It was not a particularly good week for the SoCal schools - and it's beginning to look like it's not going to be a particularly good year for them as a group. There's a lot of games between now and March, and we're still about a month from conference play, but at this rate the only way any of these eight teams will be making it to the NCAA tournament is with a conference tournament win. None of them has really built an at-large worthy resume so far.
Long Beach State should still be favored to win the Big West (though Santa Barbara is once again very good) and can get to the post season by winning there. I suspect though that they were hoping to make a better at-large case with their brutal non-league schedule. Unfortunately, the tournament committee tends to look at W's and L's first, and rarely gets to the detail of say a "scrappy performance in Lawrence, Kansas."
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of December 6)
1. Long Beach St. 4-4 (Last week: 1)
Since beating Pittsburgh in their first road game of the season, the Beach has dropped their next four on the road. Sure, there were trips to two ranked teams in there (Louisville and Kansas) and one to 8-2 San Diego State. But a loss at Montana almost undoes the good of the win at Pitt. The 49ers are good, as evidenced by their refusal to go away against Kansas last night. But come tournament time, while their strength of schedule will look great, it won't do a lot of good without another win or two. So what's next? Oh, only #6 North Carolina in Chapel Hill - no big deal.
This week: @ #6 North Carolina (7-2) Saturday.
2. Loyola Marymount 5-4 (2)
Sorry about that, Lions fans. I closed my blurb on the team last week by saying "LMU should be 7-2 by this time next week." Unfortunately, the up-and-down Lions had a decidedly down week. How do you explain a team with two wins against ranked teams, and two losses to Ivy league teams? Hosting a mini-tournament in Westchester this weekend, LMU lost to Columbia on Friday and North Texas on Sunday. Ouch. An injury to leading scorer Ashley Hamilton helps explain some of the inconsistency, but it doesn't explain losing to North Texas by 13 at home. The good news is that last season's leading scorer Drew Viney is back on the court, so the team will finally be at full strength if they can get Hamilton back.
This week: Idaho State (2-6) Saturday.
3. Pepperdine 4-3 (6)
The key to Pepperdine's season may be keeping me away from their games. When I've been in the crowd, they've lost and lost badly. In fact, when I've watched this team, I've truly wondered how they could possibly beat anyone. And yet, just as they had beaten ASU and Texas-San Antonio before, the Waves got a nice win against Hawaii over the weekend. Senior center Corbin Moore had a career high against Hawaii and is shaping up to be crucial for the Waves - when he plays well, they tend to win.
This week:@ Northern Arizona (2-6) Wednesday; Northridge (1-6) Saturday.
4. USC 4-5 (4)
USC recorded their most decisive victory of the season at Riverside last Wednesday, a strong defensive effort in which they held the Highlanders to 35 points on 34% shooting. Unfortunately, they weren't able to build any momentum, losing to Minnesota on Saturday. The good news is that they can't seem to keep Dewayne Dedmon off the court. For the second time already this season Dedmon returned much sooner than expected from injury - a foot injury was originally expected to keep him out up to six weeks, but he missed only a single game.
This week: New Mexico (6-2) Saturday.
5. CS Fullerton 4-3 (3)
The Titans may be one of the few schools on this list with a winning record (they're .500 against Division I opponents) but it's not the most impressive set of victories. Fullerton wins have come against Nicholls State, Louisiana-Lafayette and something called SIU-Edwardsville - teams that are a combined 6-18 on the season. Continuing that trend, they next play at Utah, which sounds like a tough game, but the Utes are winless against D-I teams themselves and just suspended their leading scorer. Bottom line is Fullerton may enter Big West play with a winning record, but it won't mean they're any good.
This week: @ Utah (1-6) Wednesday; Eastern Washington (4-3) Sunday.
6. UCLA 2-5 (5)
The Bruins cannot catch a break. After a strong game last week against Pepperdine, UCLA continued it's relatively strong play in taking a 30-19 first half lead over Texas Saturday. Unfortunately, the lights went out at the ancient Sports Arena at that point, and after the lights came back on the rest of the game belonged to Texas. The news got worse for UCLA yesterday when coach Ben Howland suspended forward Reeves Nelson indefinitely for conduct unbecoming a member of the team. It was the second suspension for Nelson already this season and casts serious doubt on his role going forward.
This week: Penn (4-5) Saturday (at the Honda Center in Anaheim, UCLA's other temporary home court while Pauley Pavilion is being renovated).
7. UC Irvine 1-6 (8)
Well the highly anticipated showdown between Irvine and Northridge on Dec. 29th has been spoiled. I was looking forward to a battle of winless teams, but Irvine went and ruined that on Saturday by thumping San Diego, 99-79. The 99 point outburst was most unexpected considering that UCI was averaging 63 points per game going in. Micheal Wilder had a dream game for the Anteaters, with 19 points (on 7 for 7 shooting and 4 threes), 8 rebounds and 7 assists.
This week: Vanguard (6-4) Saturday.
8. CS Northridge 1-6 (7)
Things are looking pretty dire in the valley. In six games this season against Division I opponents, the Matadors have six losses, and most of those have been by double digits. I guess it's good news that they only lost to CS Bakersfield by 7 this week. They may have a chance when they travel to Malibu this weekend - provided I'm in the crowd.
This week: @ Pepperdine (4-3) Saturday.
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
Pepperdine vs. Northridge at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, Saturday at 7 PM. If this exercise is about seeing LA-based teams, here's your chance to see two of them at once. If you're in the OC, Saturday is also your first chance to see UCLA at the Honda Center this year - though I'm not sure why you'd want to see UCLA this year.