Big West Preview 2015-16

1.      UC-Irvine
2.      UC-Riverside
3.      Long Beach St.
4.      Hawaii
5.      Cal St.-Fullerton
6.      Cal Poly
7.      UC-Santa Barbara
8.      UC-Davis
9.      Cal St.-Northridge

All Conference: 

POY: Taylor Johns, Senior, UC-Riverside
Coach of the Year: Joe Callero, Cal Poly
Newcomer of the Year: Nick Faust, Long Beach St. 

First team
G – Nick Faust, Senior, Long Beach St.
G – Tre‘ Coggins, R-Junior, Cal St.-Fullerton
G – Jaylen Bland, Senior, UC-Riverside
F – Brian Bennett, Senior, Cal Poly
F – Taylor Johns, Senior, UC-Riverside

Second team
G – Alex Young, Senior, UC-Irvine
G – Luke Nelson, Junior, UC-Irvine
G/F – Michael Bryson, Senior, UC-Santa Barbara
G/F – Aaron Valdes, Junior, Hawaii
F – Josh Fox, Senior UC-Davis

Third team
G – Landon Drew, Cal St.-Northridge
G – David Nwaba, Senior, Cal Poly
G – Lanerryl Johnson, Senior, Cal St.-Fullerton
F – Roschon Prince, R-Sophomore, Long Beach St.
C – Mamadou Ndiaye, Junior, UC-Irvine

1.      UC-Irvine

C – Mamadou Ndiaye, 7‘6, Junior
F – Brandon Smith, 6‘6, Freshman
G – Alex Young, 6‘1, Senior
G – Jaron Martin, 5’10, Junior
PG – Luke Nelson, 6‘3, Junior
Reserves: Ioannis Dimakopoulos, 7‘2, Jr.; Aaron Wright, 6‘3, Sr.; Dominique Dunning, 6‘4, Sr.; Mike Best, 6’10, Sr.; Justin Wertner, 6‘5, Fr.; Max Hazzard, 5’11, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 15 seed
There’s a lot to love about this team. First and foremost, the mascot – the Anteater is a unique animal, and with the hilarious size that Irvine has, it does tend to make opponents look like ants. And although the team’s big men get the headlines, its true strength lies in the backcourt, where they return a four-headed monster that offers a nice combination of passing, shooting, and perimeter defense.

That perimeter attack is led by junior guard Luke Nelson, a gritty competitor who saw the team go 2-4 in his absence last year (with one win being over a non-D1 school). Although he was kind of an atrocious shooter from deep (29%), his fire and passing was missed greatly when he sat. If he can raise his shooting percentages while cutting down turnovers (no easy task), he could be a player of the year candidate. Two smaller guards will play a lot alongside the 6‘3 Nelson: 6‘1 senior Alex Young, a strong secondary ball-handler who doubled as the team’s most consistent perimeter defender, and 5’10 junior Jaron Martin, a knockdown shooter (48% from 3, 8th in the country) who predictably struggles when he takes it inside the arc.  Young is a pest and could see a slightly bigger role this year next to Nelson, while Martin should find himself open for a bevy of threes, with the team’s hope being that he can maintain his stratospheric conversion rate. Finally, there is defensive specialist Aaron Wright off the bench, a senior uses his quickness and strength to get up inside of opposing ball-handlers and generally make their days miserable.

Although the Anteater bring a ton back outside, gunner Travis Souza does depart. His niche of standing and shooting (139 threes attempted vs just 23 twos) should be replaceable, however. Irvine brings in probably the strongest recruiting class in the conference, led by forward Brandon Smith and guard Justin Wertner. If coach Russell Turner can rein in Wertner’s shot selection, his catch-and-shoot ability could slide in perfectly to replace Souza. 

Smith will play more of a role up front, despite his thin frame. Versatile forward Will Davis (the team’s MVP) departs, and he leaves a large hole alongside the team’s monstrous centers. Smith and senior Mike Best bring completely different games (Smith is a thin tweener who likes to slash, Best is a 6’10 shot-blocker who much prefers the paint), but both will probably get some minutes at the 4. To me, Smith is a better fit, due mostly to the absurd rim protectors he has behind him. Seven-foot-six (yes, 7‘6) Mamadou Ndiaye owns the paint, posting very good rebound and block rates along with 64% shooting. He has continued to get in better shape and was playing about 24 minutes per game at the end of the year despite foul issues. His backup is 7‘2 relative pipsqueak Ioannis Dimakopoulos, another good shot-blocker who managed to hit 6 threes and rebound pretty poorly for a man his size. The combination of those two should help the Anteaters own the paint in most games.

The combination between the colossal frontcourt and the experienced, potent backcourt has Irvine eyeing a second straight NCAA tournament bid, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Nelson’s progression into a semi-efficient lead-guard (not just volume production) will be the key, along with Ndiaye’s health.

2.      UC-Riverside

C – Alex Larsson, 6‘9, Sophomore
PF – Taylor Johns, 6‘7, Senior
F – Robert Bozeman, 6‘7, Sophomore
G – Jaylen Bland, 6‘3, Senior
G – Malik Thames, 6‘1, Junior
Reserves: Eric Rwahwire, 6‘5, Fr.; DJ Sylvester, 6‘3, Fr.; Menno Dijkstra, 7‘0, Fr.; Steven Jones, 6‘0, Sr.
Postseason Prediction:
Riverside has the best returning duo in the conference, with two stud seniors in forward and player of the year candidate Taylor Johns along with guard Jaylen Bland. After a fairly disappointing finish at 7-9 in the conference last year, the rest of the conference’s personnel losses along with the strength of these two returnees should allow the Highlanders to compete for the Big West’s NCAA bid this year.

Johns is a do-it-all monster, leading the team in points, rebounds, and blocks while also averaging 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He was not, however, very efficient, with a questionable turnover rate and blah shooting percentages (47/24/64) serving to reduce his Ortg to 93.2. With the amount of possessions he uses (4th-most in the conference last year), improvement in that department would go a long way towards boosting the team’s miserable 298th-ranked offense.

Another huge part of that is Bland, who led the conference in % of minutes played last year while exhibiting a strong game as a perimeter gunner and occasional driver. He took more threes (234) than twos and free throws combined (231), which should give you an idea of his game. He doesn’t create much for others off the bounce, but the gravity he holds as a constant outside threat definitely gives Johns and others space on the offensive end.

Outside of these two stars, though, the roster is iffy and untested. They lose the other four players in their backcourt rotation (I don’t think we’ll see Bland’s minutes go down at all...), meaning the team’s newcomers will need to fill some major roles. Junior college point guard Malik Thames may start right away, though senior Steven Jones (who missed 18 games with injury last year) will also be given a crack at it. With the team’s thin backcourt rotation, the two will also probably play together at times with Bland. Freshmen Eric Rwahwire and DJ Sylvester will play almost by necessity.

The team has a little more depth in the frontcourt, led by sophomores Alex Larsson and Robert Boezeman. Larsson was an elite offensive rebounder and solid shot-blocker as a freshman, and his offensive game should improve in his second campaign. Bozeman won’t bring much, but will be able to fill in as a third big behind Larsson and Johns.

The Highlanders were a solid defensive team last year, but the biggest issue that needs correcting is the 39.7% 3-point percentage that they allowed last year. Some of that should be helped by simple opponent regression, but teams shot 38.2% (324th) against Riverside in 2013-14, so it seems coach Dennis Cutts’s defensive scheme might need to be tinkered with.

Overall, Riverside has the big guns to push the rest of the conference, but questions in the role players will probably hold them back slightly.

3.      Cal Poly

C – Brian Bennett, 6‘9, Senior
F – Joel Awich, 6‘7, Senior
F – David Nwaba, 6‘4, Senior
G – Reese Morgan, 6‘2, Senior
G – Ridge Shipley, 6‘0, Junior
Reserves: Josh Martin, 6‘8, R-So.; Luke Meikle, 6‘9, R-So.; Jaylen Shead, 6‘0, Fr.; Serigne Athj, 6‘3, Fr.; Aleks Abrams, 6‘8, So.
Postseason Prediction:
I’m sorely tempted to pick the Mustangs to win the conference – they bring a very strong starting 5 back, and two solid Division I transfers give the team even more potential. But coach Joe Callero’s dreadfully slow offenses have never finished better than 12-6 in his 6 years in the conference, and despite their roster consistency, I’m not sure they have the firepower to actually win the league.

As mentioned, Poly plays at a snail’s pace (adjusted tempo the last 5 years: 342, 340, 345, 347, 347), which lends itself to a certain type of team. As expected by their pace, the Mustangs don’t turn the ball over (1st in opposing defenses‘ steal rate) and don’t force many turnovers of their own (276th in the country). That rate actually picked up as the Big West season wore on; there was a point last year where they were 1st in turnover rate (finished 5th) and 350th in forcing turnovers. Coach Callero prefers a plodding, halfcourt game, limiting opponent possessions and playing disciplined defense.

The team returns a roster accustomed to this style. Ridge Shipley handled the ball a fair amount last year and will take over primary point guard duties with the graduation of Maliik Love, and while Shipley is not super dynamic, he is steady and can actually knock down some threes. Joining him in the backcourt will be shooter Reese Morgan, who is the classic no-turnover, efficient, perimeter gunner that a lot of teams tend to have in the college game. Slashing senior David Nwaba also joins the backcourt, though his above average rebound and block rates allow him to swing into the frontcourt when needed. Poly will need freshmen Jaylen Shead and Serigne Athj to provide some depth, although on a team that plays this slow, depth becomes way less of an issue than for other, more uptempo squads.

The Mustangs might have the league’s best frontcourt (at the very least, it’s certainly the deepest). Starters Joel Awich and Brian Bennett both averaged better than 6 rebounds a game last year, actually an impressive feat with a depressed amount of possessions. Bennett was more effective on the offensive end, leading the team in scoring and field goal percentage, while Awich was the defensive specialist, flashing a solid 5.3% block rate. To back them up, sophomore Aleks Abrams returns, and he put up by far the best offensive rebound rate on the team in very limited minutes (Callero heavily stresses transition defense over crashing the glass). The biggest impact newcomers should be 6‘8 Minnesota transfer Josh Martin and 6‘9 Gonzaga transfer Luke Meikle. Martin was a high school monster in Washington and will be eligible in December after the first semester closes. Meikle, another Washington native, snuck into 15 games for an elite Zags team 2 years ago, and should give the team solid depth behind Nwaba and Bennett. 

For Poly to be great, the team will need to execute extremely well, as the low possession count always gives them a limited margin for error. For this reason, roster continuity may be more important for this team than for most others, and bringing back 5 guys that played at least 50% of the team’s minutes give them a chance to push ahead in the standings. I think they will be near the top, with an outside chance of using their experience to win a conference title and earn an NCAA tournament bid.

4.      Long Beach St.

C – Temidayo Yussuf, 6‘7, Sophomore
F – Roschon Prince, 6‘6, Sophomore
F – Nick Faust, 6‘6, Senior
G – Travis Hammonds, 6‘6, Junior
G – Branford Jones, 6‘1, Junior
Reserves: Gabe Levin, 6’7, R-So.; Lorne Currie, 6‘3, Fr.; Justin Bibbins, 5‘8, So.; Deontae North, 6‘4, So.; Jack Williams, 6‘8, So.; Noah Blackwell, 6‘1, Fr.; LaRond Williams, 6‘7, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
I will always have a soft spot for
THE BEACH, partially because of their awesome name and partially because of Dan Monson’s insane schedule. Due to a goofy clause in his contract, he’s incentivized to schedule “pay for play” games – aka a hellish nonconference slate. This year, he’s really outdone himself, with the schedule consisting of home games vs. BYU, San Diego St., and New Mexico St., away tilts at Oklahoma St., Colorado St., UCLA, Pepperdine, Oregon, Arizona, and Duke, and the Charleston Classic – which features an opener against Seton Hall and possible games against Virginia, Ole Miss, and/or Oklahoma St. again. Dear god.

The 49ers won’t be helped by losing their top 3 scorers (as well as another defensive specialist starter), but they have some talent to lean on, both returning and incoming. The most important players will probably be the newcomers, led by Maryland transfer Nick Faust and USC transfer Roschon Prince. Both will likely step in as starters right away, with Faust in particular bringing a high-level game from the ACC (he never played in the Big Ten) to the Big West. Along with returning leading scorer Branford Jones, he should be the focal point of the Beach offense. Prince is a long and athletic forward; he brings a degree of athleticism from the Pac 12 that is uncommon at this level. Beach also brings in a solid recruiting class, led by shooting guard Lorne Currie and point guard Noah Blackwell. Currie will probably provide depth to begin the year, but he could force his way into the lineup with his skill level if he can show consistent effort. Blackwell could be a key due to the painful inefficiency of point guard Justin Bibbins (70 Ortg). If he shows the ability to distribute without too many turnovers, Blackwell will play a ton. Up front, Beach is gonna be small – sophomore Temidayo Yussuf will play a lot, a wide bodied post man, as will Jack Williams, who is thinner and brings some perimeter shooting to the table. Loyola Marymount transfer Gabe Levin may start after playing a ton of minutes at LMU as a freshman; he was a decent shot-blocker and solid defensive rebounder in his time there.

Beach has a lot of good perimeter players to feed between Faust, Travis Hammonds, Jones, Currie, and Blackwell, and attacking the rim should be a team strength. Having the shooting to complement that slashing will be a minor issue – Faust, Jones, Hammonds, and Williams can all shoot a little (remains to be seen what the freshmen can bring), but no one is a true deep threat. Levin and Prince should help amp up the team’s defensive rebounding and interior defense, a major weakness last year, but last year’s inefficient offense was the biggest road block to success. The lack of a true point guard (unless Bibbins or Blackwell is better than expected) will likely hamper the team this year as well, as will a lack of spacing. Monson will have this team tried and tested after the insane nonconference slate, though, and I would guess they still finish in the conference’s top half.

5.      Cal St.-Fullerton

C – Kennedy Esume, 6’10, Senior
F – Joe Boyd, 6‘9, Junior
G – Malcolm Brooks, 6‘5, R-Senior
G – Lanerryl Johnson, 6‘1, Senior
G – Tre‘ Coggins, 6‘2, R-Junior
Reserves: Lionheart Leslie, 5’10, Jr.; Sheldon Blackwell, 6‘5, Jr.; Sam Williams, 6‘7, Jr.; Jamar Akoh, 6‘7, So.; Temjae Singleton, 6‘7, Sr.; Khalil Ahmad, 6‘4, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
Fullerton is a highly intriguing team to me this year. First off, there’s no way around it – they were atrocious last year. They went 1-15 in the conference, with the second-worst offense and worst defense efficiency-wise, with defensive rebounding being basically the only category in which they excelled. They lose four starters. So why would they jump up to the middle of the standings? Sometimes, roster turnover can be a good thing.

The team’s backcourt should be one of the best in the league, if not the best. Lanerryl Johnson returns after averaging 12.4ppg and putting up the best Ortg on the team at 105.5; he shot effectively from beyond the arc and was solid in both his assist and turnover rates. Along with Johnson, Fullerton probably has 2 of the best 3 newcomers in the league with Air Force transfer Tre‘ Coggins and Pepperdine transfer Malcolm Brooks. Coggins was Air Force’s best player in 2013-14, averaging 16.0ppg, 2.7rpg, and 2.6apg while using a lot of possessions and maintaining a shred of efficiency; he will immediately take over as the primary ball-handler and gives Fullerton a more dynamic threat with the ball in his hands than anyone they had last year. Brooks was a deadeye gunner for the Waves in 13-14, shooting 40% from 3 on 107 attempts on his way to an impressive 116.1 Ortg. Fullerton’s best recruit is also a guard, 6‘4 California native Khalil Ahmad. Ahmad will provide depth and more scoring, though hopefully he will be smart enough to defer to his talented teammates when necessary. With Brooks and Johnson gunning at strong rates from the wings and Coggins scoring at a high volume and drawing defenses, the Titans perimeter will be incredibly difficult to stop. The team also has junior college point guard Lionheart Leslie coming aboard, who should allow Coggins to play off the ball some and set up the other perimeter weapons.

The key, then, will be finding some interior consistency and defensive strength to shore up the sieve that they trotted out last year. The most likely candidates to start are 6‘9 junior Joe Boyd and 6’10 senior Kennedy Esume – both are pretty incompetent offensively, but with the strength of the backcourt, they won’t need to do much more than finish layups/dunks and chase down offensive rebounds. Their value will show most on the defensive end – both were very good defensive rebounders (Boyd especially), and Esume offers some hope as a rim protector. They have some other forwards to add depth (JuCo forward Sam Williams is the most intriguing option, compared to some blah holdovers), but the team’s defensive progress will likely depend on the two big starters and the newcomers in the backcourt.

After last year’s disaster, a leap seems unlikely, but the talented newcomers in the backcourt give reason for a lot of optimism. I’m buying low.

6.      Hawaii

C – Stefan Jovanovic, 6’11, Junior
F – Stefan Jankovic, 6’11, Junior
G – Aaron Valdes, 6‘5, Junior
G – Isaac Fleming, 6‘3, Sophomore
G – Roderick Bobbitt, 6‘3, Senior
Reserves: Mike Thomas, 6‘7, Jr.; Quincy Smith, 6‘1, Sr.; Niko Folipovich, 6‘0, So.; Bryce Canda, 6‘3, Jr.; Dyrbe Enos, 5’10, Jr.
Postseason Prediction:
Hawaii’s status as Mizzou West took a major blow after Negus Webster-Chan decided to pursue a pro career (for his sake, hopefully in something other than basketball). But thankfully, 6’11 former Tiger Stefan Jankovic is still around to carry the torch (not to be confused with fellow 6’11 junior Stefan Jovanovic – how on earth does that happen on one team?). Webster-Chan and Garrett Nevels are the team’s two losses, returning a couple decent guards in sophomore Isaac Fleming and Roderick Bobbitt along with Jovanovic/Jankovic and bigger wing Aaron Valdes. Solid bench pieces Mike Thomas and Quincy Smith also return for a middle of the pack Big West team; Hawaii has a decent squad back, but I’m not sold on them rising up the standings.

The Rainbow Warriors played at a breakneck speed last year (16th in the nation in adjusted tempo), which helped the force a ton of turnovers (12th in the country). A big part of these turnovers are all in the team’s returning perimeter players: Bobbitt, Smith, Valdes, and Fleming had steal rates that rated 10, 12, 116, and 292 nationally (1, 2, 3 and 7 in the conference) – with their return, the team’s frenetic defense should continue. For a team that plays with that much pressure, Hawaii defended the rim pretty well; Jovanovic, Jankovic, and Thomas all had block rates over 5.5%. The biggest key to getting Hawaii up towards the top 75 of defenses is their defensive rebounding and fouling – finding a way to improve these areas (they probably won’t correct them entirely) without sacrificing the team’s collective pressure would be huge.

Hawaii was not great or poor at anything offensively, instead riding middle-of-the-road numbers to a middle-of-the-road finish. Some better three-point shooting would help, but Webster-Chan was the team’s highest-volume and most efficient deep option. It’s hard to see the returning guys getting better to the point that they can compensate for that loss and even improve on it, so this offense seems destined for mediocrity.

It comes down to Hawaii’s pressure defense this year – it was good but not great, but if Coach Benjy Taylor can push them up a tier or so, Hawaii has a chance to drive opponents insane. The conference doesn’t have a ton of elite ball-handlers, leaving them exposed to Rainbow Warrior pressure, but I’m banking on the offense holding this outfit back.   

7.      UC-Santa Barbara

C – Mitch Brewe, 6‘8, Senior
F – John Green, 6‘5, Senior
G – Michael Bryson, 6‘4, Senior
G – Gabe Vincent, 6‘3, Sophomore
G – Eric Childress, 6‘0, Junior
Reserves: DaJuan Smith, 6‘3, Sr.; TJ Taylor, 5‘9, Sr.; Sam Beeler, 6’10, Sr.; Grant Troutt, 6‘2, Fr.; Jarriesse Blackmon, 6‘6, Fr.; Tyler Jackson, 7‘2, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
I could be low on a team that finished 11-5 in the league and only loses two starters, but the two that the Gauchos lost were pretty important. Gone is three-time first team all-conference performer Alan Williams, an absolute paint monster who led the team in points per game (17.8), rebounds (11.8 – he also led the country), blocks (1.8), steals (1.2) and minutes (32.6) while using 30.8% of the team’s possessions, good for 31st in the country. He drew tons of fouls, didn’t turn the ball over much, and oh yeah – did I mention he cleaned the glass better than Windex (92nd O-reb rate, 2nd D-reb rate)? In short, he was the team’s anchor. Also gone is point guard Zalmico Harmon, third in the team in minutes per game and the leader in assists.

Despite Harmon’s loss, the team’s strength will be in the backcourt, with another first-teamer returning (Michael Bryson) along with last year’s Freshman of the Year, Gabe Vincent. They are both very efficient wing scorers, with Vincent being a better deep shooter and Bryson favoring attacking the basket. Both are highly versatile, though, and avoid turning the ball over (especially impressive for the freshman Vincent). At point, junior Eric Childress and senior TJ Taylor will see expanded roles, but both (particularly Childress) have a bad propensity for turnovers, which could lead to Vincent handling the ball more to keep the offense on track. The 5’9 Taylor is more of an offensive threat (38% from deep), but neither he nor Childress are going to scare opponents.

The team’s biggest issue this year will be defense. They didn’t force turnovers last year, and lose the anomaly of having a big man with a decent steal rate in Williams. He was also their most consistent rim protector, though senior Sam Beeler posted a nice block rate (8.1%) in limited minutes and could help if he can stay on the floor. John Green returns as a starter, but he is more of a fourth guard than a second big man, knocking down a few threes and a plethora of midrange jumpers. The man in the middle will most likely be Mitch Brewe (unless Beeler grabs the role), a burly 6’8 fella who somehow managed to only rebound 8.7% of opponent’s misses, a disgusting rate for someone his size. In fact, that’s the area I’m most worried about – can they keep opponents off the glass without Williams’s otherworldly defensive board work? An already soft defense (6th in the league) could be way worse this year, which is the primary reason for me dropping the Gauchos so far down the standings. It could be too far with Bryson and Vincent heading up the backcourt, but I just like the teams above them a little better.

8.      UC-Davis

C – Nolan Berry, 6’10, R-Sophomore
F – JT Adenrele, 6‘7, Senior
F – Josh Fox, 6‘6, Senior
G – Brynton Lemar, 6‘4, Junior
G – Darius Graham, 5’10, Junior
Reserves: Neal Monson, 6’10, Jr.; Rogers Printup, 6‘4, Fr.; Joe Schneider, 6‘1, Fr.; Lawrence White, 6‘3, Jr.
Postseason Prediction:
Uh-oh. Few teams relied on one player as much as UC Davis relied on do-it-all Corey Hawkins last year, with Hawkins leading the Aggies in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and three pointers, and led the conference in possessions used (19th in the country). The son of Hersey Hawkins, he has signed a contract with the Miami Heat, and his absence will be extremely troubling for his old school. That’s not their only problem, though – along with Hawkins, seniors Josh Ritchart, Avery Johnson, and Tyler Les (son of coach Jim) take with them 229 made threes, leaving behind just 26 total makes by the returnees. Shooting was the team’s biggest strength last year (#1 in the country in 3-point percentage, 3rd in effective field goal percentage), and without the departed gunners, Coach Les will likely have to completely re-calibrate the team’s offense.

Contrary to last year’s team, the strength for the Aggies will be in the frontcourt. Forwards Josh Fox and JT Adenrele should both start, with Fox being an extremely efficient inside scoring option and Adenrele being a monster on the offensive glass (87th in the country in O-reb rate) while also offering a bit of shot-blocking. Butler transfer Nolan Berry is a large, fairly skilled option in the middle, giving the team a second 6’10 player to pair with returning role player Neal Monson. Both should rebound and finish well, with Berry offering the better hope of a double-team-drawing inside scorer.

The biggest questions lie in the team’s backcourt. Point guard Darius Graham returns as the starter, but his horrifying 36.3% turnover rate dwarfed his meh assist rate of 20.7%, and his inefficiency was a large part of the team’s 297th turnover rate nationally. Another guy who didn’t help that was junior guard Brynton Lemar, who contributed turnovers on 31.7% of his own possessions. Those two combined for 24 of the team’s 26 returning threes, though, and will get playing time simply for that fact. Newcomer guards Rogers Printup, Joe Schneider, and Lawrence White will also get every shot possible of showing they can hit shots while not coughing the ball up constantly.

While the team’s shooting will inevitably suffer from the personnel losses, their limp rebounding should improve on both ends with the addition of Berry and the likelihood of the team playing some bigger lineups. Even with that boost, though, it’s hard to see the team being anywhere near as good as it was last year, and due to the stylistic clashes between the roster and Les’s preferred play, I’m expecting a pretty large drop-off for the Aggies.

9.      Cal St.-Northridge

C – Kevin Johnson, 6’10, R-Junior
F – Tre-Hale Edmerson, 6‘9, Senior
F – Michael Warren, 6‘5, R-Freshman
G – Aaron Parks, 6‘3, Junior
G – Landon Drew, 6‘1, Senior
Reserves: Jibreel Faulkner, 6‘8, R-Fr.; Jerron Wilbut, 6‘3, R-Fr.; Tavrion Dawson, 6‘8, R-Fr.; Zacarry Douglas, 6‘8, So.; Jason Richardson, 6‘2, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
Northridge had an exceedingly weird year last year. A talented senior class plus a deep group of incoming freshmen had many around the program dreaming big, but questions about the team’s recruiting practices/newcomers’ eligibility led to four of the freshmen redshirting and another only playing in two games, as well as Seton Hall transfer Kevin Johnson sitting out a second straight year. The team’s depth suffered greatly, and it hampered the program’s momentum to the tune of a 9-24, 4-12 season.

With all of the questions cleared up this year (hopefully), some of the optimism is back, with the hope that the newcomers can finally contribute the way they were supposed to last year. Michael Warren and Jerron Wilbut will probably compete for a starting job, and the 6’8 trio of Jibreel Faulkner, Tavrion Dawson, and Zacarry Douglas will give the team excellent depth down low. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them sneak in some starts at PF, either. Johnson, a 6’10 beast, hasn’t played since 2012-13 at Seton Hall, but in limited minutes that year, he had a monstrous offensive rebound rate of 17.3% (would have been top 5 in the country that year if he had played more minutes). He should step into the center void left by the departed Devonte Elliott.

For as much as they lost to graduation, the Matadors actually bring back some solid players. Guard Aaron Parks averaged 10.6ppg, though he did so in a very inefficient manner (89.1 Ortg). The likely starter at point guard, Landon Drew, had the 19th-best assist rate in the entire country last year (36.3%), but will need to cut down on turnovers to improve his own efficiency. Neither Parks nor Drew is much of an outside shooter, so that is something that will need to come from the youngsters. Up front, Tre-Hale Edmerson is yet another inefficient offensive option, but he at least provided some shotblocking/defensive rebounding and negated his inefficiency by using a paltry 12.7% of possessions.

Reggie Theus is a good coach, and I would guess he’ll have Northridge contending in the conference sooner rather than later. Along with the strong class of redshirt freshmen/sophomores, he has two solid transfers sitting out this year (Darin Johnson from Washington and Rakim Lubin from UConn), which means the turnaround could happen as soon as next year. I’m certainly betting against it this year, however.