It's one of the hazards of playing in a weak conference -- Long Beach State won their only game this week, improving to 17-6 on the season, and their RPI ranking actually went down, from 33 to 36. In that range, the Beach would probably get an at large bid to the NCAA tournament, even if they don't win the Big West Conference tournament, but there are no guarantees. Not to mention that any loss in the conference from here to the end would be considered a bad loss by the selection committee, damaging their currently borderline resume. I'd be willing to bet that a perfect 16-0 conference season, followed by a loss in the finals of the conference tournament, would still get them into the NCAAs, regardless of what happens in the Bracket Buster game at Creighton on February 18th. Alternately, a win against the Blue Jays probably gets them over the top. But anything less puts them on shakey ground. Better just to win the stupid tournament.
Which is what all the other teams in the LA Eight will need to do if they want to experience the NCAA tournament this season. Both Loyola Marymount and UCLA have RPI rankings in the low 100s, and would no doubt receive NIT bids with a strong finish to the season, but to make it to the big dance, they'd have to make a run in their conference tournaments first.
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of February 6):
1. Long Beach State 49ers 17-6 (Last week: 1)
Long Beach handled Northridge in their only game last week. The 49ers need to take care of business this week, with away games against cupcakes Pacific and Davis (the Aggies don't have a Division I win all season). With the BracketBuster against 15th ranked Creighton looming a week later, it would be easy to lose focus against these teams -- and truth be told, they could probably do that and still win.
This week: @ Pacific (9-13) Feb 9; @ Davis (1-21) Feb. 11
2. Loyola Marymount Lions 15-9 (2)
LMU continues to keep pace with some of the big boys of the WCC, currently tied with BYU for third place in the conference at 8-3. The Lions beat Pepperdine in a rivalry game on Thursday, and then came back from a 13 point halftime deficit to defeat San Francisco on Saturday. The Lions have a balanced attack now that everyone is healthy, with four players averaging double figures. They have a difficult task this week, traveling to Spokane to meet powerhouse Gonzaga on Saturday.
This week: @ Portland (6-18) Feb 9; @ Gonzaga (18-4) Feb 11
3. UCLA Bruins 13-10 (3)
The good news for UCLA is that they finally got a win outside of southern California, beating Washington State on Saturday. The bad news is that they lost a double digit lead against Washington a couple of nights earlier. Five of their final seven conference games are at home (or in LA at the Sports Arena, at any rate), so they could close strong, but three games off the pace in the conference, and looking up at five teams in the standings, it would take a miracle to win the regular season crown. The consolation is that nobody in the Pac-12 is particularly good, so the Bruins could very well make a tournament run in March. I mean, someone's got to win it, right?
This week: Stanford (16-7) Feb 9, California (18-6) Feb 11
4. Cal State Fullerton Titans 15-7 (4)
It was a big week for the Titans, as they took down two of the better teams in the Big West, beating Cal Poly and Santa Barbara. Kwame Vaughan scored a career high 37 and the team made 17 of 26 threes in the win over the Gauchos, which moved Fullerton into a tie for second place in the conference. Team Transfer (four starters transferred from Bay Area schools) is pretty good after all.
This week: Irvine (9-14) Feb 9
5. UC Irvine Anteaters 9-14 (5)
The Anteaters put together three straight wins for the first time this season with a victory over Davis on Thursday, but were unable to make it four straight when Pacific came to town.
This week: Fullerton (15-7) Feb 9
6. Pepperdine Waves 8-15 (6)
Pepperdine had two tough opponents last week, and were at least respectable in the two losses. A 10 point loss at LMU and a 12 point loss versus Gonzaga were much closer than one might have expected. The Waves were actually within two of the Zags with less than nine minutes left in Malibu Saturday before letting it get away.
This week: San Diego (9-14) Feb 9; BYU (20-6) Feb 11
7. USC Trojans 6-18 (7)
USC's situation is just sad. With most of their bigs injured, the Trojans are playing a bunch of guards, several of whom are walk-ons. In their 69-41 loss to Washington Saturday, they were outrebounded, get this, 49-16! You have to admire them keeping the final score under 30 in those circumstances.
This week: California (18-6) Feb 9; Stanford (16-7) Feb 12
8. Cal State Northridge Matadors 6-15 (8)
The Matadors faced the two best teams in the Big West last week, and not surprisingly came away with losses to Santa Barbara and Long Beach State. Keeping the final score at Long Beach under double digits was a moral victory, so there's that.
This week: @ Davis (1-21) Feb 9; @ Pacific (9-13) Feb 11
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
Cal at UCLA, Saturday at 4 PM at the Sports Arena. The Pac-12 is way down this year, but Cal is one of the decent teams and UCLA is unbeaten at home in Pac-12 play.