NBE Basketball Report
Raphielle Johnson, Teams

FRIDAY NIGHT WEST COAST PREVIEW: SOLID SLATE FOR ‘OPENING DAY’ IN COLLEGE HOOPS

November 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Raphielle Johnson

With the postponement of the Battle of the Midway between San Diego State and Syracuse, fans of western basketball will have to wait until Sunday for that showdown. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other solid games on the Friday slate, one of which being Montana’s trip south to take on Colorado State (9 PM EST) in one of the few games matching NCAA tournament teams. The bad news for Wayne Tinkle’s squad is that they’ll be without the services of senior guard Will Cherry, who is out until December with a broken foot.

But thanks in large part to versatile junior Kareem Jamar, the Grizzlies have enough on the perimeter to compete with the Rams in their first regular season game under new head coach Larry Eustachy. Jamar averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest for the Grizzlies last season, and with Cherry out there will be even more responsibility on his plate. Senior forward Mathias Ward is the other returning double figure scorer, while sophomores Eric Hutchison, Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields will all be asked to contribute a lot more after playing minor roles in 2011-12.

Colorado State is also down a man on the perimeter, as Jesse Carr is out for the season with a torn ACL. But the Rams have enough depth, and experienced depth at that, to account for the loss of one of their key reserves. Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier led the way last season, combing in to average 29.1 points per game. Also of note on the perimeter are junior Dwight Smith and Arizona transfer Daniel Bejarano, who will be asked to provide instant offense off the bench. Add in a Minnesota transfer (Colton Iverson) in the middle and savvy veteran forwards Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung (leading rebounder despite being 6-5) and the Rams have a rotation that can return to the NCAA tournament.

“They [Colorado State] are very talented and very experienced,” said Tinkle in the school’s game notes. “They are new, in that they have a new staff, and they’re doing some things a little bit differently. It’s going to be a real challenge for sure for our young group.”

These two teams met last season in the regular season opener for both, a 64-58 CSU victory in Fort Collins. What stuck out in that contest was the fact that Colorado State was able to limit Cherry’s quality looks, and he went 2-of-14 from the field as a result. With Cherry out look for much of Colorado State’s attention to be focused on Jamar and Ward, who combined to score 41 points in an exhibition win over Lewis and Clark University. Another issue for Montana in last year’s meeting: rebounding.

Colorado State, despite not having a rotation player taller than 6-6, out-rebounded Montana 43-24 (just three offensive boards for the Grizzlies). That, and going 22-of-29 from the foul line, made up for a brutal assist-to-turnover ratio (four assists, 13 turnovers). Regardless of the outcome Montana has some key questions to answer in regards to those three sophomores. If one (or more) can step up they’ve got a shot, and that would bode well for them in the future when Cherry returns. But with Colorado State’s experience and skill, it’s tough to expect them to leave Moby Arena with a victory.

Pick: Colorado State

Below is the rest of the action in each of the six western-based leagues, complete with game times and television listings. For games televised on Big Sky TV, they can be viewed for free on the league’s website, www.bigskyconf.com. Picks for each game are in bold.

Big Sky

9 PM North Dakota at Kansas State (FSN Midwest)

Going into the “Octagon of Doom” is a tough task for any team, but the Fighting Sioux are equipped with a team that can make things interesting for the Wildcats. The first game for North Dakota as a Big member will come against a program they’ve never met, and a talented one at that. Four of North Dakota’s five expected starters averaged at least nine points per game last season, with guards Troy Huff (13.2 ppg) and Jamal Webb (10.9 ppg) and center Brandon Brekke (10.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg) leading the way.

Job one for North Dakota will be to slow down shooting guard Rodney McGruder, who averaged 15.8 ppg and was a preseason All-Big 12 selection. How well Angel Rodriguez plays at the point could determine how close this game is. If he’s playing well K-State likely rolls. But if he’s struggling with the decision-making North Dakota can hang around for a bit. Kansas State will also benefit from an edge on the glass, and considering bigs such as Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Thomas Gipson that isn’t much of a surprise.

9 PM Arizona Christian at Weber State (Big Sky TV)

Life after Damian Lillard should get off to a smooth start, provided no one go down with an injury. Scott Bamforth and Gelaun Wheelwright will lead the way offensively this season for Weber State, and front court contributors like Frank Otis and Kyle Tresnak should be productive as well. The Wildcats will learn a lot more about their team in contests against better competition down the line; this will be more like a dress rehearsal if anything.

9 PM Southern Utah at (21) Gonzaga (ROOT NW)

10 PM UC Merced at Sacramento State (Big Sky TV)

11 PM Pacific (OR) at Portland State (Big Sky TV)

Big West

7 PM Cal Poly at TCU

8 PM UCSB at LSU

Life without Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally begins for the Gauchos, and while LSU does return Johnny O’Bryant III and Anthony Hickey it’s a program under a first-year head coach in Johnny Jones. Bob Williams has one of the youngest teams in the country with nine freshmen and three sophomores, and junior Kyle Boswell and sophomore Alan Williams will have to lead the way. Williams is an All-Big West caliber talent, and with Johnson and Nunnally gone he’ll have to be if UCSB is to have a shot in Baton Rouge. Keegan Hornbuckle (ankle) and John Green (foot) won’t make the trip for UCSB.

9 PM UC Riverside at DePaul

9 PM UC Davis at Oklahoma State

10:30 PM Pepperdine at Cal State Northridge

Sophomores Stephan Hicks and Stephen Maxwell are two of the players who took their lumps for a young Matador squad last season, with Hicks playing well enough to earn Big West Freshman of the Year honors. They’ll anchor things inside while junior guard Josh Greene, who averaged 12.4 points per game last season runs the show from the point. But they’ll be running into a Pepperdine squad that’s in a similar position entering 2012-13 in that they’re looking to apply the lessons learned from a tough 2011-12.

Lorne Jackson returns for Pepperdine after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and adding him to a lineup that has just three seniors should help the Waves. Freshman wing Stacy Davis is a player who can become one of the better newcomers in the Big West, and the hope is that he’ll build on his 21-point outing in Pepperdine’s exhibition win over Cal Lutheran. Northridge was the better offensive team of the two last season but they struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Look for this to be a close game throughout.

1 AM Maryland-Eastern Shore at Hawaii

Mountain West

8 PM Fresno State at (24) Texas (Longhorn Network)

This game took an intriguing turn on Thursday afternoon when it was announced that Texas point guard Myck Kabongo wouldn’t play due to an ongoing NCAA investigation. That means freshman Javan Felix gets the start at the point, and while the freshman from New Orleans is a very good player and will be a pillar of the Texas program in the future, he’s still a player the Bulldogs will look to attack. Sheldon McClellan averaged 11.3 points per game as a freshman last season, a number that leads all Texas returnees. He and Julien Lewis will be asked to be even more productive offensively, and if Felix can get them quality looks both can hurt Fresno State.

The best move for Fresno State may be to get the game going at a high tempo. Kevin Olekaibe averaged nearly 18 points/game last season, and to be frank even with the addition of a Robert Upshaw the Bulldogs don’t have the muscle inside to deal with Texas in a half-court contest. Olekaibe and Tyler Johnson are Rodney Terry’s leading returning scorers while Kevin Foster will anchor things in the paint. The good news is that Fresno State upgraded its talent significantly with the addition of six freshmen, but the bad news is that they’re freshmen and this is their first road trip. The Bulldogs can make things interesting on the 40 Acres, but at the end of the night Texas may have a little too much for them.

9 PM Montana at Colorado State

Pac-12

7 PM Wofford at Colorado (Pac-12 Networks)

9 PM Niagara at Oregon State (Pac-12 Networks)

This is a dangerous game for the Beavers, despite the general consensus that Craig Robinson’s team has improved thanks in part to a preseason trip to Europe. Roberto Nelson and Ahmad Starks will be the primary scoring options on the perimeter, and inside Oregon State has depth with players such as Joe Burton, Angus Brandt, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland back in Corvallis. But the big problem for Oregon State last season was defense, and with the Purple Eagles bringing one of the best guards few people talk about in sophomore Juan’ya Green there’s a chance he could go off. Oregon State should take care of business, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they had to sweat this one out.

9 PM Willamette at Utah (Pac-12 Mountain)

11 PM Stanford vs. San Francisco (Pac-12 Networks; in Oakland)

11 PM Coppin State at USC (Pac-12 Los Angeles)

11 PM Indiana State at (13) UCLA (FSN)

After a rough, nomadic 2011-12 campaign the Bruins open up a renovated Pauley Pavilion on Friday night. Kyle Anderson has finally been cleared to play but Shabazz Muhammad hasn’t, and while some have stated that it’s possible he could play Ben Howland is on record saying that they’re preparing as if he won’t play. Add in the knee procedure for Tyler Lamb and you’ve got a program that’s blessed with a great amount of talent but hasn’t had all hands on deck during the offseason. Three starters from last year’s 19-win team, the Wear twins and big man Joshua Smith, are back but it’s the fresh faces that the masses are most excited for.

Anderson is expected to pair with North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II to handle the point guard duties, Jordan Adams is a dead-eye shooter and Tony Parker gives the Bruins another body in the paint. But this is a trickier game for UCLA than many think, and junior point guard Jake Odum is a big reason why. Odum is one of the best floor generals in the Missouri Valley Conference, and he’ll be needed to lead the way for a team that lost four starters from last year’s team. One of the newcomers expected to contribute is Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop, who will start at the three. Indiana State really doesn’t have a marquee scorer, something that could hurt them against UCLA. But the Bruins in recent years have made a habit of coming out lethargic against non-conference teams they’re supposed to beat. If that happens here a routine opener become far more difficult.

WCC

9 PM Southern Utah at (21) Gonzaga (ROOT NW)

Not really seeing this as a game that could get the Bulldogs in trouble, especially at The Kennel. However when it comes to the potential of Mark Few’s team to do special things come March, this could be the first step in a memorable season for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga has two WCC Player of the Year candidates in Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris, not to mention other key figures such as Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower. This team is loaded. As for the Thunderbirds it’s their first game as a Big Sky member under the direction of new head coach Nick Robinson, in what many expect to be a tough season from a win/loss record standpoint. Good luck.

9 PM Tennessee State at BYU (BYUtv)

This has the potential to be a tougher game for the Cougars than expected and for one big reason: Tennessee State power forward Robert Covington. Covington’s best showing last season came in a 30-point, 15-rebound outing in a loss at Austin Peay, and he also played a key role in the Tigers’ 72-68 win at Murray State on February 9 (the Racers’ lone regular season loss). BYU has Brandon Davies to counter with, and the return of Tyler Haws from his two-year mission makes BYU a serious threat to win the WCC. If Matt Carlino is getting players such as Davies and Haws the shots they need, this combined with the Marriott Center crowd could overwhelm Tennessee State. But the Tigers have nothing to lose, and if Covington is able to go off look out.

10 PM Pacifica at Loyola Marymount

10 PM San Diego Christian at San Diego

10:30 PM Pepperdine at Cal State Northridge

11 PM Stanford vs. San Francisco (Pac-12 Networks; in Oakland)

WAC

5 PM Morgan State at UTSA

8 PM Fordham at Texas State

9 PM Denver at Iona (ESPN3)

This is the best game of the weekend involving WAC teams, and it’s a tough one to peg given the number of newcomers in New Rochelle. Gone are players such as Scott Machado and Mike Glover, and while Iona does return Momo Jones and Sean Armand there are a host of newcomers that head coach Tim Cluess will throw at the Pioneers. One thing for certain is that the Gaels are going to play fast, and they’re going to score. Tempo will tell the tale at Hynes Center, and while Denver was able to play at a higher tempo than they preferred in last year’s meeting (71 possessions; DU averaged 62 possessions/game) they still came up short 80-78 in overtime.

Brian Stafford has graduated but Chris Udofia returns, and he’s immediately in the running for WAC Player of the Year given his ability to do just about anything on the floor. Other key returnees include leading rebounder Royce O’Neale, sharpshooter Brett Olson and Chase Hallam. Once again Joe Scott has lined up a tough schedule for his team, and the Pioneers are talented enough to pick up some wins before the get into WAC play. The pick here is Iona due in large part to the home court factor, but it really wouldn’t be a surprise if Denver found a way to leave with the win.

9 PM San Jose State at New Orleans

9 PM Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M (ESPN3)

Can Raheem Appleby lead the Bulldogs to an upset win in College Station? Going to lean no due in large part to the presence of A&M forward Ray Turner. Turner will get even more opportunities to produce offensively with Khris Middleton gone, something he gained experience in last season as Middleton missed time due to injury. And the Aggies will have some young players to call on as well, most notably guards L.J. Rose and Alex Caruso. Appleby will be one of the best players in the WAC, and a standout performance on Friday could get him some attention nationally as well.

9 PM UT Arlington at Cal State Bakersfield

10:05 PM Wright State at Idaho

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