Several times over the last few weeks, I've lamented the sad state of college hoops in Southern California. And while it's true that UCLA has been one of the biggest disappointments in the nation, and USC has been completely decimated by injuries, and Pepperdine, Northridge and Irvine are just plain bad, perhaps instead of lamenting those teams, we should be celebrating Long Beach State.
Because the 49ers are good. As good as they've been in a long time. Oh, they're not Jerry Tarkanian/Ed Ratliff good, but they're pretty darn good. It was easy to lose sight of that during their brutal non-conference schedule, in which the Beach played road or neutral games against seven teams that have spent time in the top 25 this season, six that have been in the top 15. They only managed to win two of those games, but close losses on hostile courts at North Carolina and Kansas tell you a lot about this team. After all, there are no home games in the NCAA tournament, and the Beach would love to get another crack at the Tarheels or the Jayhawks on a neutral court.
This week we found out that Long Beach would play yet another ranked opponent on the road before the season is over: the 49ers were placed in one of the marquee games of the BracketBusters event, traveling to Nebraska to face 12th ranked Creighton. A win over the Blue Jays would more or less clinch an at large NCAA bid for the Beach -- their 33 RPI already has them in decent standing with the selection committee. Of course, they don't want to leave it up to chance, and would be wise to go ahead and win the Big West tournament.
In addition to Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount was chosen for one of the BracketBuster TV games. The Lions will host Horizon League power Valparaiso on February 17th. LMU has wins over UCLA, St. Louis and BYU this season, and are currently tied for third in the top heavy West Coach Conference. Even so, they have no hope of an at large bid, and will need a WCC tournament run to make it to the dance. Still, it's LMU's best season in years.
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of January 30):
1. Long Beach State 49ers 16-6 (Last week: 1)
Long Beach survived its closest game in the Big West this week to remain a perfect 9-0 in conference play. Against the Highlanders of UC Riverside (sorry Inland Empire, Riverside County teams are not in the LA Eight) the 49ers required an extra period to get the win. But senior Caspar Ware, as he has done so many times, carried the team with 11 points in overtime as they pulled out the 77-70 win. The Beach also handled Fullerton at home this week. The challenge for Long Beach will be to maintain the focus to stay undefeated in league -- a loss in Big West play would undo the good of a win over Creighton in the BracketBuster.
This week: Northridge (6-13) Feb. 4
2. Loyola Marymount Lions 13-9 (2)
Loyola couldn't quite manage to pull off the upset over St. Mary's this week, but then again no one seems to be able to beat St. Mary's. The Lions held a six point first half lead, but gave up a 12-0 run that more or less wound up being the difference in the game as they lost by seven to the 20th ranked Gaels. The good news for LMU is that Drew Viney, Ashley Hamilton and Anthony Ireland, all healthy for a change, are settling in as the team's big three. The Lions are currently in the top half of the WCC with pre-season favorites St. Mary's, Gonzaga and BYU. Whether they can pull off the two upsets that will be necessary for them to win the WCC tournament against those formidable foes remains to be seen.
This week: Pepperdine (8-13) Feb 2; San Francisco (15-9) Feb 4
3. UCLA Bruins 12-9 (4)
The Bruins returned "home" to Los Angeles (if you can call the Sports Arena home) for the first time in over a month (they'd played a couple of home games at the Honda Center in Anaheim in the interim) and picked up wins over Pac-12 newbies Utah and Colorado. Home wins over the Utes and Buffs are to be expected -- let's see how the Bruins do in the state of Washington this week. UCLA hasn't beaten a Division I opponent outside of southern California all season.
This week: @ Washington (14-7) Feb 2, @ Washington State (11-10) Feb 4
4. Cal State Fullerton Titans 13-7 (3)
Fullerton's two Big West games this week were against Northridge, next to last in the conference, and Long Beach State, undefeated in the conference. As you might expect, the beat the Matadors and lost to the Beach. However it was a struggle in Northridge, as the Titans needed a bucket with 4 seconds remaining to get the two point win. Fullerton hosts Cal Poly and Santa Barbara this week, a chance to avenge two losses from earlier this season.
This week: Cal Poly (13-9) Feb 2; Santa Barbara (11-7) Feb 4
5. UC Irvine Anteaters 8-13 (5)
The Anteaters went 2-0 during the week for only the second time this season and should be able to put together a three game winning streak when UC Davis visits the Bren Center on Thursday.
This week: UC Davis (1-19) Feb 2; Pacific (7-13) Feb 4
6. Pepperdine Waves 8-13 (6)
Pepperdine won their first game in the WCC this season way back in 2011. They then proceeded to lose their next eight in a row. But they finally got conference win number two on Saturday over Santa Clara. The Broncos have yet to win a game in the conference, and the Waves are just glad they didn't start in Malibu. Pepperdine travels to Westchester Thursday to face Loyola Marymount in a rivalry game before hosting Gonzaga Saturday -- so they better savor that win, because it's going to be a rough week.
This week: @ LMU (13-9) Feb 2; Gonzaga (17-3) Feb 4
7. USC Trojans 6-16 (7)
Last week in this space, I wrote "Just when you think it can't get any worse for USC, it gets worse." Ditto this week. This time it was sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon who was lost for the season, after tearing his MCL against Colorado on Thursday. The Trojans have now lost five scholarship players to season ending injuries, including four of the six players on the roster over 6'6". The bench, such as it is, has essentially been reduced to walk-on guards. So what happened Saturday? The Trojans picked up their first Pac-12 win of the season! Sure, it was against Utah, another pretty terrible team. But it had to feel good to get a W. Too bad the Trojans won't win another game this season.
This week: @ Washington State (11-10) Feb 2; @ Washington (14-7) Feb 6
8. Cal State Northridge Matadors 6-13 (8)
Northridge picked up just their fourth Division I win of the season Saturday in a non-conference game at Cal State Bakersfield. The strange thing is that while the Matadors have been pretty bad this season, they've been much worse at home. Three of their four D-I wins have come on the road, with the only home win coming against lowly UC Davis -- the Aggies are ranked 343 out of 344 D-I schools in RPI.
This week: Santa Barbara (11-7) Feb 2; @ Long Beach State (16-6) Feb 4
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
Gonzaga at Pepperdine from Firestone Fieldhouse on Saturday at 7 PM. The Zags are 17-3 with an RPI of 21, and if you're lucky the Waves might put up a fight, but probably not.