2015 NCAA MENS BASKETBALL WEST REGION PREVIEW

The West Regional Committee has spoken and now the 8 best Division II men’s college basketball teams on the west coast will battle it out for the West Region Championship and a spot in the Elite Eight. The committee chose teams from the Pacific West, California Collegiate Athletic Association and Great Northwest Conference. Clearly the Pacific West was the best conference in the west this year and they garnered four of the eight spots in the regional. Ironically, teams from the Pac-West got the top four seeds. Don’t blame the committee on this one. When you crunched the criteria, looked at head-to-head match-ups early in the season, and weighed the body of work, it was clear the Pac-West was deserving of such recognition.

With that said, the NCAA Tournament is a different animal. Wins in November don’t necessarily translate to March. These teams have run the marathon and now its time for that final kick to try to attain West Region glory ! Let’s look at the eight teams vying for a spot in the Elite Eight……

AZUSA PACIFIC #1 SEED

Despite losing in the semi-final round of the Pacific West Conference Tournament the Cougars were a clear-cut top seed candidate and are deserving of the top spot. The first thing you notice when look at their 24-5 season is they had a tough schedule and had no bad losses. The Cougars took care of business. I love teams that put tough teams on their schedule. The Cougars not only put tough teams on their schedule, but they were willing to go on the road to play those games.

They trounced perennial power San Bernardino by 32 in early November. They traveled to Chico and beat the CCAA Champion Wildcats by 14 on their home floor. They traveled to Monmouth to take on regular season GNAC champ Western Oregon and beat them  81-74. Throw in out of conference regional wins against San Francisco State, St. Martins and Cal State San Marcos and you can see how the Cougars paved their way to the number one seed.

They also continued their stellar play in the Pacific West Conference. They beat all the teams on their schedule aside from splitting games with Dixie State (4th seed) and BYU-Hawaii (2nd seed) They lost two games this year to the 3rd-seeded Cal Baptist Lancers falling in Riverside and on a neutral floor in the Pac-West Tournament. The Cougars other loss was an 81-78  overtime loss to the 5th-seeded Cal Poly Pomona Broncos in mid-November. A great season by the Cougars.

Sharp-shooter Troy Leaf is their top-scorer at better than 22 points a game. Leaf made 78 three’s on the year and shot them at a 40 percent clip. When Leaf puts it up, it usually goes in as he shot 50 percent on the season and is not simply a three-point specialist. He can score in a variety of ways.

Besides Leaf the Cougars have six other players who average at least 6 points a game. Robert Sandoval scores 10 points a game and averaged more than 5 assists a contest. Will Ward (8.4 ppg) Kevin Stafford (7.2 ppg 51 made three’s) along with Christian Katuala (6.7 ppg) and Bruce English (6.9 ppg 34 made three’s) round out a group that helped the Cougars average 84 points a game this year. Azusa also out-rebounded their opponents by five and turned it over 13 times a game. Don’t put the Cougars on the stripe. They knocked down their free throws at a 74 percent clip.

A very deserving number one seed and they have to feel confident entering this NCAA West Regional. The Cougars are hosting this event for the first time as a Division II institution and they were undefeated at home this year going 12-0. The Cougars open the tournament against GNAC regular season champion and number 8-seed Western Oregon. The game will be played at 7:30 on Friday night.

BYU-HAWAII #2 SEED

It was quite a run for the Seasiders through the Pacific West Conference Championship Tournament. BYU-Hawaii ran the gauntlet to capture the post-season tournament and garner the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. Not that the Seasiders needed the automatic bid to get to the big dance. With a 24-5 record and several quality wins there was never any doubt they were going to be in the NCAA Tournament.

If you take away a brutal five-day stretch in February, there is a good chance the Seasiders would be hosting this tournament. BYU-Hawaii lost games from February 12th thru 16th on a California road-trip in visits to Cal Baptist, Point Loma and Azusa Pacific. So, during a three-and-half-month season three of the Seasiders five losses came during a one week stretch. A very impressive season for BYU-Hawaii.

The most impressive statistic when looking at the Seasiders season is their proclivity for blowout victories. BYU-Hawaii won 22 of their 24 games by double-digits. When they were good, they were really good and they pounded teams into submission. Clearly the three-game California skid was an anomaly in their season.

The Seasiders have a balanced scoring attack with three players averaging double figures. They are led in scoring by Pablo Coro who averages 15.7 points  a game. Coro can knock down the three ball making 87 from long distance on the season. He is a 40 percent three-point shooter. Daniel Berger averages 13.3 points a game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. Scott Friel averages better than 11 points and 6 boards a game.

6-10 senior center Jordan Stone mans the middle. Stone averages 9 points and 5 boards a game. Stone makes 64 percent of his shots. The Seasiders shoot it really well making 50 percent of their shots as a club. The three-point shot is a great weapon for them as they make 40 percent of their three’s  while also making 75 percent of their free throws. They do a great job of utilizing their size out-rebounding their opponents by ten a game.

BYU-Hawaii averages 88 points a game while giving up 74 points a contest. Aside from one bad week BYU-Hawaii has had a dominant season. They open the NCAA Tournament against GNAC conference tournament champion Seattle Pacific at 2:30 on Friday afternoon.

CAL BAPTIST #3 SEED

Another great season by the Lancers nets them a 3-seed in the NCAA West Regional. Cal Baptist compiled a 24-6 overall record and a 16-4 Pac-West record which was good for third place a game back of both Azusa Pacific and Dixie State for a share of the title.

Cal Baptist is the only team in the field to beat co-conference champ Azusa Pacific twice. They also dominated match-ups against CCAA schools going a cool 6-0 against those teams. Most of the wins were blow-outs, emphasizing the early season dominance of the CCAA by the Pac-West. The Lancers advanced to the championship game of their conference post-season tournament only to run into the buzz-saw that was BYU-Hawaii last week.  The Lancers split their match-ups with Dixie State, but lost two out of three to the Seasiders of BYU-Hawaii.

Cal Baptist is another offensively gifted team from the Pac-West, but they are also a pretty good defensive team giving up only 69 points a game. Nearly 40 percent of their shot attempts are three-point shots and they make 37 percent of them. They made 259 three-pointers as a team while averaging nearly 80 points a game.

They have 4 players who average double-figures led by Gelaun Wheelwright. The junior transfer from Weber State averages 16.6 points per game. He nailed an amazing 95 three-point shots and shoots 40 percent from beyond the arch. Taj Spencer is a 6’7 post who scores 12 points and grabs 7 rebounds a game. Spencer shoots 55 percent from the field. Sophomores Ryan Berg and Michael Smith both average 12 points a game and are nice complementary pieces for the Lancers offense.

Cal Baptist is a deep team and uses that to their advantage. They have ten players that play at least 10 minutes a game. They make 46 percent of their shots and holding opponents to 41 percent shooting. They are also good at defending the three, holding opponents to 31 percent shooting from three-point range. The experience of getting to the tournament and coming up a little bit short could serve this team well. They have a re-match with their 1st Round NCAA Tournament opponent last year in Chico State. The Lancers let a 10-point second half lead slip away as the Wildcats beat the Lancers 77-71. Cal Baptist and Chico will play the first game of the day at 12 noon on Friday afternoon.

DIXIE STATE #4 SEED

The Dixie State Red Storm come into the tournament with a 20-7 record. They were riding a 9-game win streak before being over-whelmed by BYU-Hawaii 98-75 in the Pac-West Tournament. Dixie played great basketball in the second half of the season and shared the Pac-West co-championship with Azusa Pacific going 17-3 in conference play.

Their most impressive win came in early January when they beat BYU-Hawaii 92-81 in Hawaii. The Red Storm went 3-2 against teams in the region but out of the Pac-West. They beat Cal State Stanislaus (CCAA) and St. Martin’s (GNAC) but fell to Western Oregon at home and to Seattle Pacific on a neutral floor. Those games were all early in the season and Dixie is clearly a better team now.

The Red Storm is another team that can rail the three. They shoot their three-pointers at a 39 percent clip. While they don’t shoot as many treys as their Pac-West counterparts, they don’t need to. Dixie’s multi-faceted interior game gives them the perfect inside-outside complement to be a very dangerous team on the offensive end.

6’10 Zach Robbins and 6’8 Mark Ogden man the middle. These two post players both shoot over 50 percent (Robbins 57 percent; Ogden 51 percent). Guard De’Quan Thompson (15.6 ppg) is a slasher who can get to the bucket but can also knock down the perimeter jumper. He is shooting 44 percent from three-point range and has made 42 three’s on the year. Mason Sawyer averages better than 12 points a game and has hit a team high 48 threes. He shoots them at 37 percent.

The Red Storm shoot 48 percent as a team and out-rebound their opponents by four. And, like most teams in this regional they take care of the ball, only turning it over 13 times a game. They knock down 73 percent of their free throws and they shot 238 more free throws than their opponents this year.

Dixie State is used to March Madness. They have been a power in the Pac-West for years and are an experienced club. Last year they were in position to beat Cal Poly Pomona in the first round of the tournament only to go cold late and fall 73-65. This year they get a chance at redemption as they take on the CCAA conference tournament champion on Friday. Start time is 5pm on Friday afternoon.

CAL POLY POMONA #5

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The Cal Poly Pomona Broncos are the best Division II defensive team in the country. This is not conjecture, it is fact. Head coach Greg Kamansky has cemented his place as a great defensive coach. He recruits long, athletic and rangy defenders who harass and bother opponents into taking bad shots leading to low-scoring games where the Broncos excel.

Pomona has been good for a long time and their players completely BUY-IN to the defensive philosophy. Their close-outs on shooters, defensive rotations and abilities to hold opponents to one shot make them a really special team.

The Broncos finished the season 23-6 and finished one game back of CCAA regular season champion Chico State. Pomona beat Chico in the CCAA conference tournament championship game on Saturday night winning 62-57 in overtime. Pomona also beat top-seeded Azusa Pacific 81-78 in overtime at Kellogg Gym in early November. They had impressive exhibition losses at 25th ranked Stanford and 2nd ranked Arizona. Those games illustrate how tough it is to prepare for that zone in a one-and-done scenario.

They also have some talented offensive players. The CCAA Player of the Year is Terrance Drisdom. A silky smooth player who never seems to be out of control. Drisdom averages 16 points and 6 rebounds a game while making 50 percent of his shots. Jordan Faison is a big-time post presence scoring 13 points and snaring 6 boards a game. Faison shoots 53 percent from the field. Barry Bell (7ppg)  is the starting point guard and is solid in all facets. He controls tempo so well and makes sure the Broncos don’t play faster than they should. Daniel Rodriguez (7ppg)  is a versatile scorer and defender who can play multiple positions.

The Broncos make 47 percent of their shots and hold opponents to 38 percent shooting. They have given up nearly 150 more three-point attempts than their opponents and that is by design. Most of the time those shots are not good ones.

I emphasize defense but the Broncos are not a one-trick pony. When they get stops they usually get the rebound. That enables them to control tempo and play the grind it out type of game that usually leads to run-and-gun teams making mistakes because the lack the patience needed to win a grind it out game. Pomona feeds off of that. The Broncos have a re-match with the Dixie State Red Storm in the 1st Round on Friday. Last year Pomona won 73-65 and it should be a great match-up. Game time is 5pm on Friday.

CHICO STATE #6 SEED

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For the fourth straight year the Chico State Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s regional champions lost roughly 80 percent of their scoring punch from that team and still managed to capture the CCAA regular season title and win 22 games. Like Pomona, defense is the name of the game for the Wildcats. Chico gives up only 60 points a game and has penchant for holding opponents scoreless for long stretches of time.

The Wildcats utilize an aggressive man-to-man and a 2-3 zone with length to frustrate opponents. Having seen them all year their communication defensively is fantastic. They talk on defense and assignments are rarely missed.

Offensively Chico has a multi-faceted attack. Senior Jordan Semple has been a stand-out player in the program for several years and has the ability to put the team on his back. He averages 11 points and 9 rebound a game. He led the CCAA in rebounding while also  ranking in the top-20 in scoring, assists, blocked shots and steals. Semple’s greatest attribute is his length on the defensive end. When he isn’t blocking shots, he is changing them and can also get out on the break.

Chico’s emerging star is Robert Duncan. He led the team in scoring at 14 points a game. Duncan’s bread-and-butter entails daring dashes through the lane and aggressive attacks to the rim. Duncan can make the perimeter shot (27 three’s) and his elusiveness against the best of defenses makes him a very tough player to defend.

Chico’s supporting cast all average 7 points per game. Senior point guard Mike Rosaroso, 6’10 Tanner Giddings and Drew Kitchens all play within Head Coach Greg Clink’s team concept perfectly. Chico’s offensive and defensive discipline is a strength.

The future is bright for the Wildcats as four red-shirt freshmen get significant playing time. They are all impact players and if Chico is to make a deep run, they will have to make their presence felt. 6’8 Isaiah Ellis man’s post the post and can run the floor like a guard. Tyler Harris is a 44 percent three-point shooter and can be deadly with an open look. Jalen McFerren is a defensive nuisance and committed only 1 turnover for every 15 minutes played. Corey Silverstrom is a 37 percent three-point shooter and despite missing more than a month brings Chico great versatility on both ends of the floor.

Senior Jordan Barton is a big body off the bench that will defend and enforce in the paint. Chris Magalotti and Trevor Priest come off the bench to provide a defensive presence as well.

Chico State shoots 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. The Wildcats have scuffled from the free throw line all year and their ability to hit charities could determine how deep they run the in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats only shoot 64 percent from the line.

Chico State opens play at 12 noon on Friday against Cal Baptist. Chico knocked off the Lancers in the 1st Round of last year’s tournament 77-71 on their way to the West Region title and a trip to the Elite Eight.

SEATTLE PACIFIC #7

The Falcons are back in the NCAA Tournament and to those of us that love and follow west coast Division II basketball, we are not surprised. Despite having a good season the Falcons were hurt by the Great Northwest Conference’s low power rating and could not break into the top-8 in the region. Thankfully for SPU they qualified for the tournament by running through the GNAC conference tournament and gaining the automatic bid to the tournament.

Seattle-Pacific compiled a 23-7 record and comes into the tournament on a roll, winners of seven straight. No longer do the Falcons have the incomparable David Downs, but what they do have is a core of returnees from some highly successful teams of the past to make a name for themselves.

Cory Hutsen leads the way averaging 16 points a game and shooting 59 percent from the field. Hutsen is one of the best back-to-the basket players on the west coast. The variety of ways he can get to the hoop is impressive. Adept at beating you left or right, he finds a way to get to the rim.  Hutsen had a 34 point performance in SPU’S GNAC Tournament Championship game win over rival Western Washington.

6’5 Mitch Penner is the second leading scorer at better than 13.3 points per game, also averaging nearly 6 boards a game. Matt Borton averages 10 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.  Guard Riley Stockton averages 9.8 points and nearly 4 assists a game.

SPU has five players who have hit at least 20 three’s. Shawn Reid leads the Falcons with (37) made three’s. He comes of the bench for SPU and gives them some instant offense scoring 9 points a game.

Statistically the Falcons have several areas where they stand out. They shoot 50 percent as a team and nearly 37 percent from three-point range. They also dominate the boards out-rebounding their opponents by 13 a game. The Falcons have pulled roughly 200 more offensive rebounds than their opponents. Seattle-Pacific scores 79 points a game while giving up only 63 points a contest. This is a dangerous team as a 7-seed. They have experience and veteran leadership. This is a group that has been there and done that. They open against Pacific West Conference Tournament Champion BYU-Hawaii at 5pm on Friday.

WESTERN OREGON #8

For the first time in the history of the program the Western Oregon Wolves are in the Division II NCAA Tournament. The Wolves won the regular season championship in the Great Northwest Conference compiling a 23-6 overall record.

The Wolves had some impressive early wins on their schedule and jumped out to a big lead in the GNAC. Western Oregon gave us a sign of things to come when they beat Oregon State in a pre-season exhibition. They also had an impressive  showing with a win at Dixie State. The Wolves beat Seattle-Pacific at home in double-overtime and were sitting at 20-3 on the season three weeks ago. Then they lost their leading scorer for a few games are looking to regain that mid-season form. They dropped an 88-79 decision to Western Washington in the semis of the GNAC Tournament.

The Wolves leading scorer is Andy Avgi. He averages 18.5 points and nearly 6 rebounds a game. He makes 61 percent of his shots and is a load to handle on the block. Julian Nichols is the second leading scorer and the primary distributer for Western Oregon. He averages 12.4 points and nearly 6 assists a game. He makes 46 percent of his shots and has made 23 treys on the season. Devon Alexander is a 6’1 guard and averages 11 points a game. He is second on the team with 41 made three’s. Their most prolific three-point shooter is Jordan Wiley. He has started every game and averages a little more than 10 points a game. He shoots 44 percent from beyond the arc and has made a team high 62 on the season. Lewis Thomas rounds out the starting line-up. The 6’8 post averages 7.8 points and grabs more than 6 rebounds a game. He can also step out and make a three, hitting 27 of them on the season.

The Wolves average nearly 80 points a game while giving up 69 a contest. Like most teams in this regional they can really shoot it, hitting on 47 percent of their shots and knocking down 37 percent of their threes. They are an exceptional free throw shooting team, making 76 percent from the stripe. They out-board their opponents by four and they take care of the ball, turning it over only 12 times a game. They were the best team all year in the GNAC, and despite falling in their conference tournament were a no doubt choice by the selection committee. They were sitting with the 3rd spot in the region before Avgi went down with an injury leading to a blowout loss at Western Washington. They very well could have been a 4 or 5 seed without the stumble.

One has the feeling the Wolves will not have that “happy to be there” feel. You never know when you will get back to the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time for the Wolves and they should be excited about this opportunity, especially considering the dominance shown by Western Washington and Seattle Pacific through the years. The Wolves are familiar with their 1st round opponent and top-seed Azusa Pacific. The Cougars came to Monmouth on November 21st and beat the Wolves 81-74. Western Oregon needs to find an answer for Troy Leaf. The Cougar sharp-shooter scored 33 points going 5-of-8 from deep. Azusa also out-rebounded the Wolves by 11 (32-21) in that game. No team in this tournament is the same club they were in November, the Wolves will need to adjust to make sure Leaf doesn’t go off.

The Wolves and Cougars play the final game of day one starting at 7:30pm at the Felix Events Center on the campus of Azusa Pacific.

OUTLOOK…..

Some people may have wondered why the Pacific West Conference got the top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament ? Quit wondering. This was the biggest of no-brainers. The Pac-West was clearly the dominant conference in the west this year and they deserve all the accolades coming their way. Most of their teams played tough schedules, inter-conference West Region schedules, and they dominated the CCAA and the GNAC. The numbers certainly didn’t lie in this case. But, the great thing about the NCAA Tournament is that the numbers don’t matter. It’s how you play for those 40 minutes in the biggest game of your life. You don’t have to beat a team that may better than you in a best-of-five series. You only have to beat them once. Anyone can be beaten once. That is why we love the tournament.

As the 18-year play-by-play voice for the Chico State Wildcats I am fortunate enough  to see every Chico State game and in doing so I love to follow the West Region action closely as well. Our game day score-sheets at Acker Gym not only have scores from the CCAA, but also scores from the Pacific-West and Great Northwest Conferences. We love our basketball in Chico, and not just the CCAA. This is going to be a tremendous regional with several new faces (Azusa Pacific & Western Oregon) and also teams who have made (Seattle-Pacific & Cal Poly Pomona) or who are making (Chico State) March Madness a habit.

When looking at the match-ups it struck me that we have 1st round match-ups of contrasting styles. BYU-Hawaii is putting up big offensive numbers, but Seattle-Pacific gives up only 63 points a game.

We have two games where teams met each other last year in the tournament. Cal Baptist and Chico; and Dixie and Pomona. The Lancers of Cal Baptist are a multi-faceted triple to quadruple pronged offense. Can the versatile Chico State defense stymie and frustrate the Lancers and make it hard for them to score ? Dixie State succumbed to the Pomona match-up zone in the last ten minutes of their regional contest last year. Can Dixie adjust or will Pomona leave another opponent muttering in frustration again about what might have been.

And then we have the two-first timers. Top seed Azusa Pacific who scheduled every good team they could possibly schedule and not only lived to tell about, but also kicked those teams in the rear. And, Western Oregon, no longer living in the shadows of WWU and SPU. They made the GNAC theirs and now they look to make some noise on the biggest of stages.

Friday will feature four games at the Felix Event Center.

Hey Friday, get here already ! See you court side !

*Thank you to the Chico State and Cal Poly Pomona athletics departments for use of pictures from their sites.

2 thoughts on “2015 NCAA MENS BASKETBALL WEST REGION PREVIEW”

  1. Mike, is there any way you can arrange to have your radio broadcast overlaid on the video they are doing for the Chico State games? That would be great for all of us fans that are unable to make it to Azusa. I’d be there if it wasn’t for this darn hip surgery!

  2. Bob, I wish I had that much juice. Sadly that will not be possible. Maybe something that can be done after the fact. Enjoy the games ! I hope your hip feels better soon

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