Tag Archives: Ncaa Tournament

Peaking Wildcats making a run at a National Championship……

*THOUGHTS ON THE CHICO STATE WILDCATS FROM 35 THOUSAND FEET*

It’s not that we didn’t think they could do it, but to expect it was totally unfair.

The Chico State men’s basketball is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota getting ready to take on Lincoln Memorial at the Elite Eight for Division II basketball. The Wildcats magic carpet ride was punctuated last weekend with three splendid performances against the three respective regular season champions in the West Region.

First, Chico knocked off high-scoring Western Washington 96-83. Despite giving up 83 points the Wildcats were more than happy getting in a shootout with the Vikings. For the first time in a long time the Wildcats found room to move on the floor. Passing lanes that were clogged and impediments that were common place during CCAA play all of sudden turned into wide gulfs of space with which they could run their offense unimpeded against a Western team that gave up nearly 80 points a game. It must have felt like a jail-break for Chico State.

The free-flowing offense where movement and motion was rewarded. It had been a while since Chico had been that wide open for drives and shots. The game was truly a testament to how good the CCAA is. To win the CCAA you MUST play defense, if not you will get carved to pieces.

On day two the Wildcats encountered a frisky bulldog-tough type of team in Hawaii-Pacific. If the Sharks were a baseball team I would affectionately call them a bunch of “dirt-bags.” Fluidity of play and dogged aggressiveness characterized the Pacific West Conference Champions. We saw them systematically take care of the best defensive team in the country, CCAA-rival Sonoma State. I was thoroughly impressed with their defensive doggedness and anticipated Chico State would have their hands full.

Chico’s 15-point lead with 9:30 to go eventually turned into a one-point deficit with 1:55 to go. A furious 25-9 rally by the Sharks had the Wildcats on their heels, before Chico State righted the ship. The Wildcats ability to rescue the game after coughing up a 15 lead showed Chico State had come a long way in a year. After Isaiah Ellis took a charge with the Cats down and with 4 fouls, Robert Duncan made a driving lay-up. After Corey Silverstrom registered a steal and driving bucket the Cats had the whip-hand and outlasted HPU 77-74. The win showed many of us Chico State lifers a toughness that at times had been missing over the last few years. It’s hard to be critical of a team that has had as much success as the Wildcats for the last several years. But, sometimes and on rare occasions, when things went south, the Cats had a hard time pulling themselves out of the abyss, especially in the middle of a game. Not this time, though.

This Chico State team made winning plays to beat Hawaii-Pacific. Sealed the game with defense and disciplined offense and moved on to the regional championship game against UC San Diego.

The championship tilt against the rival Tritons will simply go down as one of the great basketball games in Chico State Wildcats history. 10 days before this title match-up UCSD had come out in the CCAA semi-final game and as All-American guard Robert Duncan said, “punched Chico in the mouth.” With 4 minutes left in the 1st half UCSD had jumped out to a 27-11 lead. The Wildcat offense was stagnant. There was not movement, no aggressiveness, a passivity to their flow that was not conducive to winning basketball. When the final horn sounded it was San Diego 65-53 over Chico State. The final score only told a portion of the story. The Tritons had taken the fight to Chico State, and for this team to accomplish the things they wanted to accomplish, that had to change.

Right from the out-set you could tell the Wildcats wouldn’t lose this game for a lack of fight. On their first possession they would grab two offensive rebounds. They would attack on the offensive end. The ball moved, the players moved, there was cutting and motion, it was a thing of beauty. It was nothing like the three games the Wildcats had played against UCSD this year. There was a precision and rhythm to the Cats’ offensively that showed this team at their peak. To quote Norman Dale in the movie Hoosiers, “all pistons firing operating as one.”

Ellis was simply other-worldly. The Wildcat junior scored 19 of his game high 34 in the first half. The Tritons having watched Chico hit 25-of-50 from three-point range in the first two games of the regional were reluctant to double Ellis, out of fear of leaving the triumvirate of Wildcat shooters open, they paid the price.

Even after an 11-0 run by the Tritons sent their faithful into a frenzy, giving UCSD a 57-51 lead, Chico would counter with a 14-7 run of their own and this time it was more than Ellis. Corey Silverstrom would get hot taking top of the key and wing three’s to set it off. All the other pieces for the Cats played well including the other duo on the “core-fore” Jalen McFerren and Duncan. The beauty of Duncan’s play is he facilitated much of the Wildcat success. In past year’s Chico had to have Duncan score, but this year Duncan and Wildcats thrive when he facilitates ball movement and action. His talents necessitates constant attention. That attention opens things up for his mates and in the regional Duncan has never been better. McFerren took the slings and arrows from all teams to run the offense with continuity and flow. His 37-minute 1 turnover performance may be one of the more over-looked great games of the season for the Cats, but not by those of us that saw him play.

Everyone in uniform for Chico State played well against San Diego. In retrospect there just wasn’t a player who didn’t play well, that how championship teams are crowned.

With as well as the Wildcats played they still had to withstand an incredible shooting display by the Tritons. UCSD shot 14-of-26 from three-point range, making Chico State pay for their double-teams against sophomore post Chris Hansen. The complimentary pieces were tremendous for San Diego, but as CCAA-MVP Adam Klie said after the game, “we just couldn’t get stops. They (Chico) just played really well.”

Knocking off three conference champions in four days is not an easy task. When you do it, deep down you have to think all things are possible and that is the attitude the Chico State Wildcats bring to Sioux Falls. The Cats finished in a tie for third in the CCAA, got knocked out in the semis of the CCAA Conference Tournament but their championship pedigree is undeniable.

This Chico State core pushed themselves to heightened levels of exhaustion just to win a CCAA regular season title in 2016. They would never win another game the night after they clinched. They expended so much energy to win that regular season title, they had nothing left.

There was a conscious effort as many Wildcats professed to me in October to perform and win in the NCAA Tournament. The conference accolades and rewards were nice, but the NCAA Tournament riches are better. This team knew this, and their experience in losing in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years lit a flame that, at times dimmed slightly, but never extinguished.

They are peaking. They are hungry. And, they don’t feel like they are anywhere near finished.

 

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

REACTION and ANALYSIS: OFFICIAL Division II West Region Men’s Basketball Rankings…..

OFFICIAL WEST REGION DIVISION II MEN’S BASKETBALL RANKINGS 
Overall DII Record               In-Region 
1 Western Ore.                                   22-2                                         22-2
2 Chico St.                                             19-4                                          19-4
3 UC San Diego                                  19-5                                         18-5
4 California Baptist                         20-6                                         18-6
5 Seattle Pacific                                 18-7                                         18-7
6 Azusa Pacific                                   18-6                                         17-6
7 Cal Poly Pomona                           18-6                                        16-6
8 Dixie St.                                               15-8                                        15-8
9 Alas. Anchorage                             16-8                                        15-8
10 Alas. Fairbanks                            16-7                                        16-7

Let me start by saying I was WAY OFF on my rankings. WAAAAAY OFFFF. And, I am totally OK with that. I thought my rankings were well-reasoned and qualified, but since I haven’t broken down the Performance Indicator and RPI’s for the teams, it came down to body of work, finite analysis and comparison. With the release of today’s Division II Men’s West Regional Basketball rankings we learned one hard and fast thing about life in the West Region……BEAT THE TEAMS YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BEAT !!!

My initial surprise is now steadied in the fact that the committee is really utilizing the PI (Performance Indicator) which measures each win and each loss with a point value. What we saw in today’s rankings highlights how vital it is to beat SUB .500 teams. If you slip you will be punished. This week we saw Seattle Pacific lose their first game to a team under .500 and they dropped an incredible THREE SPOTS (2nd to 5th.) We saw Pomona beat Chico in Chico but follow that up with a dreadful loss to Stanislaus State and drop from 6th to 7th.

Losses to good teams, even at home do not crush you. But, based on the criteria being utilized you get crushed if you lose to sub-standard teams whether at home or on the road. While top-seeded Western Oregon and Chico State both lost, their losses were to teams ranked in the top-10 in the region (definition of a good/acceptable loss.) They also both beat teams ranked in the region after those losses (definition of a good win.) Western Oregon stayed at number one, while Chico State climbed to number two despite losing a game.

I was a little surprised Seattle Pacific dropped to fifth after looking at the quality of their schedule. 15 of their 25 games against teams over .500 and compiling a 9-6 record in those 15 contests. Knowing that Chico State, Seattle Pacific and UC San Diego all had to be pretty close in the rankings, I guess the committee was looking at something to differentiate the teams. A bad loss qualifies especially when it comes to the performance indicator.

With Seattle Pacific falling so far, that shows me that the teams ranked from 2-to-7 must all be pretty close and any mis-step or incongruity will be addressed by the committee. That means this last week of the regular season and the conference tournaments are going to be VITAL in terms of seeding and possibly berths into the NCAA Tournament.

Azusa Pacific sits at number six and that is before the committee takes their loss at BYU-Hawaii on Tuesday night into account. Needless to say Azusa needs to finish the week strong at Chaminade and Hilo. Pomona just has to be sick. They were sitting at six last week, they beat Chico State on ESPN3 in front of a standing room only sell-out crowd coming back from 18 points down with 10 minutes to go…..then they lose in OT to a 7-16 Stanislaus team. That had to feel like they won the SuperLotto but lost the ticket.

I knew Dixie was coming on strong and their two wins against Holy Names saw them jump from 10-to-8. The Red Storm have really put things to together but they have some work to do with a tough schedule in the final week of the season. They are ranked 8th despite not having their win on the road against Dominican factored into the equation, so they have to be feeling pretty good.

Anchorage slipped to number 9 with their loss to Western Oregon and a win against a sub .500 squad. And, it was a great week for Alaska Fairbanks as they beat Western Oregon and put themselves in the conversation.

Remember, power ratings and wins against quality teams is always changing since some teams either are sitting ABOVE .500 or AT .500 or fall BELOW the .500 mark. This will have a significant impact on the quality of wins for teams. So, keep an eye on not only a specific team and how they are performing but also the teams they have beaten OR lost to and whether those wins or losses qualify as good or bad. The Performance Indicator and RPI along with Division II and in-region records are constantly fluctuating and changing. As we saw this week, if you slip on the banana peel not only will your pride and tail bone hurt, but also……your ranking.

*photo courtesy of Chico State Athletics at ChicoWildcats.com

 

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.

2015 Chico State Basketball Regional Montage

 

The 2015 Chico State Wildcat men’s basketball team will be playing in their 4th straight NCAA TOURNAMENT. Along the way they have given us some amazing moments……

#6 seed Chico State takes on #3 seed Cal Baptist in the 1st Round of the NCAA TOURNAMENT on Friday at Azusa Pacific University

*AUDIO may not work on some mobile applications*

 

 

CCAA Men’s Basketball Blog: First D-II West Region Poll-No Surprises

 

NCAA DIVISION II WEST REGION RANKINGS

1 Azusa Pacific                        19-4 19-4
2 California Baptist             19-4 19-3
3 Western Ore.                      18-3 18-3
4 BYU-Hawaii                         18-4 16-4
5 Cal Poly Pomona               15-5 15-5
6 Dixie St.                                  17-6 17-5
7 Chico St.                                 15-6 15-6
8 Point Loma                           18-6 18-6
9 UC San Diego                     13-9 13-9
10 Seattle Pacific                 15-7 13-7

A fellow blogger who follows the Great Northwest Conference writes a blog that can be accessed here

https://gnacmbb.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/west-region-rankings-1/

He has some great insights and comes at the region from a Great Northwest perspective and its always good to get insights on teams we don’t get to see that often…….

 

With the first region poll in the books the reality and the plight of California Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball teams becomes abundantly clear. The Pacific West conference is STACKED.

With only Chico State and Cal Poly Pomona garnering enough votes to be in the Top-8, it’s clear that neither team has clinched a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The specter of the regular season conference champion not making it to the NCAA Tournament is a distinct possibility, making the CCAA Conference Championship Tournament vital for teams that want to punch their ticket.

The first West Region poll is dominated by teams from the Pacific West Conference. Azusa Pacific (1) California Baptist (2) BYU Hawaii (4) Dixie State (6) and Point Loma (8) would all make the tournament if the season ended today. That would be an amazing five teams from one conference. When looking at the resumes of the teams you can not argue with the committee’s reasoning. The Pac-West has dominated inter-league and cross conference play in the West Region. They have earned the respect the West Region committee is giving them.

The power center of men’s Division II West Region basketball used to lie in the Great Northwest Conference. That is no longer the case. There is one clear-cut team that has the resume to get into the tournament and that is the Western Oregon Wolves. They have had a fantastic regular season and sit at number 3 in the first regional poll. Regardless of whether they win their post-season conference tournament I think Western Oregon is a deserving entrant. Seattle-Pacific is on the outside looking in at the moment, but this is team full of veterans that do have post-season experience. Do not be surprised if the Falcons must the mo-jo for a strong final push into their conference tournament. Currently the Falcons sit at number 10 in the region.

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As the voice of the Chico State Wildcats I am most familiar with teams in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA.) Cal Poly Pomona sits at number 5 in the region. They have a very nice body of work. They have a huge early season win against the top team in the region Azusa Pacific. The Broncos beat them 81-78 on November 15th. The Broncos also beat UCSD on the road. A quality win considering the Tritons sit at number 9 in the region. The Broncos also staged a miracle comeback, coupled with a Humboldt State meltdown to beat the Lumberjacks on the road. They have also beaten Cal State Stanislaus twice. Pomona has a strong case for getting in the tournament, but I don’t think you can write their name down in INK on your bracket just yet. They have some work to do, including a huge game in two weeks in Arcata against a surging Humboldt State squad. The Jacks haven’t lost at home in more than two months.

The Chico State Wildcats sit at number 7 in the region. I almost immediately got messages from Chico State’s faithful lamenting the Wildcats’ spot in the region. I believe it’s a fair ranking, here is why.

Chico State has a 15-6 Division II and West Region record. If you look at the teams ranked in the top eight in the region it’s the worst record of the bunch. Chico State loyalists will say, “hey, we are 17-6.” Um, “No, you aren’t.” For post-season purposes the Wildcats are 15-6. Two of their early season wins were against NAIA schools. Those games do not count. Sure, they count in a teams’ overall record but games against Division III and NAIA schools do not count when your post-season resume is considered. It prevents teams from putting a bunch of cupcakes on their schedule and having those wins against inferior programs count for the post-season. So, the Wildcats are really only 15-6.

The Wildcats have some really nice wins. The biggest wins they have is a regular season sweep of Cal Poly Pomona. That is big. I think it’s the primary reason they are ranked in the top eight. They won at Stanislaus. They beat Alaska Anchorage on a neutral floor. They have swept Cal State San Bernardino, dealing the Coyotes their only home loss of the year. Nice resume, but not as good as Pomona at this point, even with the sweep.

Teams that go to the NCAA Tournament can usually sustain one or even two bad losses as long as those losses are balanced with good wins. The Wildcats have a bad loss. Chico State lost at home to Dominican University 67-61 on November 28th. The Penguins are a solid squad, but playing in the tough Pacific West Conference they are only 11-13. So, losing at home to a sub .500 team really hurts. The Wildcats would be helped if Dominican could get that record over .500 by the end of the season. If not, it’s a blemish the Wildcats will have to overcome.

People need to remember that when people say this is a “body of work” issue, they aren’t joking. Games played on November 15th matter just as much as games played in mid-February. Just ask Humboldt State. The Lumberjacks are 11-7 in CCAA play. They have won 11 of their last 14. They are playing great basketball. But, odds are Humboldt State will only make the regional if they run the table in the CCAA Tournament. They have some bad losses when you really crunch the numbers. They lost to San Francisco State who has a record of 9-13. They lost to Sonoma who is 11-11. And, they lost two weeks ago to 6-18 Dominguez Hills. When you add all of those losses up, and you analyze the regional criteria. I don’t think there is any way Humboldt gets in unless they get the automatic qualifier and win the CCAA Tournament in two weeks. All games matter, even in early November.

With two weeks left in the regular season I can’t remember a year where the final three or four spots in the regional rankings are so unsettled. Both UC San Diego sitting and number 9 and Seattle Pacific sitting at number 10 are both very much in the mix. They are hoping Chico State and Point Loma stumble so they could possibly  move up. There is so much on the line over these final few weeks and then we get ready for one of the most tension-filled three days of basketball in recent memory, when teams from the CCAA, GNAC and Pac-West play for that automatic qualifier to try to get into the NCAA Tournament. It’s only February, but it already feels like MARCH MADNESS

 

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHICO STATE ATHLETICS @CHICOWILDCATS.COM 

Regional Redux: Last 2:39 of wild regional final with post-game

 

COVER PHOTO….courtesy of Chico State Athletics at ChicoWildcats.com and Luke Reid

Listen to the FINAL 2:39 of Chico’s amazing comeback as well as the post-game interviews as heard on KPAY

Gio Estrada with knifing drive thru the against Pomona in the CCAA Tourney. Photo courtesy of ChicoWildcats.com
Gio Estrada with knifing drive thru the against Pomona in the CCAA Tourney.
Photo courtesy of ChicoWildcats.com

 

Sean Park and Amir Carraway defend Cal State Stanislaus' Chris Read in Chico's amazing West Region title win Photo courtesy of ChicoWildcats.com
Sean Park and Amir Carraway defend Cal State Stanislaus’ Chris Read in Chico’s amazing West Region title win
Photo courtesy of ChicoWildcats.com