and Amir Garrett eligible after the two transferred from Seton Hall and St. John's.

5) Cal Poly - Senior forward Chris Eversley returns to reprise his role as the center of attention in the Mustangs' offense, this after he averaged over fifteen points and seven rebounds per game as a junior. Eversley gets help up front from sophomore Brian Bennett, who averaged over nine points and four boards as a freshman, and Cal Poly's backcourt is solid as well; with seniors Kyle Odister and Jamal Johnson also coming back, the latter of whom managed to average almost four assists per game at the point guard position last year.

6) UCSB - Each of the Gauchos' three leading scorers last season are back this year, led by 6-7 junior Alan Williams, who averaged 17 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game as the de facto center for UCSB last season. Senior guard Kyle Boswell, who shot 42 percent from three-point range last year, returns to join junior point guard T.J. Taylor in the backcourt, while sophomore wing Taran Brown partners with Williams up front.

7) UC Irvine - Sophomore point guard Alex Young, who averaged almost four assists per game for the Anteaters last season, is on the precipice of a breakout second season that could propel UC Irvine even higher in the Big West standings if the ball bounces in all the right places for head coach Russell Turner. Senior Chris McNealy joins Young in the backcourt as a stable ball handler and deceptively strong shooter, with junior swingman Will Davis anchoring the front line.

8) UC Riverside - The Highlanders' duo of 6-10 Australian Chris Patton and senior wing Chris Harriel, who averaged a combined 23 points per game last season, disprove the claim that "there can only be one" consistent source of offensive production. San Franciscan Taylor Johns, who averaged nearly seven points and five rebounds last year as a freshman, should be much closer to double figures this time around.

9) Cal State Fullerton - A longtime baseball powerhouse, the Titans lose each of their top three scorers this season, leaving the offense in the hands of junior shooting guard Alex Harris. Cal State Fullerton's supporting cast, led by sophomore guard Jared Brandon, as well as senior forwards Marquis Horne and James "Deuce" Johnson, needs to step up this season in order for the program to have a shot late in the year.

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