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Big West Offseason Update

October 14, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big West Offseason News Update

by Dean Austin

You know, when one of the biggest pieces of news during the off season is one school putting in a new scoreboard, it might be time for a little more excitement in your conference. Certainly no conference wishes to go through the trials and tribulations of the Big 12 this off season. Roy Williams leaving Kansas, the Clemons mess in Missouri, Larry Eustachy’s departure at Iowa State would have been enough for any conference, but add in the Baylor mess and this is one off season folks will not soon forget. The Big West? Literally Cal State Fullerton putting in a new drop down scoreboard would make a Letterman top 10 list of offseason news.

But the Big West did share similar emotions with the Baylor fans, as news came last month of the death of UC-Riverside’s Kellen Dixon. Dixon, along with two teammates, Mark Ferrera and Mark Peters, were involved in a fatal accident on September 13th. The accident occurred on Interstate 15, 17 miles northeast of Baker, California. The three players, along with three other males from the Riverside area, were in a Jeep Cherokee driven by Ferrera, 21, as they were returning from a concert in Las Vegas. The car was going south on I-15 when a 18-wheel tractor trailer veered off the road, hit a guard rail, went up an embankment and careened back into the freeway, causing a four-car accident that claimed three lives, including that of Dixon. Peters and Ferrera suffered minor injuries and were taken to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas where Ferrera was released two days later. Dixon appeared in 17 games last season averaging 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds.

Probably the biggest news was the adoption of a new format for the Big West Tournament starting with this season. This new format is heavily slanted towards the regular season performance giving the top two seeds a free ride until the semi finals of the tournament. Seeds five through eight will play a first round with the winners playing seeds three and four in the quarter finals. The winners take on the aforementioned top two seeds before a meeting in the final. Any team ranked five through eight will have to win four games on consecutive nights to advance to the NCAA Tournament, a quite ludicrous set up.

This is also the last year in the conference for Utah State and Idaho, who will leave at the end of the season for the Sun Belt conference. Obviously the ACC and Big East spat/expansion has made all the news lately but there has also been minor shuffling going on in other conferences over the past few years. The Big West will see UC Davis joining the conference as the Aggies and Vandals leave and the Big West will become an all California conference. Or Cal-eee-forn-ya conference if Governor Elect Ahnold is to be believed!

There was only one head coaching change in the Big West this off season. Ben Howland’s arrival at UCLA impacted the Titans when Coach Donny Daniels left to be his assistant. In his place arrived Bob Burton, a former Fresno State assistant who also brought fellow Bulldog assistant Andy Newman to Cal State Fullerton.

In addition to Newman a number of new assistants joined the conference. Down at UC Irvine, Terry Boesel joined the staff of Coach Pat Douglass. The opening occurred when previous assistant Mike Johnson departed for the greener pastures of USC. Meanwhile Ethan Hamilton moved to UC Riverside from Azusza Pacific University and Joel Sobotka and Carl Holmes rounded out the CS Northridge staff.

The international flavor of the game was also highlighted this off season. UC Irvine center Adam Parada played for Mexico in the Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Pacific Tiger Christian Maraker played for Sweden, his native country, at Eurobasket 2003.

One of the better pieces of news was that UC Irvine was selected to be part of ESPN’s Bracket Buster Saturday. I’d thought that was what happened to my bracket the first week of the tournament! However in fact this is an interesting piece of scheduling by ESPN on February 21st when 46 teams across the nation will play in an attempt to really confuse the selection committee, although given recent seedings (Gonzaga) and omissions (Vanderbilt) that apparently isn’t all that hard to do. The Anteaters already know that they will be one of the road teams, but will find out their opponent 3 weeks before hand.

Starting the season next month Pacific will face Duke in the opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout. Considered by many to be the number #1 team in the country, this will be an extremely tough early season match up for the Tigers.

Fans of Big West basketball will also get to see a number of high quality programs play their favorites. Cal Poly starts the season against one of the sleeper teams in the nation, California before the Buffaloes of Colorado come a calling. Cal State Fullerton sees Pac 10 stars from Arizona State and USC the latter also receiving a visit from Cal State Northridge. UC Riverside ups the ante to three Pac 10 schools with UCLA and Washington joining the Sun Devils in the mix.

Up in Moscow, Idaho has the unenviable task of opening against the continually underrated Gonzaga Bulldogs who this year just might be even better than the experts who are picking them in the Top 20! Long Beach State gets creative in scheduling Minnesota while Pacific has the previously mentioned battle with Duke. Conference eight hundred pound Gorilla UC Irvine acts like it by scheduling Stanford and Cal while UC Santa Barbara travels to both Hawaii and UCLA. Lastly Utah State also takes geography into account by playing BYU and Utah.

UC Irvine remains the biggest bet to pull an upset and get the conference some much needed ink. With the various changes still to be completed this is a conference in search of an identity. I suppose we couldn’t get them to merge with the West Coast conference to form a fascinating union?

Hoopville Staff writer Marcus Vanderberg contributed to this report.


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