What more could a basketball fan want ? Beginning on Friday the best Division II teams on the west coast battle it out for the West Region Championship and a berth at the Elite Eight.
The California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) is well represented this year with 4 teams (San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, Chico State, Cal State Stanislaus) participating in the regional. There are three teams (Cal Baptist, Dixie State, Chaminade) from the Pacific West Conference (Pac-West) and one team (Seattle Pacific) from the Great Northwest Conference (GNAC)
Two-time defending regional champion Western Washington was a lay-up away from knocking off Seattle Pacific in the GNAC Tournament title game. But, with other tournament title upsets in the CCAA and Pac-West, the Vikings were on the outside looking in on selection Sunday and were left out of the tournament.
The crunching of numbers by the regional committee gives us some fun first day match-ups. There is not one opening round game that pits teams from the same conference, which should give us some great games. Let’s look at the first round pairings.
The Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes garnered the number one seed in the West Region with a dominant regular season and some impressive non-conference wins early in the year. At 23-4 the Coyotes pose numerous challenges to all comers including their first round opponent, the Chaminade Silverswords.
San Bernardino scores 81 points a game and are led by the CCAA Player of the Year Lacy Haddock. He averages 12.9 points and more than 6 assists a game. But Haddock is so much more than numbers. He is the Coyotes floor general, their leader. And, he is as tough as anyone in the conference. He has a varied skill-set but clearly getting his teammates involved is at the top of his list. A fantastic player.
The Coyotes have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive end. Oklahoma State transfer Kirby Gardner averages 14 points a game and shoots 42% from three-point land. Jordan Burris is a big time scorer who has hit 48 three pointers and will leave mouths’ agape with his fade-away jumpers.
Complimentary pieces Juan Martinez, Taylor Statham and Joshua Gouch fulfill their roles and make this team work.
The bad news for the Coyotes is their best low-post presence Andrew Young is hobbled by a broken foot, or so we are told. Last week at the CCAA Tournament San Bernardino officials were giving mixed signals. Some were saying he will be back for the regional, other people were saying he has two broken bones in his foot and he is done for the year. I don’t know what to believe. But, my eyes were telling me that it’s a long shot he will play. Young (15.3 ppg, 6.3 rebs) was in a walking boot and was clearly hobbled. If he plays this weekend it will be a surprise.
Without Young the Coyotes are lacking that go-to post presence that all good teams have. Missing Young clearly hurt the Coyotes last week in the CCAA Tourney against Cal State Stanislaus when they couldn’t buy a bucket early in the game, and let Stanislaus’ bigs get off to a quick start.
The Coyotes first round opponent is Chaminade. They were not ranked in the top ten in the West Regional but then went on a wild ride in the Pac-West Tournament and nabbed the automatic qualifier. The SilverSwords are a talented offensive team averaging 84 points a game. But, they also surrender 80 points a game.
They come into the regional on a roll after catching fire from the three-point land in the conference title game against Dominican University. Chaminade hit 15 three’s in their win over the Penguins They come in with a record of 19-12 and winners of five in a row.
During the post-season sometimes you need players to step up and play at another level. That is what happened for the Silverswords against Dominican. Guard James Harper averages 7 points a game, but he erupted for 31 points on 9-made three’s against the Penguins. Lee Bailey is their leading scorer at better than 17 points a contest.
Chaminade is used to the big stage as they host the season-opening showcase Maui Invitational every year. The Silverswords can put up big numbers, but their success against San Bernardino may be dictated on how well they defend. If they give up 80 points it will be tough for them to keep up with the high-octane Coyotes. For Chaminade to pull the upset they will need special night’s from multiple players. Challenging the perimeter shooters of San Bernardino will be paramount in the Silverswords upset hopes. Game time will be at 7:30.
The winner of the San Bernardino/Chaminade match-up gets the winner of the Chico State and Cal Baptist game. Chico State comes in as the number four seed and is making their third straight appearance in the tournament with this core group of players. This is the first year Cal Baptist is eligible for the post-season and they put a 24 win-season on the board. This game will feature contrasting styles as the Wildcats pride themselves on defense and dictating tempo, while Cal Baptist is a high scoring, fast-paced team that can really fill it up.
The Chico State Wildcats have great balance. Their starting five average 63 of the 75 points they score on a nightly basis. Rashad Parker (14.7 ppg) is a slasher who can knock down the three. Sean Park (13.7 ppg) is a hard-nosed grinder with a sweet left-handed stroke. Amir Carraway (12.9) is the most versatile player the Wildcats have. He can play the small-forward and then switch to center, then fill-in at power forward. He can score inside and outside. Jordan Semple (12.4 ppg) is the Wildcats leading rebounder (7.9) and has found his niche as one of the best isolation players in the CCAA. Giordano Estrada is the point guard. He is an under-rated defender and has hit a team high 70 three-pointers. Jordan Barton gives Chico some size and toughness off of their bench.
Before their conference tournament loss to Stanislaus, Chico had lost six games by a total of 14 points. But, Stanislaus jumped on Chico early last week in Ontario and the Cats couldn’t recover in an 82-70 loss. The Wildcats success will rest on their defense. To be successful they need to limit the potent Cal Baptist offense to one shot. Closing out on shooters and crisp rotations will be stressed as the Wildcats don’t want this to turn into a shoot-out. Chico can win and up and down affair, but they would prefer more of a half-court pace.
Chico takes care of the ball. They average only 11 turnovers a game. This will be put to the test if they allow Cal Baptist to control tempo.
The Lancers of Cal Baptist are coming off of a remarkable regular season. It was highlighted by a 16-game win streak to start the year. Despite losing their last two games, the Lancers have been one of the best teams in the region all season long. Freshman Ryan Berg is having a tremendous season. He is averaging 17.6 points a game, while knocking down 75 three’s. Berg is one of three Lancers averaging double-figures. Anthony Cosentino has hit 64 treys and scores 12 points a game. Chris Brown is the play-maker scoring at better than 10 points a contest and registers 3.5 assists a game.
After going 24-1, the Lancers lost their regular season finale against conference foe Dixie State and then fell to Chaminade in the conference tourney. Cal Baptist is a dangerous offensive team. They score 82 points a game and have six players that average at least six points a contest.
The health of one of the Lancers best players is in question. Post player Kevin Crabb hasn’t played in the team’s last four games. He averages 7 points and 7 rebounds a contest. His status for the NCAA Tournament is not known at this time, but the numbers indicate they would love to have him patrolling the paint. Cal Baptist is quite efficient. Usually high scoring teams play fast and loose with the basketball, but the Lancers only average 11 turnovers a game. So, they get up and down the floor and take care of the ball.
While Chico can win a track meet, they would prefer a more deliberate tempo. Both teams love to shoot the three and the team that defends the arch the best should win the game. Both teams hold their opponents to 32 percent shooting from downtown. Stopping dribble penetration is a key for both teams. Chico didn’t protect the paint against Stanislaus, and paid the price. These two teams like to fill it up. But, in the NCAA Tournament, the club that digs in defensively is usually the team that emerges victorious. This should be a fun, entertaining game with two teams that have had great seasons. Game time will be at 5pm.
The other side of the bracket has two fantastic match-ups. The third-seeded Cal Poly Pomona Broncos take on the sixth-seeded Dixie State Red Storm. Pomona is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They give up only 57 points a game. Their length and ball pressure in that match-up zone, that occasionally slips into man, and back to zone is something to behold. They can suffocate you with their half-court trap as well. It’s clear, if you don’t play defense at Pomona, you just won’t get on the court. Those that say watching defense isn’t fun, haven’t seen Pomona play defense. But, the Broncos will have their hands full with a Dixie team that scores 85 points a game. The Red Storm’s efficiency on the offensive end gives them a chance to find openings against the Pomona defense. This is another first round game with two teams that feature contrasting styles.
Dixie shoots 46 percent from the field and a whopping 40 percent from three-point range. This tells me they don’t take bad shots, and show the patience to find the open man for a better shot. The Red Storm have five players that shoot better than 47 percent. Zach Robbins is the man in the middle. He scores 16 points and pulls 9 rebounds a game. Robbins shoots it at 55 percent and has taken and made the most shots on the Dixie squad. De’Quan Thompson is the Red Storm’s best three-point shooter at 45 percent from deep. He has made 48 treys on the year and averages better than 14 points a contest. Dixie out-rebounds their opponents by nearly seven boards a game.
Dixie had some great wins early in the year. Even though it was an exhibition game they knocked off UNLV in the preseason, they then got a big win against Seattle-Pacific at Royal Brougham Arena in Seattle. Dixie is battle tested making their fifth straight appearance in a regional.
Pomona is more than just a good defensive team. They pose some problems for other team’s defenses. DeRonn Scott is the teams leading scorer at 14.6 points a game. Jordan Faison is a big time player in the post. He not only anchors that defense but scores 13 points and grabs nearly 6 boards a game. Barry Bell doesn’t score a lot but he is a master at controlling tempo and running the Bronco game plan. Bell is a very good defender and understands the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates. Daniel Rodriguez, Quentin Taylor and Jordan Finn are nice pieces that fit nicely in the Pomona system. Francois Tchoyi is another big off the bench and he had a very good conference tourney.
If Pomona has an Achilles heel it is free throw shooting. The Broncos rarely see it cost them a game, but it hurt them in their 77-73 loss to Chico State in the CCAA Tournament last week. They went 11-of-22 from the stripe. On the season, they are only a 59 percent free throw shooting team. In close tournament games, free throw shooting is pivotal. They only shoot 28 percent from three-point range, but it always seems that when they have to make one, they do. They are the last CCAA team to advance to the Elite Eight and they won a national title four years ago.
Will Dixie catch fire and show that efficiency that has been a hallmark of their 21-6 season ? Or, will Pomona’s defense dictate tempo, force turnovers and make this an uncomfortable venture for the Red Storm? I can’t wait to see. Game time is at 12 noon on Friday afternoon.
The Dixie State and Pomona winner will take on the winner of Seattle-Pacific and Cal State Stanislaus. Personally I can’t wait to see this game. It oozes with sub-plots and match-ups that will make for a competitive battle of contrasts.
The Seattle-Pacific Falcons have come excruciatingly close to winning the West Regional for the last two years. This core group of Falcons has advanced to the regional final each of the last two seasons, only to fall in both games to their bitter rivals, the Western Washington Vikings. To add to the frustration, two years ago Western won the national title. Well, this year SPU swept the regular season series from the Vikings, and then beat them last Saturday night, sweeping the three game season series and eliminating Western from post-season consideration.
The core of this Seattle Pacific team is a group of heady, talented and determined upper classmen who feel this is their time. David Downs leads the way. the senior point guard is just a tremendous player. He averages 20.2 points per game while hitting 47 percent of his three-point shots. He has knocked down 79 three’s on the year. Downs averages 4.6 assists a game. But, you can’t just defend his perimeter jumper. He has the ability to break teams down and get in the lane as evidenced by his 215 free throw attempts where he makes 88 percent of his charities. He knows his teammates and sets them up perfectly. He is just a great player.
Seattle-Pacific’s Patrick Simon is a lethal three-point shooter. He shoots the three at an amazing 51 percent and has made 80-three’s on the year. Simon hit nine in a row against San Francisco State earlier this season. Simon averages 16.5 points per game.
Cory Hutsen is a solid post, who plays well with his back to the basket. He can go left or right and is adept at getting his shot off against taller players. Riley Stockton, Mitch Penner and Matt Borton also see significant minutes. The Falcons score 78 points a game and only give up 66. SPU shoots 50 percent from the field and knocks down their three’s at 42 percent. They rolled to a 25-5 regular season record and enter the tournament as the number two seed. The Falcons only turn it over 9 times a game. They just don’t beat themselves.
Seattle-Pacific’s first round opponent may be the hottest team in the tournament. The Cal State Stanislaus Warriors needed to win the CCAA Tournament just to get in the regional. And, over a three-day stretch they were as close to flawless as they have been all season long.
The CCAA Tourney MVP was their 5’8 point guard Sam Marcus. this whirling dervish of a ball-player was simply amazing in Ontario. Marcus spent three days making his teammates look good. By breaking down defenses, penetrating the lane and perfectly timing his deliveries, his Stanislaus mates were getting open jumpers or slashing to the hoop for open lay-ups and dunks. He broke down in tears when named MVP, and it was a crowning moment for a player that has been good, but always seemed to be an after-thought on this talented squad.
6’10 Idaho transfer Marcus Bell man’s the paint. He is an imposing figure averaging 17.7 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. He can dominate the paint or step out and knock down the 15 footer.
Chris Read was the Newcomer-of-the-Year in the CCAA. He had a great tournament and if not for his stellar game against San Bernardino, the Warriors may not be dancing. Read averages 13.3 points and shoots 56 percent from the field. Rob Walters was a beast at CCAA Tourney as well. He imposed his will with a 12 point and 14 rebound performance against Chico State in CCAA final. Walters averages 9 points and pulls better than 7.5 rebounds a game. Don’t sleep on Shey Maetele. This slashing guard can take over the point duties when Marcus’ rests. He attacks the lane and also does a great job in getting his mates involved.
The Warriors shoot 48 percent as a team with four of their top scorers shooting better than 50 percent from the field. The biggest question regarding Stanislaus is whether they can “carry-over” last week’s performance into the NCAA Tournament. Last week they were desperate, knowing they had to win for their season to continue. They were flawless against Chico State, and despite surrendering a 16-point lead to San Bernardino, they didn’t rattle and rallied to knock off the top seed in the semis.
I love this match-up for so many reasons. Even though Downs and Marcus may not guard one another, they are vital to their respective teams’ success. How does Seattle-Pacific deal with Stanislaus’ length? What player does Stanislaus put on Simon, bringing a post out of the paint? Does Bell shade Simon? And, if he does how does that translate to dribble penetration from Downs? Can Stanislaus attack the paint on a stingy SPU defense?
This game has intrigue and so many variables. It will be fun to watch. Game time is 2:30 on Friday afternoon.
As the play-by-play broadcaster for Chico State I get to see a lot of these teams in action. I would stack the quality of basketball in the west against any region in the nation. This tournament will not disappoint and this 2014 NCAA Tournament should leave us with some great moments as these eight teams try to play themselves to the Elite Eight.