By Jeff Portnoy
Hawaii basketball makes its first Big West league appearance this saturday against Cal State Northridge. Its time to take a look at the league so far this year and what we find is a league that is really struggling in non-league play and doesnt appear to have a dominating team like last year, for example, when Long Beach State was a near at large possibility.
Here are the facts. The league's record against Div 1 teams as it enters league play is a woeful 37-65. Yes some of the teams are forced to play " money games" against big time competition on the road, and a few of the teams have good wins against solid opponents, but the overall preleague record indicates a down year for the conference Nationally.
Some of the good wins: Pacific has beaten Xavier,St. Mary's;USF; and Nevada. UC Irvine has beaten Nevada, Fresno and USC; Cal Poly has the biggest win against UCLA, which was in the Top 25 at the time and is the only win a Big West team has against a top 25 team; and Long Beach defeated Fresno. Northridge comes in here with 9 wins, including wins against Tulsa,Pepperdine, who Hawaii lost to at home, and Utah. It has lost at UCLA, BYU, and Arizona State ( no shame for any of these road losses).
In the College Insider Mid Major poll, where they rank the top 25 mid major teams, Northridge is 32, behind such powerhouses as Stephen F. Austin, La Tech, and Florida Gulf Coast, to name a few, and Pacific received a single vote.
So let me be clear. The Big West is struggling this year. Only the winner of the Tournament will get to the NCAA's, and the winner of the League, if someone different, will go to the NIT. The league RPI is 15, however, thanks in large part to the quality of the opponents.
The preseason media poll had Long Beach first with 13 first place votes, with Fullerton in second with 6 first place votes. Irvine got one first place vote. Hawaii was picked 4th, Northridge 8th. Long Beach has been struggling, but gets two good transfers eligible for Conference play. Fullerton has had some tough losses, including at Washington by 2.
Hawaii plays the first three Conference games at home. After Northridge, its Fullerton and then a woeful Riverside team ( 2-8, and lost at USC by 44, at Pepperdine by 22, and scored 30 in a loss at Fresno. They are young, and you would assume will continue to struggle, at least on the road). These first three games are critical in determining where Hawaii stacks up in the league. At home, they need to win all three against two teams they will be competing with for the upper division and one team that everyone will be favored to beat at home.
It will be an historic night saturday. be there