Remember how I said in the Big West Tournament preview, that the conference has been so close that anyone can win it? Well, that's exactly what has happened: Cal Poly has upset both the heavy favorites in UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, while Reggie Theus has worked his magic with Cal State Northridge by beating Hawaii and Long Beach State. So here we go:
Big West Conference Final:
Match: No. 7 Cal Poly versus No. 5 Cal State Northridge
When: 10:30 PM/7:30 PM ET/PT
Where to watch: ESPN2
How Cal Poly got here:
Cal Poly had the biggest meltdown in conference play. After starting 4-1 including a win at the Thunderdome, the Mustangs finished the season 2-9, dropping to 7th place and were expected to be crushed by the Gauchos.
Instead, the Mustangs came out in the quarterfinal and utterly destroyed UC Santa Barbara, holding the Gauchos to 38 points (down from their 71.2 average).
Then last night, their magic worked again, beating UC Irvine 61-58 despite the attempted comeback by the Anteaters.
Sophomore guard Dave Nwaba has been the consistent hot shooter for the Mustangs in this tournament, and along with Chris Eversley, will be the go-to guy for Cal Poly.
How Cal State Northridge got here:
This was supposed to be another Reggie Theus two-year turnaround job (see: New Mexico State). Yet here the Matadors are, in prime position to steal the Big West automatic bid.
This is a team that averages 77.4 PPG, gives up 73.2 PPG and still has a 17-17 record thus far. Josh Greene and Stephan Hicks have been hot as of late, averaging 22.3 and 25.0 PPG over their last four games. These players, along with double-double master Stephen Maxwell (17.5 PPG, 9 RPG, 15 double-doubles over the season) have been the reason why the team ranks 39th in the nation in total offense.
Yet, despite all the firepower, the defense has been spotty, and this team struggles against good defense. The Matadors were 7-9 in conference play, beating every team once except: Cal Poly. Both times that these teams have played, Cal Poly has scored exactly 62, and the Matadors have been held under 60.
Cal Poly's X-factor will be senior guard Kyle Odister. He averages 9.1 PPG, but has thrived against Northridge all season (17 and 14 points in those games).
For the Matadors, it will be their defense. They can not seem to score against the Mustangs, so they need to play better defense than Cal Poly in order to win.
In the tournament preview, I said that Northridge was the dark horse team although any team could win. I should have added the stipulation "as long as they do not have to face Cal Poly...ever." In what has shaped up to be possibly the weirdest and most unexpected conference tournament this season, I can safely say that Cal Poly has the advantage because of their defense. Therefore, I believe that Cal Poly will earn their first ever NCAA Division I Tournament bid by a score of 60-55.
It will be ugly, and it will be the most similar thing to Big 10 basketball on the West Coast, but the Mustangs will get their bid.