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1) UCI: STRENGTHS-Best front line in the BW...Adam Parada(12p, 7RB pg) and Stanislav Zuzak are now upperclassmen.Zuzak hit over 45% of his 3's, but needs to improve his RBing(3.9). But Jordon Harris makes up for it by outboarding most PF with a 7.1 ave. Matt Okoro played well enough to displace Zuzak late in the season. If Harris' health is a problem, Zuzak's lack of rebounding could cause his PT to drop.The frontcourt is bolstered by an intriguing pair of RS. 6'8" Greg Etherton returns after missing 2 seasons on a mission in British Columbia. He's a former BW All FR selection. And 6'9" 250lb DeMarcus Williams checks in from Univ. Washington. He had been voted to the Best of the Best All Star team of the '99 West Coast All-Star Camp, and former coach Bob Bender had raved about his def. and rebounding.
WEAKNESSES-Backcourt scoring...Aras Baskauskas is a better play-maker than many believe. Coming into a late-season game at Northridge, he had an eye-opening 41-19 AS/TO ratio. He won't score, but with this front line he may not need to. But SG Mike Hood had a rather lackluster yr coming off a RS season because of tendinitis in his knee. He hit a decent 36.5% on 3s, but only went to the line 28 times in over 900 min. Devaughn Peace and Jeff Gloger could figure in the BC as well.
SUMMARY-Jerry Green hit a number of game winning shots over his career, and certainly can't be replaced. But just as importantly, the 'eaters were able to win on many occasions when he shot poorly. This team will be more balanced, and a deep and talented front line should keep them near the top. Hood could be one of the most integral members of the BW to watch this season. He must hit to keep teams from collapsing inside. Assuming Harris is near 100%, the presence of Parada gives 'em the edge over UCSB.
2)UCSB: STRENGTHS-Best backcourt in the BW. Depth, experience, defense...Hard to believe while watching them play, but Branduinn Fullove(14ptpg, over 43% on 3's)and Jacoby Atako(114 AS lead BW returnees, and 2.48/1 AS/TO ratio led the conf.)were only true So. last season. The Gauchos are clearly loaded at PG, with DJ Ward(64AS) backing up Atako, and FR Josh Davis coming in. Not to mention OSU transfer Joe See waiting in the wings a yr from now. Ward's Santa Clara HS teammate Nick Jones hit over 42% on 3's, and scored 21 in the BW Tourney vs UCI. Despite standing only 6'4", he rebounded well, pulling down 12 vs Northridge.Another impressive rebounder off the bench was former walk-on Brian Skultety, who aved an impressive 4.7 RB in just 11 min pg. Two-time All-BW selection Mark Hull(15 pts, 41% on 3's, led the BW in 3's made)can score inside and out. A pair of 6'8" bangers return in JR Bryan Whitehead and SO RS Casey Cook.
WEAKNESSES-This is your basic donut team, no center. The graduation of Adama Ndiaye cost the team 7.7 RB pg, but more importantly, a defensive presence. 6'9" Mike Vuckovich didn't contribute as much as he had the previous yr, but will be missed as well. Returning is 6'10" RS FR Scott Rainey , more of a project, and 6'9" FR Glen Turner has great promise but will likely RS to add weight. Former Chaminade HS performer 6'11" JJ Todd, had to quit due to reoccuring disk problems. That might be the difference between 1st place, and 2nd or 3rd. Look for Cook and Whitehead in the middle.
SUMMARY-If Todd had returned, I'd pick the Gauchos #1. There's a question of how much the lack of a true C will affect their overall defense, which has been superb. No longer can defenders overplay and turn shooters inside toward the menacing Ndiaye. Nonetheless, Williams seems to come up with quality defenses, and the experience of the team should keep foes in the low 60's and under again. I expected more of this team than a 3rd place tie with less-talented Northridge last season. This time, if Fullove is able to return to close to a 100% bill of health, few will be surprised if they win the reg. season title.
3)USU: STRENGTHS-Desmond Penigar, defense, rebounding, improved backcourt athleticism...If he gets some help, Penigar(17.2pts 7.2 rb)could well be BW MVP. Given the fact that no other returnee aved over 7 ppg, he'll be a marked man unless the recruits come through. Mark Brown should be more of a pure PG than Ronnie Ross. Newcomers Butler and Patton give the team a pair of SG who can create and play defense. And injury RS Spencer Nelson and Nate Harris provide FC depth.The Aggies held BW foes to a paltry 27.4% on 3's, and the perimeter D should be even better this time around.
WEAKNESSES-USU was dead last in the BW in conf. 3pters, making just 83. Departed Tony Brown connected on 44 of those. To boot, he also had the best AS/TO ratio in school history.When he struggled at times late in the season, the team did as well. While the back court is more athletic this time around, can they shoot well enough from outside to keep Penigar from being surrounded? Toraino Johnson and Chad Evans aren't untalented, but won't score much. The team will miss Jeremy Vague and his 8.3 pt 5.5 rb aves., for 6'9" Mike Ahmad did little to live up to his press clippings with 3.4pt 2.8rb aves. Aggie fans have high but perhaps unrealistic hopes for 6'8" Utah TR Mike Puzey, who only scored in double figures once while a Ute. Blue Ribbon Yearbook felt he lacked offensive skills, which caused his PT to diminish there.
SUMMARY-Last season's edition won the reg. season title with defense, rebounding and passing, along with the 1-2 scoring punch of Penigar and Brown.Without Brown, Penigar's 22 3pters represent about the only returning threat from beyond the arc(Ross hit 17, but on 54 attempts). Opponents figure to zone in order to keep the guards from penetrating and to deny the ball to the big bodies inside.It's highly debatable whether this team has the perimeter shooting to loosen things up. Many will disagree, but if UCI and UCSB are healthy, the Ags should miss out on the Big Dance again.
4) CAL POLY: STRENGTHS-Varney Dennis, strong PG play, outside shooting...It was written here last yr that Dennis(14.8pts 5.6 rbpg 43.3% on 3's)needed to improve his conditioning and stay out of foul trouble because the team needed additional minutes out of him. He delivered, jumping from 18.4 to 27.6 min PG in a solid SO campaign.And PG Steve Geary, after sitting out early in the season with back problems, made a sizzling 48.4% of his 3's. He isn't a great playmaker(just 30AS/25TO)but Jason Allen(97AS/58TO) filled that role. He is also 2nd in the BW in steals among returnees. As a team, the 'Stangs were 2nd in BW TO margin, a positive reflection on what they have returning at the point.6'6" Minnesota TR Shane Schilling may be the best newcomer in the Conf. The former Minn. HS POY aved 6.2 ppg, and 12 ppg in the last 12 games of his Gopher career in his SO season. He ranked in the top 20 in Big 10 3 pt shooting, and was good enough to make a Big Ten summer all star team that traveled overseas. He won't become eligible until '03.6'5" Mike Titchenal demonstrated an ability to come off the bench in a zone-busting capacity, hitting nearly 40%from beyond the arc. There's enough outside shooting here to open things up for Dennis.
WEAKNESSES-Lack of rebounding, overall quickness...This is not a big team. Minus Brandon Beeson and David Henry, SLO's 2nd leading returning RBer behind Dennis is SG Eric Jackson at 3.8 PG. Jackson, BTW, came to Cal Poly highly valued for his outside shooting from Utah Valley JC, but was a bust(16-74 3 pters) although he is among the returning league leaders in steals. It would really help if highly-regarded 6'11" SO Phil Johnson was able to make a solid contribution. His FR season was cut to 11 games due to academic problems. But he might be another yr away. 6'7" JUCO Jared Patterson wasn't particularly productive, so 6'9" SO Vladimir Lisinic, who came from N orth Carolina with a rep. as a quality shooter and passer, should play more than 5 min pg this season. 6'8" TR Diaby Camara(4.4 pts 3.6RB, 2.1AS pg @univ Portland)reportedly has a variety of skills and should get a long look.
SUMMARY-Mark this one down in pencil, as the 'Stangs don't look bad at all, but don't really have quite the look of a team that will finish ahead of 6 other squads.But the point is, who does? Their ability to take care of the ball at one end, and produce steals at the other gives them the slightest of edges over a couple of other squads which might have more overall talent.
#5) CAL ST NORTHRIDGE:STRENGTHS-Improved perimeter shooting and balanced scoring.A quality group up upperclassmen...BW FOY Ian Boylan leads BW returnees in steals, and is among the leaders in AS/TO margin.After making just 20% of his 3's in a non conf. slate that saw the Matadors go winless vs div 1 foes, "Boy Wonder" connected on over 36% from beyond the arc during BW play. He scored 16 pts in the 1st half of the BW tourney loss to UOP. Curtis Slaughter is 4th among BW returnees in conf. 3 pt shooting at 37.3%.Both are capable of hitting around 40% from downtown this season, which could stretch defenses to an extent they weren't able to do last season. And 1st team All-State selection John Clark, the PCC POY at Grossmont College, hit 39% of his 3's . He also has exhibited in early practice sessions an ability to break down his defender off the dribble. 6'9" Ben Sullivan FR has been drawing comparisons to fellow Oregon product Brian Heinle for his prolific outside shooting, as well as an array of post moves. 6'8 Chris Davis and 6'3" Joseph Frazier joined Boylan on the BW All- FR team. LACC swingman Justice Graham brings leadership and the ability to play 3 positions to the fold.
WEAKNESSES-No proven inside game, no true PG, lackluster group of upperclassmen...In a conf. where talented JR's abound, Northridge has little to show for its recruiting crop of 3 yrs ago. Nor the yr before, for that matter. So FR were forced to play last season, and that will likely be the case again.Sullivan only weighs 215 lbs, so it might be too much to ask for him to handle BW PWs and Cs on the def. end. 6'10" Tom Shewmake got looks from a number of quality programs, but likely isn't advanced enough to score much quite yet.He might be better off RSing, but Braswell likely doesn't have that luxury. Slaughter reportedly will slide over to PG, a role he'll probably share with RS FR Antoine Parker, who has struggled some at practice. SR Ed Estevan had an impressive 26AS/13TO in BW games, and has the quickness Slaughter lacks. But he made a paltry 25% of conf.FG.Frazier's wild ways resulted in a disastrous 6AS/30 TO in BW play. Davis may have the biggest upside of any returnee, but saw his playing time cut in half from the 1st half of BW play(140 min)to the 2nd(72 min). 6'9" Armand Thomas showed little in the way of a shooting touch after TR in from Compton CC, and 6'10 Dan Read has rudimentary offensive skills, but won't help on the boards.
SUMMARY-The lack of overall talent here last season may have been best exemplified by the fact that 6'4" PF Lionel Benjamin, a player with limited capablities, logged a team-high 37 min in the Matadors' 1st round loss in Anaheim.Until making a meaningless layup at the buzzer, Benjamin hit just one FG all day, and didn't make a FT. He struggled on D as well.In addition, the Northridge interior defense in that game was so poor that Tiger C Mike Preston was able to accumulate career highs in both scoring and rebounding. Can the front line produce at both or either end, especially without the occasional scoring punch Jamar Welch provided? The fact that Davis barely made more than a cameo appearance in Anaheim, and played little more than that in most late-season games, seems to indicate that Braswell wasn't happy with his progress-or lack of such.Marcus Carr was the only go-to player last season, and Boylan's 8.4 ppg ave is the lowest among team -leading returnees in the BW.The big positive in their initial BW season was that they led the league in TO margin. But without Carr to handle and steal the ball, it's hard to see them being as successful in this area. This team appears headed for the middle of the pack after an overachieving 11-7 campaign. But better times could be a yr away.
#6 LONG BEACH ST: STRENGTHS-Intruiging blend of experienced but not overly-talented players, along with some of the best young talent in the conf. A fairly physical frontline, and Coach Reynolds...Despite the loss of Travis Reed and Rudy Williams, no one will push this team around. Kevin Roberts(8pts 4rb pg)weighs about 235lbs, Vance Lawhorn 230, and San Jose CC TR Marcel Jackson checks in at 255. Another JUCO, Antoine Jackson, weighs 235 as well. 6'7" Chris Jenkins shot a sizzling 51% on 3's, and was the 2nd best FR in the BW. Super prospect Cody Pearson showed an unusual ability to rebound for a perimeter player, and after an abbreviated FR campaign, may be ready to explode on the scene. Highly-touted 7-1 RS FR Alex Graham likely isn't ready to help much quite yet, but at least might be able to alter a few shots. The Beach also gets a boost from the return of 6'6" Lemi Williams(11.7 pts 36% on 3's two yrs ago). He yanked down 14 RB's in 2 games a yr ago before electing to RS. This team suffered from horrendous FT shooting a yr ago, but with most of those culprits gone, this is an area that should improve markedly.Finally, the highly-respected Larry Reynolds was brought in as coach.He built a power @ Cal St San Bernardino, and will be a major improvement over Morgan.
WEAKNESSES-pg!!! Also, ?able outside shooting and rebounding...It's an awful lot to expect of true FR Jabril Hodges to come in and play the pt, and despite his bloodlines(he's Craig's son), this should weigh down a pretty decent team. In addition, the 49ers were 8th in BW RB margin even WITH Reed and Williams. SG Tony Darden returns, but more than 33% on 3's was expected from the Dodge City CC transfer. Someone besides Jenkins must hit an outside shot, but Lemi and Pearson may help erase this problem.The decision of multi-talented 6'5" Centennial HS FR RS Anthony Davis to leave for LACC puts a dent in rebuilding plans.
SUMMARY-This is probably as difficult a team to project as any in the Conf. When Lemi W decided to return, I noted on the BW Board that this was a much better team than many believed. Good enough to have a legit shot at 4th even with a less talented team than a yr ago. Then, the loss of Davis made me backtrack. Now, my gut feeling is that they'll somehow make it into the upper division despite obvious weaknesses. There may be more overall talent here than at Cal Poly or Northridge despite some heavy losses. But you can't win without competent PG play.If Hodges or someone else comes through, they'll reach the 1st division.
#7 CAL ST FULLERTON:STRENGTHS-Pape Sow. An infusion of exciting JC talent...The 6'10" Sow aved 15.5pts and 8.6rb on a team that provided little help.He was recently projected as the 13th player to be selected in the NBA Draft. PG Derick Andrew had a decent SO campaign, demonstrating some passing and ball-handling skills. And BW high-jump and long-jump champ Brandon Campbell hit on 40.2% of his 3's. But let's be honest about it. The JUCOs will make or break this team.
WEAKNESSES:Obviously, just about everything. SG Ryan Dillon transferred to Azuza Pacific after his shooting touch deserted him in his SO campaign. 6'11" Babcar Camara blocked 1 1/3 shots pg, but was a disappointment on the boards. Chemistry will be a problem, at least early on, with so many new players. The Titans need help virtually everywhere. And may have found it...
SUMMARY:It's impossible to predict the performance of a team relying on so many JUCOs. But there are some intriguing prospects here. Likely the most talented is SG Ralphie Holmes of Hancock CC, who still has 3 yrs of eligibility remaining. A deadly outside shooter, he aved 22 ppg and made over 41% of his 3's. Yet he also pulled down 10RBpg and showed quality ball-handling skills. The problem is that he didn't play anywhere last season and it may take a while to scrape off the rust. Speaking of ball-handling, 5'11" Zakee Smith of Panola CC aved an astounding 14.6 ASpg! 6'8" Ronald Roundtree of Riverside CC aved over 15pt and 7 rb PG, and made over 40% of his 3's. He'll likely start at PF. Backing him up should be 6'7" West Hills CC TR Jamal Forcheney(over 14pts 9rb PG), who hit over 67% FG. He also demonstrated strong defensive skills. And 6'4" Franck Essis(20 pts 8RB) comes from Chaffey Coll. He has passing skills and will play on the wing.The final recruit is 6'7" 215lb Bron Groomes of San Bernardino CC. Daniels really hasn't brought in much in the way of FR recruits since his arrival. To be fair, probation restrictions on in-home visits have hindered him. For the stability of the program, that must improve. There are some high-risk athletes among the newcomers, but plenty of talent as well. Little this team does-good or bad-should surprise us.
#8)UCR:STRENGTHS-Vili Morton...Easily the best shot blocker in the BW, he led the conf. in that category(83), as well as RB(9.3)and FG%(58.6). SG Ted Bell complimented him from the outside, shooting a sizzling 45.8 on 3's in BW play.
WEAKNESSES-Not a good shooting or rebounding club, and were TO prone...The Highlanders have no one over 6'8", unless you count RS FR 6'10" Klaus Scille. Despite the prolifics of Bell, they made only 31.7% of 3's on the season, while their foes made 37.8%. It gets worse. They were last in the BW in TO margin(-3.22PG).6'6" Mark Miller fell off from his SO campaign that saw him score 13.2pg, and his defense sure won't keep him on the court.
SUMMARY-A nice inside-outside combo in Morton and Bell. Miller has demonstrated some offensive skills, and I felt that 6'7" street-tough Aaron Hands was one of the more unsung players I saw in the conf. If the Highlanders could have supplanted this nucleus with some JC help, they'd have had a better chance to make a move.But that isn't always easy at a UC school. 6'0 San Diego CC TR Zack Jones, and 6'7" 205lb San Jacinto JC product Jeff Mailhot will try to help.Speaking of JC's,6'6" John Galbreath's 30PPG at Big Bend CC didn't translate well to div.1, though he did yank down 111 RB.With a yr under his belt, UCR hopes he can improve his 9.1 scoring ave. Masi did score a recruiting coup with the addition of 6'7" Nate Carter(21.5ppg) of San Diego Horizon, where he was the Div4 POY.The Highlanders are still not eligible for the BW Tourney.
#9)UOP:STRENGTHS-Demetrius Jackson...An Hon Mention BW pick, Jackson is a slasher who can hit off-balance shots. A great FT shooter, he scored 25pts in the 2nd Northridge game, and 37 vs Santa Clara. This season, he may need to take over more games in that manner.
WEAKNESSES-Severe personnel losses from last season. No go-to player and little bulk in the front court...Graduation cost the Tigers dearly. Gone are both SG's Metzger-Jones and Bunts, as well as PG McLemore. C Preston, who had career highs of 19 pts and 16RB in the 1st round tournament game vs Northridge, was a SR as was his under-utilized backup, Mills. Another SR,6'7" Hahn, was a 2-time All-BW pick. To make matters worse, swingman Nolan elected not to return, leaving the front line severly depleted. 6'10" C Tim Johnson returns, but saw his PT dwindle to under 200 min last season. Reoccuring foot problems have reduced a once-promising player to part-time status.
SUMMARY-The likely best recruit here is 6'2" Skyline transfer David Doubley, who can both shoot(16ppg and over 46% on 3's), and pass(9.1AS pg). For all of Jackson's strengths, his poor AS/TO ratio of 98/101 didn't speak well of his decision-making process. And his long-range shooting in BW play(31.8%)left much to be desired. So Doubley is needed immediately, but will reportedly RS. That brings cat-quick Miah Davis, a CS Stanislaus TR, to the fore. He aved 15.5 ppg for the Warriors, but made 2nd team All-CCAA, not 1st. So his ability to make a big impact is open to question. Cabrillo College TR Myree Bowden(21.5PPG) will enter the frey if Doubley sits.But his defense leaves much to be desired. At the opposite end of the spectrum is 6'5" Tom Cockle, who returns after taking a yr off. He's a great defender, but has yet to demonstrate the ability to hit a jumper. The front court is similarly a mixed-bag of unproven and not well-rounded players. 6'7" swingman Jasko Korajkic is a very raw but talented Swedish product. 6'9" RS FR Christian Maraker and Miguel Flores need to put on a lot of weight if they hope to give the Tigers an inside presence. So does 6'10" Burbank product Tyler Newton,a Shasta College TR(23.6pts 6.8RB pg), who Thomason hopes to RS. Why does Athlon have this team 4th? History, perhaps.This program usually seems to manage, somehow. I expected them to perform a little better last season than they did. To a degree, Thomason may be the type of coach who does his best work amid lowered expectations. With so many losses,a set of beanpole forwards and the possibility of his 2 best recruits sitting out the season,we should get an opportunity to find out.
#10)IDAHO: STRENGTHS-A transfusion of new players.
WEAKNESSES- Lack of returning talent. Chemistry problems caused by all the newcomers.
SUMMARY:When 6'5" Jerald Jenkins elected not to return, it left 6'0" Justin Logan as basically the only returnee here. Logan started every game, playing 40 min in 17 of them. This was a small team, with no one over 6'6", and it shot poorly. So there's no place to go but up. The best newcomer may be 6'8" Jack May(10.7 pts 7.3Rb @Coll S ID). May's JC numbers may be modest, but he aved 7pts and 5.6 RB as a FR at Duquesne. 6'2" Dwayne Williams, a Chicago JC sharpshooter, connected on 65%FG as a FR,and 60% as a SO on the way to a 16.8ppg ave. A 3rd JC possibility is 6'8" 230 lb Tom Tinnan, a Portland product who didn't put up big numbers. There are 4 RS here as well, the best likely being 6'6" Tyrone Hayes, a FL JC product who made 1st Team All-Panhandle and connected upon 60% FG. Coach Leonard Perry had deemed him the x-factor in how much success the Vandals were expected to have last season, prior to his sitting out. The 2nd best RS may be David Radlovic, a 6'9" 230lb FR Canadian.For the 2nd yr in a row, however, Perry had academic casualties put a dent in the possible impact of his recruiting class. The Vandals did an admirable job of finishing in the middle of the pack in BW rebounding, given their lack of height and bulk. There's more talent everywhere this time around. But maybe not enough to escape the cellar, and highly doubtful there's enough here to return to the BW Tournament.