Impression from DAY ONE of Men’s D-II West Regional

It ranks right up there with one of my favorite sports days of the year. I wouldn’t get to experience it if it weren’t for the success of my hometown Chico State Wildcats, and for that I want to thank them for another great season and a fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Cal Baptist and Pomona

This game did not disappoint. I went into day one thinking it could be the best game of the day and it was. The contrast in styles between the electrifying Lancers and the lock-down match-up zone Broncos. We had a one point game with under two minutes to go but give the Lancers credit, they made the big plays when they had to.

Michael Smith was brilliant. The star point guard for the Lancers navigated his way through the big bodies to get to the lane and get to the bucket for some big buckets. Even though Gelaun Wheelwright scuffled with his shot, he made the one that counted with the score knotted at 53 with five-and-change to go. It would be a lead the Lancers would never relinquish.

The key to the game in my mind was Pomona’s inability to establish Jordan Faison in the block. Faison took three three’s in the first five minutes and that was a bad sign. Faison is a beast on the block but it never got established by the Broncos. It might have been something Pomona wanted to establish but Faison picked up two quick fouls in the first 24 seconds of the second half and he had to sit. Give some of the complimentary pieces credit in Jordan Ogundrian, Jeremy Dennis and Barry Bell for giving the Broncos a chance.

The Lancers showed they can win that type of knock down drag out game, where scoring is hard. They love the three. They rely on the three. They will face a team in San Diego that holds teams to 28 percent shooting from beyond the arch. Should be a great match-up.

UC San Diego and Chico State

Almost a month to the day from when Chico State knocked off UC San Diego in La Jolla the Tritons repaid the favor in the biggest of games. You could tell early on this would be a different story. On February 12th the Wildcats did a masterful job of face-guarding and not allowing Drew Dyer to get any touches or good looks. He had more good looks in the first three minutes of Friday’s quarterfinal than he did the entire game on Feb 12th.

From the outset San Diego took the fight to Chico and it showed. The Tritons jumped out to an early 7-point lead and would never look back leading this game for nearly 38 minutes of play.

Being a Chico guy I could lament on all the things Chico didn’t do well but that would short-change how well San Diego played. Dyer and his partner in crime Adam Klie played great basketball. The two leaders showed why they are two of the best competitors in the CCAA. Dyer and Klie combined for 42 of UCSD’s 76 points. Throw in the contributions of center Chris Hansen, Grant Jackson and George Buaku the Tritons laid it on the Cats.

For Chico they could never recapture the magic, that through 26 games, had been one of the best seasons in Wildcat history. They seem to wear down at season’s end and as the final horn sounded there was clear disappointment on the faces of the Cats. The life-blood of the Chico club had been defense all year but their defensive miscues over the last few weeks were glaring. For Chico to win they had to dig in defensively and get stops, but those were too infrequent over the final few weeks. The offense, which had been a mixture of cutting and moving and passing became stuck. And, when the ball sticks, and people don’t move, bad things happen. Most of the key components for Chico are coming back and when you throw in a strong recruiting class and some reserves who will get more playing time the future will continue to be bright for Chico. Still a great year, although not the finish they were hoping for, but a lot to build on.

Azusa Pacific and Seattle Pacific

Azusa Pacific put any thought of their team being down for the count to bed with Friday’s performance in beating Seattle Pacific. I certainly wasn’t buying the 37-point loss as some type of indicator that their NCAA fortunes were in jeopardy. The Cougars come at you in waves and it proved to be too much for the Seattle Pacific Falcons on Friday.

Azusa Pacific had at least 10 players PLAY at least 14 minutes, but not one player logged more than 29 minutes. That is depth people, that is depth and the Cougars have the deepest team in this tournament. The Cougars have so many interchangeable parts that they are truly tough to defend and scout because of the varied skills sets. They showed that against a perennial power.

The Cougars were led by Corey Langerveld who scored 17. LyDell Cardwell came off the bench to score 14 and I’m convinced Cardwell would be the focal point of most teams’ offenses in the region if he was the go-to guy. How good and deep is Azusa ? Their leading scorer Bruce English scored 6 points on 2-of-8 shooting in only 14 minutes.

For Seattle Pacific they could not recover from being on the short-end of a 16-0 run in the final 6 minutes of the first half. A 24-20 lead turned into a 36-24 deficit at the break. Mitch Penner, who has been such a great player for the Falcons scored 19, including 13 in the second half. Bryce Leavitt scored 14 with 12 of those coming in the second stanza. Seattle Pacific just couldn’t get enough consistent offense to keep up with Azusa Pacific. It was the 12th straight season the Falcons went dancing. An amazing accomplishment for the team with the longest tournament streak in the nation.

Western Oregon and Humboldt State

The night’s final game had a boisterous crowd and two teams that won their respective conference tournament championships. The top-seeded Western Oregon Wolves and the Humboldt State Lumberjacks. The Wolves would not let their crowd down beating Humboldt 82-65.

Watching Western Oregon is like listening to that finely tuned car that runs smoothly, almost to the point that it’s a soulful sound. Five pieces that act in concert making the whole thing sound like symphony. The more I watch GNAC Player-of-the-Year Andy Avgi  the more I love the guy. It was the third chance I had to see him in person and sixth or seventh time this year. What a player. He seems to have great basketball instincts and surprisingly a great first step. He scored 15 on the night

The guy who may be playing the best basketball on the team right now could be Tanner Omlid. Omlid scored 18 points to go along with 6 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. No turnovers for Omlid in 32 minutes of play. He is making some big plays for the Wolves and has really stepped up his game in March.

Devon Alexander was great scoring 16 on 7-of-11 shooting. Every time the Jacks were on the precipice of a run, it was Alexander hitting a big time base-line fall-away. Julian Nichols was his solid self again scoring 17 points along with 5 boards and a team-high 4 assists.

Western Oregon could not really shake Humboldt. The Jacks showed the offensive prowess that made them one of the best offensive teams in the region. Malik Morgan kept this team afloat at times in the second half. The sophomore point guard scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Rakim Brown had a double-double going for 20-and-10 on 8-of-16 shooting. The Jacks needed their third wheel  but Thomas Witzel had an off night going 1-of-8 and scored only 6 points.

The Jacks were down 14 but whittled it down to six mid-way through the second half. The problem is even as they kept scoring they just couldn’t get a stop and that proved to be their undoing.

IMPRESSION

I’m a CCAA guy but my eyes aren’t deceiving me. The CCAA got taken to the pea patch on Friday. Four teams in the tournament and 3 teams heading home. Not good. But, I will say this. Based on the criteria that the NCAA puts forth the committee got the selections right. It’s not who is hot at end of season, the tournament teams are based on the BODY OF WORK. So, in that respect they got it right.

The Pac-West’s participants and the two teams that played in the West Region Final last year Azusa Pacific and Cal Baptist look very strong. The problem for the Pac-West is they have too many sub .500 teams and it waters down their schedule and records therefore hurting their RPI and Performance Indicator not giving bubble teams a chance to get in the tournament. It hurts a conference to have seven teams with sub .500 records.

Cal Baptist and UC San Diego at 5pm today. It should be a good one. As San Diego showed, despite their injury woes they still have a tremendous core that can defend, shoot and compete. Cal Baptist will not have to face that Pomona match-up zone, but they will have to deal with a strong perimeter defense in San Diego. Michael Smith is going to be very tough for San Diego to handle. The Tritons must also do a Pomona-like job on Wheelwright.   Cal Baptist has to close out on Dyer and stop Klie from the dribble attacks.

The Western Oregon and Azusa Pacific games bring us two heavyweights that will battle it out in the regional semis. Western Oregon behind a raucous crowd and APU with the championship pedigree. Azusa certainly has the depth to throw bodies at the Wolves. Western Oregon has the cohesiveness on both ends to get stops and make it hard on the Cougars. This will be a tremendous game and I can’t wait to see it at 7:30 tonight.

You can watch the games on http://www.gnacsports.com

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