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Big West Roundup: Fullerton reaches the summit with a 4-0 start

Aside from the Titans, the rest of the Big West is in flux.

Wooden Legacy Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

By knocking off UC Irvine and UC Davis last week, the Cal State Fullerton Titans are the latest team to top the Big West power rankings this season.

The rest of the conference is anything but perfect, but let’s try to make sense of it anyway.

Performances of Last Week

Khalil Ahmad: 23 points (8-17 FGs), 7 reb, 2 stl 5-10 3FGs vs. UC Davis
Kyle Allman: 27 points (8-15 FGs), 7 reb, 4 ast 3-6 3FGs vs. UC Davis
Evan Leonard: 20 points (8-14 FGs), 6 reb, 2 stl, 3-6 3FGs vs. Cal State Northridge
Gabe Levin: 29 points (10-15 FGs), 9 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl vs. Cal State Northridge
Chima Moneke: 29 points (8-15 FGs), 12 reb, 3 blk vs. Cal State Fullerton

Is anyone in the Big West hotter than Kyle Allman? The junior guard is averaging 21.5 points per game with a 53.8%/38.4%/80.5% stat line. His speed off the dribble, athleticism and quick release have made him one of the most exciting players to watch. For this reason — but also because of his electric performance against the Big West’s defending champions — Allman wins the Performance of Last Week Award.

9. Cal State Northridge Matadors (3-14, 0-3)

Recent results: @ Long Beach State (80-70 L)
Last ranked: 9th

8. UC Riverside Highlanders (5-13, 0-4)

Recent results: @ UC Davis (75-65 L); @ UC Santa Barbara (65-57 L)
Last ranked: 8th

At least Interim coach Justin Bell‘s squad has kept UC Riverside competitive in its losses: The Highlanders’ largest margin of defeat was a 10-point loss to UC Davis, in which they had a six-point lead at halftime. Cal State Northridge, on the other hand, has led for 12 of a possible 120 minutes of conference play, and has suffered three double-digit losses.

7. Cal Poly Mustangs (6-11, 1-2)

Recent result: @ Hawaii (57-45 L)
Last ranked: 7th

6. UC Irvine Anteaters (7-13, 2-2)

Recent results: vs. Cal State Fullerton (67-64 L); vs. Cal State Northridge (71-54 W)
Last ranked: 5th

5. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (12-5, 3-1)

Recent results: vs. Cal Poly (57-45 W); vs. UC Santa Barbara (77-76 W)
Last ranked: 4th

UC Irvine beat Long Beach State. Long Beach State beat Hawaii. Hawaii beat Cal Poly. Cal Poly beat UC Santa Barbara. UC Santa Barbara beat UC Riverside, who is currently winless in Big West play.

So the middle of the conference should go: UC Irvine third, Long Beach State fourth, Hawaii fifth, Cal Poly sixth, then UC Santa Barbara seventh, right?

If these power rankings were only determined by head-to-head records, then that’s exactly how the middle of the Big West would be arranged.

But alas, the Big West Roundup doesn’t abide by such overly simplistic parameters.

Arranging schools by head-to-head records would involve putting two teams — with lone road wins against Cal State Northridge — over (arguably) the Big West’s best starting five on paper. This would also put two teams whose offensive production wouldn’t change if the refs swapped medicine balls for basketballs ahead of two teams that actually play offense.

In other words: It’s anyone’s guess as to how the middle of the Big West is going to pan out. Right now, the picture isn't incredibly clear. Even though Hawaii and UC Irvine are on the right side of .500, both teams’ road wins were at Cal State Northridge.

4. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (12-5, 1-2)

Recent result: @ Hawaii (77-76 L)
Last ranked: 3rd

Although their record doesn’t look like it, the Gauchos are two possessions away from being undefeated in conference play. Granted, Joe Pasternack’s team shouldn’t have put themselves in the position to lose one-point contests to Cal Poly and Hawaii, but neither loss is a reason to hit the panic switch.

Lest it sound like I’m making too many excuses for one of the few Big West teams that passes the eye test, here is a caveat: Panic if — and only if — the Gauchos drop both of this week’s home games against Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine.

UC Santa Barbara is one of the Big West’s two remaining unbeaten teams at home (UC Davis is the other). Pasternack and company will play seven of their final 13 games at home. Holding serve there will come a long way in alleviating the pair of one-point heartbreakers suffered on the road.

3. Long Beach State 49ers (9-11, 3-1)

Recent results: vs. Cal State Northridge (80-70 W); @ UC Riverside (75-68 W)
Last ranked: 6th

This might be too bold of a claim merely 16 games into conference play, but the Big West has three watchable teams. The Long Beach State 49ers are one of these three teams.

Although I’ve harped on their lack of a defense in the past, the bottom line is that the 49ers have several offensive weapons that will give the rest of the conference fits. JuCo point guard Deishuan Booker has made a strong case for being the Big West’s Newcomer of the Year, thanks to his conference-leading 5.4 asissts per game and 102 assists on the year. Couple him with reigning Big West athlete of the week and mismatch nightmare Gabe Levin, and it’s easy to see how Dan Monson’s team is in a good position to run other teams off the court.

Plus, the 49ers have accomplished a 3-1 record without one of their starters. Bryan Alberts has missed the past seven games with a knee injury, yet still has the second-most made three-pointers in the Big West. As soon as he re-enters the fold, the Beach’s plethora of offensive weapons might be too much to handle for the conference’s stoutest defenses.

This next week will be huge for the 49ers, as they’ll play the top two teams in the power rankings. Depending on how next week shakes up, Long Beach State could force a three-way tie for first.

2. UC Davis Aggies (11-5, 3-1)

Recent result: @ UC Riverside (75-65 W), @ Cal State Fullerton (85-70 L)
Last ranked: 1st

1. Cal State Fullerton Titans (11-5, 4-0)

Recent results: @ UC Irvine (67-64 W); vs. UC Davis (85-70 W)
Last ranked: 2nd

A 1-1 record is completely doable, but the Titans will definitely be atop these power rankings if they maintain perfection.

By grinding out a road win against UC Irvine, then shellacking the UC Davis team that bounced them from last year’s Big West quarterfinals, it’s safe to say the Titans are the best team in the Big West.

As for the Aggies, they could probably slip further in the Big West depending on the status of junior forward Garrison Goode; the Aggies are simply a different team without Chima Moneke’s counterpart bolstering the front court.

Goode, who started all 14 games prior to last Saturday, was absent against Cal State Fullerton. Without its junior forward in the lineup, UC Davis not only had a significant size mismatch against Fullerton’s quicker, bigger guards, but also one fewer rim protector to counter whenever Titan guards Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad drove to the basket. If anything, the Titans showed a blueprint to beat the Aggies. A quick, deep backcourt can counter the deliberate, methodical play of TJ Shorts, Arell Hennings and Siler Schneider — all of whom are listed at 6’3 or shorter.

But the rest of the Big West will probably need a template to beat the Titans from here on out: Cal State Fullerton is a legitimate contender for the Big West’s lone bid.

Dedrique Taylor’s young, deep team has all the tools needed to bring the Titans back to the NCAA Tournament since 2008: The aforementioned Allman and Ahmad are the best backcourt duo in the Big West, period. Although Jackson Rowe didn't play much against the Aggies, performances like his 24-point outing against Cal Poly and his 14-and-8 line versus UC Irvine’s deep front court show he’s avoided the sophomore slump.

Weekday Game Predictions:
(all times Pacific)

Long Beach State over UC Davis Wednesday, 7 p.m.
UC Riverside over Cal State Northridge — Wednesday, 7 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara over Cal State Fullerton Wednesday, 7 p.m.
UC Irvine over Cal Poly — Thursday, 7 p.m.