The field is set and we are ready for the men’s Division II NCAA Basketball Tournament. Most West Region teams knew their fate but there were some anxious moments as the NCAA committee crunched the numbers and surveyed the body of work for all the teams under consideration.
Getting hot at the right time serves you well in March and credit the Humboldt State Lumberjacks for playing themselves into the dance. They had to win three games in five days to get it done in the CCAA Tournament and they did. After watching Alaska play over the last two weeks they are probably one of the best eight teams in the region, but their non-conference schedule appeared to hurt them as their just wasn’t enough quality wins over good teams to get them into the NCAA. Dixie’s best chance went by the boards when they lost to Cal Baptist in the semi-finals of the Pac-West Tournament and when Humboldt snagged the automatic qualifier in the CCAA, Dixie’s chances were dashed.
If Alaska had beaten Western Oregon on Saturday then I am convinced the CCAA regular season champion Chico State Wildcats would have been left out of the party. Their two mis-steps in a four-day period against Cal State Los Angeles initially looked like a minor miscue. It almost turned into a season-ending disaster. Chico and Cal Poly Pomona were the final two at-large teams selected into the men’s field and as the committee showed us, Pomona’s two wins head-to-head over Chico State trumped the Wildcats CCAA title. Speaking to many of the Wildcats after the Selection Show festivities, they realized how close they were to seeing their season unceremoniously come to an end.
I love that the committee put emphasis on strength of schedule and road success. If you played good teams, even if you didn’t win them all you were rewarded. They also showed that when you win road games you get the credit you deserve. We all know how tough it is to play on the road in the GNAC, Pac-West and CCAA. I know it’s not easy in these tough budget times for Division II schools, but I can’t stand when Division II teams play Division III schools and NAIA opponents. It’s my pet peeve. THE GAMES DON’T COUNT !!!! Please stop !!! *jumps off of soap box* I thought the committee did a real good job this year and they got the field and seeding right. Good wins help you but bad losses can ruin you, the seedings reflect that.
The field this year is strong and nothing would surprise me. 1-thru-8 it is a stacked. I can’t wait to see the games and witness who rises to the occasion to punch their tickets to the Elite Eight.
Lets’ look at the teams headed to Monmouth, Oregon the home for the Western Oregon Wolves, the host institution for the 2016 West Region Basketball Championships.
WESTERN OREGON #1 SEED
The Wolves were far and away the best regular season team in the West Region. They took on all comers and emerged victorious. What a tremendous season for head coach Jim Shaw and his squad. They beat GNAC power Seattle Pacific three times including a thriller in the GNAC tourament. They beat Alaska Anchorage twice. Plus they knocked off a solid Monterey Bay squad and fellow NCAA participant UC San Diego on the road. At 27-3 (26-2 against Division II opponents) the Wolves were a lock for the tournament and the clear-cut number one seed.
Post player Andy Avgi leads the way but they have six primary offensive contributors that make this team so difficult to handle. Avgi (19.9 ppg) wreaks havoc with his inside/outside game (41 made three’s and 36% from three-point range.) Julian Nichols and Jordan Wiley have started all 30 games and have put up great numbers with Nichols averaging 12.5 points and nearly 5 assists a game. Nichols ability to create and set up his mates makes him special. He has a penchant for slashing to the hole and getting to the line where he has attempted the most charities on the squad. Wiley is the Wolves most prolific three-point shooter. He has knocked down 64 treys on the year and shoots them at a 44 percent clip.
How deep are the Wolves ? Many would consider Devon Alexander their fourth option but he was named the GNAC Tournament MVP after going to 16-10-5 against Alaska in the tourney final. Tanner Omlid (10.3 ppg/5.7 rebs) and Alex Roth are potent as well. Roth is a 47 percent three -point shooter and has hit 37 of them on the year. The Wolves have eight players who average double-digit minutes.
As the season has shown the Wolves can put 90 points on you and win or they can win a slug-fest junk-yard dog grind it out defensive game 58-57 as they did against SPU in the semi-finals of the GNAC Tourney.
The Wolves will be playing in front of their home crowd where they went 12-0 this season. This is a special team and it will take a special performance to beat them in the NCAA Tournament. Their first-round match-up are the Cinderella’s of this West Regional, Humboldt State.
HUMBOLDT STATE #8 SEED
Magic carpet ride, pixie dust, The Secret, heck I am sure head coach Steve Kinder and staff said a few Hail Mary’s as well, but it worked and the Lumberjacks are in the NCAA Tournament. They were not going to get in unless they won the CCAA Tournament, which they did in resounding fashion. All kidding aside there is one big reason why Humboldt is making the trip to Monmouth, DEFENSE.
Yep, defense. The Lumberjacks were ranked dead last in the CCAA in defense for the entire year, but when the lights were shining the brightest Humboldt held Monterey Bay, Cal State Los Angeles and UC San Diego to an average of 61 points per game over a five day stretch. This was a team that gave up 76 points a game over the course of the season. #DefenseWins is our motto and in Lumberjack Nation they have to be proud of how the gaping holes and lack of back-side rotations were finally remedied.
Humboldt is an offensively gifted ball club. They are led by their senior Rocky Brown. He averages 19.2 points and 9.2 rebounds a game. He can score on the block, hit the mid-range and knock down the three. Thomas Witzel and Malik Morgan are his partners in crime. Witzel has unlimited range and you better not let him get a good look. He averages 14.1 points per game and has hit 55 three’s on the year. Morgan is the guy who makes them go. He has penchant for making big plays and is creative when getting into the paint. He averages 13.2 points and better than 5 assists a game. Morgan has three partners in that back-court who have all hit more than 30 three’s on the year. Freshman Tyras Rattler (30) hit the game-winning three in their CCAA Tourney opening round win against Monterey Bay. Ethan Dillard (37 3’s) is a savvy veteran that has a cagey way of getting open and freshman Nikhil Lizotte (36 3’s) has been a nice boost for this team.
Many thought the Jacks would struggle this year after the loss of imposing post player Calvin Young II to a torn ACL before the season but they found their niche offensively early in the year and they rolled with it. The Jacks were 21-8 on the season but only 17-8 against Division II opponents. Humboldt State averages 83 points per game and they will need that high-octane offense clicking if they are to spring the surprise in round one against Western Oregon. In my opinion this is not your typical 1-versus-8 match-up. Humboldt is dangerous right now. If they defend the way they did over the last three games, they will have a chance, but even if they do defend at a high level, it’s contingent on the Big Three in Brown, Witzel and Morgan to bring their “A” games. Can’t wait to see this one, Humboldt and Western Oregon in round one. They will tip this one at 7:30pm on Friday night
SEATTLE PACIFIC #4
*Photo courtesy of http://www.spufalcons.com/index.aspx?tab=basketball&path=mbball
Make 12 straight NCAA Tournament appearances for this perennial power in the West Region. To make it to the tournament for twelve straight seasons you need consistency at the top and the Falcons certainly have that with head coach Ryan Looney.
Despite a heart-breaking one point loss to Western Oregon in the GNAC Tournament the Falcons were a lock for the NCAA Tourney with a strong resume that included what I think to be the best strength of schedule in the region. The Falcons beat Dixie in St. George. They beat Chico in Chico and they waxed first round opponent and defending West Region champion Azusa Pacific in mid-December. The only team they haven’t been able to solve this year is the top-seeded Wolves, losing three times by a total of NINE points including two overtime games.
The Falcons are led by Mitch Penner who averages 18.6 points per game. Penner is the Falcons go-to player who can consistently hit the mid-range jumper and also slash to the basket and attack the rim. He is a heady player who has a great ability to get to the free throw line having attempted 182 charities and knocking them down at an 80 percent clip. This is a talented group that features several players that willingly fulfill their role. When you watch the Falcons, and they are clicking, you feel they are five players working as one.
Center and 7-footer Gilles Dierickx has been very good this year. He averages 11.4 points and pulls 7 boards a game. He is one big dude and he can change shots in the paint. Bryce Leavitt could be the Falcons most complete player. He averages 9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and better than 4 assists a game. Leavitt shoots 47 percent from the field. Brendan Carroll is the Falcons best perimeter shooter knocking down 43 treys on the year. He averages 10.8 points a game.
The Falcons have guys who know their roles. They are one of the best defensive teams in the tournament giving up only 64 points per game. You know deep down they want another shot at Western Oregon but they better not over-look the Pac-West champion Azusa-Pacific. Seattle-Pacific certainly has the mettle to win the NCAA West Regional. They are tested and despite a ton of new faces, winning just oozes from this team. 12 straight NCAA Tourney’s will do that for you. The Falcons know they are in for a tough first round match-up, but don’t be surprised if they make a deep run.
AZUSA PACIFIC #5
The Cougars Bruce English hopes to lead Azusa Pacific to another West Region Championship in Monmouth
*Photo courtesy of http://www.apu.edu/athletics/basketball/mens/
It was another strong campaign for the defending West Region champion Cougars. Despite a minor rough patch bridging January and February where they lost three straight games, consistency was the name of the game for APU. A late season surge where they won 6 out of the final 7 netted them the Pac-West regular season championship. The Cougars had two impressive wins against arch-rvial and primary conference nemesis Cal Baptist during the regular season, but were paid back in spades on Saturday. The Lancers beat APU by 37 and had a lot of fun doing it. I don’t think this will affect the Cougars negatively at all. They are too good to let that game affect them leading into the regional.
Unlike last year where the Cougars were hosting the regional, this year they hit the road. They have a type of game that travels. They were 11-5 away from home this year. They are a prolific three-point shooting team. They spread the floor, slash, make you defend, attack the rim or dish it out to their plethora of shooters.
Bruce English is one of three players who averages double figures. He averages 11.6 points per game and has hit 57 three’s on the year at a 41 percent clip. Lydell Cardwell is an even better three-point shooter knocking down 69 treys at a 41.1 percent rate. Joey Schreiber is also a great three-point shooter knocking down 54 three’s and also shoots 41 percent from behind the arch. This team can really shoot it. They have taken an amazing 749 three’s and have made 38 percent of them as a team.
They can also do some damage in the paint. Petar Kutlesic is their second leading scorer at 11.1 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. He makes 54 percent of his shots and has taken the third most shots on the club.
Depth is one of the great attributes of this team. They have eight players who play more than 20 minutes a game. This is a team that can wear you down and beat you late. They will come at with body-after-body-after-body. This goes a long way when playing a long schedule with long road trips. Fresh bodies are a luxury and especially when you need to win three games in four days, it’s imperative. Some may see the blow-out loss to Cal Baptist as a sign for trouble ahead for the Cougars. I think to the contrary. I see a team that probably forgot about that thing as soon as the horn sounded. They have too many players that know what THIS tournament means and were able to quickly wipe that thing aside. Azusa is seasoned and they will be ready for what should be a tremendous first round match-up with Seattle Pacific. They will tip at 5pm late Friday afternoon.
UC SAN DIEGO #2
Drew Dyer is one of the best shooters in the West Region and he hopes to lead the Tritons to a long stay in Monmouth
It’s been quite a season for the CCAA regular season runners-up. The UC San Diego Tritons opened their season with a big win over Cal Baptist at home, and also a near miss against Western Oregon. They were really good away from home this year winning 11 of the 14 contests they played away from RIMAC Arena. The Tritons are the CCAA’s version of Seattle Pacific. They know who they are and they don’t try to do too much. They rely on their group of superb shooters and now they are getting some great play in the paint from young post Chris Hansen.
The saying goes, “a cornered animal is a dangerous animal.” The Tritons haven’t used the injury excuse all year and don’t expect them to say it now. After playing only two games, they lost one of the most versatile players in the league, Hunter Walker to an injury. Then cruelly they lost their second best three-point shooter Alexs Lipovic to an injury in their first round CCAA Tournament game against Sonoma. There is no official word on his status, but if he can’t go against Chico this is a very tough loss for the Tritons. Do they have enough to not only beat Chico and win the regional ? Absolutely.
Drew Dyer is the heart-and-soul of this group. A tremendous player and leader. A well-respected competitor in the CCAA. This guy brings it every night and you better be ready to compete when playing against him. Dyer averages a team high 14.9 points per game and has hit an astonishing 86 three’s on the year, making 46 percent of his tries. Give him room in three point land at your own peril. When you defend Dyer, it better be a no touch defense, if it’s not you will be in trouble.
Adam Klie’s size belies his skill set. He can hit the 10-to-15 footer but he attacks the basket aggressively and is a shot creator. He has gone to the line a team high 115 times. Undersized, maybe ? But you won’t find a tougher dude than Klie. Point-guard Grant Jackson has expanded his game. He has always been a great defender, but now he is slashing to the hole is doing a great job of setting up his mates.
Freshman Chris Hansen is really coming on. He led the Tritons with 27 in the CCAA title game loss to Humboldt. More is expected of him with all the injuries and he is delivering. He could be the next great big-man in the CCAA. Hansen is a load and the Tritons will lean on him in the regional.
With the injury to Lipovic, sophomore Anthony Ballestero is getting the starts and he is not shy. He has made 26 three’s and is only averaging 11 minutes played per game. Of course those minutes are going up with his new role.
There is no way around it. The Tritons have had their depth decimated by injury. They played an entire season without Walker and almost won a conference title. Now, they lose Lipovic. If any team can circle the wagons it is Eric Olen’s team. Chico beat UCSD on February 12th 77-71 in a game that featured 15 lead changes and 12 ties. Chico will not have any letdown knowing the Tritons are short-handed. They know how good this team is. I expect Dyer and Klie to rise to the occasion and play some of their best games of the year.
CHICO STATE #7
*Photo courtesy of http://www.chicowildcats.com
As the 19 year-voice of the Chico State Wildcats, there was a moment on Saturday when I didn’t think the Wildcats were going to get into the tournament. Chico entered the week as the number-two team in the region, but their bad-upset loss against Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday turned them into the role spectator. With Humboldt winning the CCAA Tourney, Chico couldn’t afford to see Alaska swipe another automatic spot. Chico would have been battling with Pomona for the last at-large bid and the Wildcats were swept in the season series by the Broncos. Case closed. So when the Wolves were sinking late three’s, it was a welcome relief for Chico State fans.
Chico State comes in as the regular season CCAA Champions garnering their fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Championships. Once again they had a tremendous regular season. Their biggest win of the year was the victory over UC San Diego in La Jolla. Chico also had a very strong resume going 12-3 on the road and 11-4 against teams with a record over .500. They went 22-6 on the season (20-6 against D-II opposition.)
The staple of this team is defense. Ever since Greg Clink took over eight years ago he has preached defense, defense, defense and the Cats are one of the best in the country at stopping teams from scoring. The Wildcats give up 64 points a game and do it solid perimeter defense and three imposing figures in the paint. 6’10 center Chris Magalotti is the anchor, changing shots and forcing penetrators to deviate from their path. 6’10 Power forward Tanner Giddings not only averages 9.9 points but he also changes shots and plays big in the paint. The key for Chico’s big men is they are so good at switches and rotations. They are adept at hedging out on high screens causing problems on the perimeter and in the paint.
CCAA-Player-of-the-Year Robert Duncan is their electrifying leading scorer at 15 points a game. Numerous times this year he has taken games over with his dynamic dribble attacks. He also has hit 44 three’s shooting them at a 39 percent rate. 6’8 post Isaiah Ellis also canvasses the paint defensively but his offensive game has reached new heights this year. He is averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. He runs the floor about as well as any big man in the region. Corey Silverstrom is their best three-point shooter. He has hit 58 three’s on the year and shoots them at a 42 percent clip.
Sophomore point guard Jalen McFerren has had a solid campaign averaging 9.9 points and pulling 5.5 boards a contest. McFerren can burn you if you leave him open having hit 38 three’s on the year.
Tyler Harris and Nate Ambrosini provide great energy and presence off the bench. They will be needed if Chico is to make a great run. They can both score attacking the basket and knocking down the three-ball.
Chico State has an achilles heel and its turnovers. If they take care of the ball they can advance, but if they don’t value possessions and get careless with the ball, their stay in the tournament won’t be long. Taking care of the ball is paramount for this team that averaged 14.1 turnovers a game.
This may seem sacrilegious but Chico State looked dead on their feet in the final few weeks of the season, especially against Cal State Los Angeles. The mental grind of the season and the hard push toward a conference title seemed to wear this team down. So, when they finally cut the nets down and captured that conference title, there clearly was a let-down, and it almost cost the Wildcats their tournament chances. A few Wildcats told me that the rest they got by NOT playing in the conference tournament has refreshed their legs and brought back their mental edge. It’s never good to lose, but if you do, have it work for you. Fresh legs at tournament time helps.
It should be a highly entertaining Chico State and UC San Diego game that will TIP at 2:30pm on Friday afternoon. You can hear the game on our flagship station AM-1290 KPAY, http://www.kpaysports.com and the KpaySports app.
CAL BAPTIST #3
The Cal Baptist Lancers come into the NCAA Tournament on a roll. The Lancers racked up 27 wins on the year with 26 of them against Division-II opponents. Aside from a stretch bridging mid-January to early February where they lost four of seven games, the Lancers were dominant.
This is the third straight NCAA Tournament for the Lancers and after coming up a game short last year, losing to Azusa Pacific in the regional final they are now determined to finish the job. Watching the Lancers I feel they have mastered the “controlled aggression” concept. It appears they are playing at break-neck tempo, but in reality it is what they are, a supremely talented offensive team with multiple weapons that can hurt you .
Pac-West MVP Michael Smith orchestrates this team, whether it’s a perimeter J, a slash to the hole or a tear-drop floater, the lefty point guard finds ways to beat you. Compared to his mates Smith doesn’t take a ton of three’s but when he does shoot them, he is proficient knocking them down at a 36 percent clip. Smith averages 21.5 points per game and grabs 6.8 boards a game (2nd on team.)
Gelaun Wheelwright is the second-leading scorer on the Lancers scoring more than 17 points a game. He is quite a shooter with unlimited range. Head coach Rick Croy has given Wheelwright the ultimate green light. Wheelwright’s light is a strobing neon green. He has taken 282 THREE’S on the year making 101. When Wheelwright gets hot he is almost impossible to stop, as Chico State learned last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Hands in face and no touch defense didn’t stop him.
Post-player Trevone Williams does much of the dirty work in the post for the Lancers. He averages 7.9 points and 5.7 boards a game. Williams plays great defense, while sometimes being under-sized. He sets screens and plays well within the team concept. Every winning team needs a guy like Williams. Williams can also step out and rail a three hitting 35 treys on the season. Kalidou Diouf is another quality post for CBU. He is the only player on the roster who has not attempted a three-point shot, but when he does put it up, he usually makes it, shooting 62 percent from the field. Diouf averages 9.9 points and pull 5 boards a game. Just when you thought you only had to deal with this group, the Lancers have Jordan Guisti who has hit 47 three’s and makes 49 percent of them. Jordan Heading (35 made three’s) and Alexander Birketoft (24 made three’s) also provide a spark, especially from deep.
Many thought the Lancers might miss one of last year’s sharp-shooters Ryan Berg. Instead the offense adapted, giving Wheelwright the more shots, and Smith more freedom. Many thought the Lancers might stumble after losing Taj Spencer to injury in early February, instead they rattled off 9 straight wins, and haven’t lost since Spencer went down.
This club is tested, veteran and dangerous. If you are going to beat the Lancers you must be on point defensively and be able to score enough to nip them a tight game. If there is one team that could give Lancers fits its Cal Poly Pomona and that incredible match-up zone. This will be an incredible contrast between the Lancers explosiveness and the Broncos lock-down defense. Game time is 12 noon on Friday.
CAL POLY POMONA #6
Let me start by saying I love how Pomona plays the game. Over the years I have marveled at the continued defensive discipline that wins them games, league titles, West Region titles and National Championships. Head coach Greg Kamansky and staff have implemented a system that works. Pomona relishes getting into you. They are big. They are long. The move as one cohesive unit defensively and the longer the game goes, the more frustrating it can be for teams used to getting open and easy looks. When dialed in they can beat anyone.
The Broncos have had a good season highlighted by some impressive wins, but also some peculiar low-lights that have left observers shaking their heads. They were rolling along at 14-1 after a 69-56 win over Chico State on january 9th. The following weekend they would drop back-to-back games to two sub .500 teams in the LA basin Cal State Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills. They also lost one night after beating Chico State on ESPN3 in late February to a Stanislaus State team that had lost 11 of 12. Mixed in with the bad losses are wins over Azusa Pacific, and two victories over Chico State.
The Broncos will not “Wow” you with their offense but their team isn’t built to. They built to dig in and lock you up. But, don’t take their offense for granted. One of the best players I have seen in my years covering the CCAA is Jordan Faison. He is the only Bronco to average in double figures in points. Faison scores 17.2 points per game and pulls 7.6 rebounds a contest. Faison will get his somehow-someway. A highly skilled back to the basket scorer who is adpet around the hoop. He makes 58 percent of his shots. In late February when Pomona played Chico on ESPN3 Faison had 6 points and 1 rebound with the Broncos trailing by 18 with 10 minutes to go. Faison would finish with 16 points and 7 boards (5 offensive) leading a 35-9 run to give Pomona a stunning 67-61 win. Faison is the real deal and my respect for his game is immense.
Point guard Barry Bell is the life blood of this team in a lot of ways. The McClymonds High product expertly controls tempo and when watching him you feel that Kamansky has a coach on the floor. His offense has improved over the years and now he is a guy who can hit an open jumper. Bell averages 8 points a game, but his effect on a game is more than statistics. Bell is a winner.
Jeremy Dennis and Quentin Taylor both average 8 points a contest. The sophomore Dennis is 6’5 and has the makings of special piece to the puzzle for the Broncos. Taylor hits 37 percent of this three’s and has a penchant for big shots. Freshman Jordan Ogundrian is the heir apparent to Bell at the point position. This lightning fast guard plays the game with no fear. He will only get better under Kamansky and has shown flashes of brilliance. He can be electrifying off the dribble in attacking the rim. Ogundrian averages 7.9 points and has a team high 38 steals.
Sophomore Daylan Lawrence and freshman Chris Sullivan are way more than complimentary pieces. They are part of this defensive monster that can also score when called upon. Back-up post Francois Tchoyi is a tough as they come. The Broncos feed off of his defensive mind-set when in the game.
The Broncos only shoot 30 percent from three-point range. Their style isn’t glamorous, but if you find hard-nosed defense sexy, this is your team…..LOL ! As you can tell I have admiration for this team and style. I can’t wait to see what types of defensive strategies the Broncos come up with to try to shackle the potent Lancers. Does the zone slow down CBU ? Can they force left-handed standout Michael Smith right and try to disrupt his comfort zone ? Can they lock down Wheelwright and force him to chuck it from 25-26 feet rather than 22 ? Do they have depth to deal with the rangy Lancers ? I can’t wait to see this game !!! 12 noon tip time on Friday afternoon.
ENJOY THE GAMES !!!!!
*Mike Baca called Chico State basketball games from 1990-94 as a student and has been the Voice of Chico State Basketball since 1997*