Championship seasons are made up of little moments.
If Cal State Bakersfield is going to win its first WAC regular season title, last Saturday’s slog of a win at Seattle was a significant little moment.
“It was tough out there tonight, it wasn’t one of our better games,” [Rod] Barnes said [in a release]. “We were a tired team, we didn’t make free throws, we didn’t make shots but we defended when we needed to defend, we got a big block down there and got a couple plays to close the game.”
The Redhawks’ zone gave CSUB fits, forcing the Roadrunners into their worst shooting performance of the year. But CSUB’s ferocious defense lets it stay in the type of game that would sink many other teams (especially on the road).
In all but one league away game this season (at UTRGV), the Roadrunners have kept the opponent’s offense under one point per possession. This includes a WAC-best 0.68 against Seattle.
So why is CSUB’s defense so effective?
One reason is that a slew of long athletic defenders (Jaylin Airington, Brent Wrapp, Matt Smith, etc.) limit drives and easy looks around the rim. For the season, the Roadrunners have held opponents to just 42.0 percent on two-point field goals, the sixth-best mark in the country.
Barnes would also say after the game that his team just went out and “got” a gutsy-win. They also got a lot more.
By sweeping last week’s road trip to Utah Valley and Seattle, CSUB has cleared its path to the regular season title. The Roadrunners always controlled their own destiny, but now can take of business in Bakersfield with three-straight home games.
For the second-consecutive week, here’s a Twitter embed dedicated to the front-running Roadrunners.
Quick look at the top NCAA teams in O & D efficiency. Some movement in the top-5 across the board. pic.twitter.com/954pbWkgdz— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) February 21, 2017
On to the power rankings:
|Team||Record||Previous||Highest Total Win Shares (per KenPom)|
|Team||Record||Previous||Highest Total Win Shares (per KenPom)|
|CSU Bakersfield||19-7 (10-1)||1||Jaylin Airington (3.7 WS)|
|New Mexico State||23-4 (9-2)||2||Ian Baker (4.3 WS)|
|Grand Canyon||19-9 (8-3)||3||Dewayne Russell (4.0 WS)|
|UMKC||15-13 (7-4)||4||LaVell Boyd (3.4 WS)|
|Seattle||12-14 (4-7)||5||Brendan Westendorf (2.4 WS)|
|Utah Valley||11-15 (3-8)||6||Isaac Neilson (3.0 WS)|
|UTRGV||10-18 (2-9)||7||Nick Dixon (3.8 WS)|
|Chicago State||6-22 (1-10)||8||Trayvon Palmer (2.3 WS)|
Saving the day
Ian Baker rescued New Mexico State last Saturday.
The senior scored 36 points (11-18 FG) and handed out seven assists as the Aggies stayed within one game of CSUB with a 107-101 win at UTRGV. Most impressively? In 39 minutes against a disruptive Vaqueros’ defense, Baker didn’t turn the ball over once.
But the 100 plus points UTRGV put up was a concern for Paul Weir. Here’s what he told the Las Cruces Sun-News after the game:
“We’re awful (on defense) right now. But all is not lost. We have to get back to practice. We spent a lot of time in practice working on defense. Unfortunately, a lot of our errors tonight were personnel issues with guys not closing out properly on certain players. Those are more mental mistakes that we have to clean up. Unfortunately, we have some guys who are new and still trying to figure out where and how they are supposed to close out.”
The Aggies, like CSUB, get three straight home games to close the regular season. Their defense, especially those “close outs,” will be tested in the Pan Am Center. UVU’s struggling three-point offense has been better over the past four games (37.6%) and Seattle has posted the highest effective field goal percentage in league play.
The Aggies will be heavily favored in both games. Can they get healthy, and make Weir feel better about his defense?
CSUB wasn’t the only team surviving on the road last week.
Grand Canyon was resilient enough in its own right to stay within earshot of the regular season title. The Lopes had to climb out of a big first half hole to beat Seattle, and while Dewayne Russell had a season-low 11 points, he still hit a pivotal jumper late.
They would then hold on at UVU in a game that was tied with under four minutes to go to sweep the Northwest road swing. It was the third-straight road win for a GCU team that now must take care of business and hope that CSUB and NMSU drop a game.
And because math matters, let’s not forget about UMKC.
The Roos are riding a five-game winning streak after closing out their home schedule with a route of Chicago State, the program’s longest such streak in 12 years. They’d need the seas to part, but they’re still in the discussion for at least a share of the regular season title.
Kyle Steward (19 points) continued his torrid stretch against CSU, but on senior night, it was the younger players that fueled UMKC early. After a sluggish first few minutes, the Roos created separation through some good play by freshmen Isaiah Ross (13 points, 4-9 3FG) and Duane Clark (8 points).
If they’re going to crack CSUB’s defense, the WAC’s top three-point shooting team will likely need that same spark again.
Game of the Week
UMKC at Cal State Bakersfield | 10:00 PM ET | WAC Digital Network
Speak of the devil, UMKC-CSUB is our game of the week. Jaylin Airington blanketed LaVell Boyd in the Roadrunners’ 74-63 win in Kansas City, and that individual match up will likely be important as the Roos try to pull a big upset. It’s also worth seeing whether Kareem Richardson will switch up his defense. CSUB routinely broke the press easily in the first meeting, and just struggled against a zone-heavy team. Is there some inspiration there?
Spring means more than just Madness
We’ll admit it, basketball isn’t our only love. With pitchers and catchers reporting over the past week, it’s hard to not turn at least a tiny bit of attention to the diamond. Here’s some WAC baseball flavor as we take a look at notable MLB players from league schools:
- Cal State Bakersfield: None of CSUB’s 19 players drafted have made it to the big leagues. Pitcher Scott Brattvet - drafted by the Reds in 2013 - was the highest pick at #255.
- New Mexico State: Righty Tyler Sturdevant pitched 18.1 quality innings out of the Rays bullpen last year in his MLB debut.
- Grand Canyon: With all respect to Chard Curtis, this one was easy. Tim Salmon was drafted by the then-California Angels in 1989, and played his entire career for the organization, hitting 299 home runs and winning a World Series in 2002.
- UMKC: UMKC doesn’t have a baseball program, but Royals pitcher Danny Duffy was courtside for the Roos’ win over Seattle a week and a half ago. So there’s that.
- Seattle: Johnny O’Brien was a versatile guy. The second baseman/pitcher appeared in over 350 games for the Pirates, Cardinals and (Milwaukee) Braves in the 50s.
- Utah Valley: Former Wolverine Kam Mickolio pitched in 29 games for the Orioles and Diamonbacks from 2008-11.
- UTRGV: George Williams, a catcher drafted out of UT-Pan American in 1991, played in 172 games MLB games from 1995-2000, mainly with the A’s.
- Chicago State: It would appear that no CSU players has made it to the big leagues, though former MLB player and current White Sox broadcaster Ed Farmer was a CSU student at one point.