PUB WISDOM

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Big West MVP = Kyle Austin? Axe somebody

MVP? Make it so.

MVP? Make it so.

I know that most folks are just sinking their teeth into the college football season, but college hoops is right around the corner. And it looks like the editors over at Athlon noticed Kyle Austin’s junior effort last season. I know that pre-season hype is basically worthless, but any longtime Highlander fans have got to enjoy this nonetheless. Athlon is projecting Austin as the Big West MVP. Nice. Bring on the double and triple teams. Drive and dish.

Also cool, Athlon picked the Highlanders to finish fourth in the Big West. Fourth place cool? Considering that the Highlanders have been picked dead last in just about every preseason poll going in the past few seasons, this is a nice bit of well earned respect.

Is this the year UCR punches its ticket to the Big Dance?

Highlander Hoops Release Schedule

 

"Where the hell is Berry College?!?"

"Where the hell is Berry College?!?"

Click here for a look at the 09-10 UC Riverside mens’ basketball schedule.

While it looks like the pendulum has swung back slightly, which will hopefully get the Highlanders’ SOS rating below 300, it appears Jim Wooldridge is still easing his squad into the nation’s top tier based on the competition he’s booked. There’s USC, which is legit on anyone’s schedule. But no other PAC10 teams? Really?

I, for one, am in the camp that believes that Wooldridge’s marked softening of UCR’s schedule last year was genius, letting the players get used to what it feels like to win. I figure we’re seeing a continuation of that strategy, which I find hard to fault.

Still, Pub Wisdom reckons there are others who are chomping for UCR to test it’s new-found success on some proven competition. Would’ve been nice to see a surprise or two on the schedule, especially since the USC date was pre-announced.  Well, there was one surprise. Where is Berry College and how did they end up on the Highlanders’ schedule? Now that was a surprise, though without researching it at all, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I learned that Berry College is in the midwest somewhere and coached by one of Wooldridge’s buddies.

In the end, it all comes down to conference play, the goal being to reduce the number of games you need to win in the conference tourney to get that auto-bid to the dance. 

See you at the Echo Chamber…

UCR on Wrong End of Blow Out

High-scorin' H-landers?

High-scorin' H-landers?

I have to admit that despite exhibiting a new closeability during their non-conference schedule — it was one of the softest non-conference schedules in the land, after all — I was pleasantly surprised to see the Highlanders downright blow out visiting Cal Poly last night. I don’t remember the last time I saw UCR involved in an in-conference blow out when it was on the winning end. Do you?

The team has consistently squeaked by in any win it grinds out, right? Just squeaked by…

But this.?A 30-plus point blow out? For its 7th — yes, 7th  — home win in a row? Am I having a CCAA refreak?

It’s clear the team have improved overall. And the offensive boost provided by Kyle Austin is providing some desperately needed scoring.

Cal Poly is not Northridge, Fullerton, or Pacific. But I’m telling you right now that this team is hardly the worst team in the conference, despite preseason press and coach consensus. Everyone in the Big West is now sweating their fixtures with the Highlanders.

Bring on the Big West.

Highlanders Scrap Their Way Out of the Cellar

ucrhoops.jpg

This is the season we’ll look back on, the season when the present showed glimmers of the future. The season when UC Riverside basketball players began to carry themselves a little differently. The season they began to believe. On the surface, the Highlanders’ overall record to date — 5-15 — is nothing to shout about.

But delve beneath, to the nether regions, and you start to see what I’m talkin’ about. No quit. Tight D. Tough rebounding. Patience on O. It’s all there. First-year coach Jim Wooldridge — his last head coaching job was in the Big 12 at Kansas State — has his team working and believing.

And on Saturday, on national — er, regional — TV, the Highlanders took that symbolic first step out of the Big West cellar by outplaying Cal Poly SLO for a 62-58 win in front of a season-high 1,012 at the Student Rec Center at UCR.

We know misery loves company, but tell first-to-worst Long Beeatch State — now alone in the cellar — that we had to bone out, split, vamoose. UCR and LBSU had been chummy down at the bottom of the table for the past few weeks, both teams clinging to a single conference victory. But while the Highlanders were giving Cal Poly the business, the 49ers were suffering a home loss in the Walter Pyramid to the UCI Eaters.

First they beat LBSU. Now they’ve beaten Cal Poly. Logically, next in the cross hairs should be UCI, an admitted step up the Big West food chain. But UCR had UCI scared at home last week. In fact, UCR has been more competitive across the board this season, hanging with USC and Texas Tech, playing Big West preseason favorite UCSB tough on the road in their last game, and generally staying in games. UCR’s only blowout losses have come at the hands of Gonzaga and Minnesota.

On Saturday, with Prime Ticket commentators Michael Cage and Paul Sunderland quickly on the bandwagon, UCR calmly hammered out a 12-point halftime lead with the consummate veteran Larry Cunningham leading the way. Ball movement, patience on offense, rebounding at both ends of the court (UCR outrebounded the Stangs 41-27 in total), and a fortunate hot streak from behind the arc — all these factors played a role.

And praise Jah for that hot first half, because UCR came out colder than the kegerator at the Fiji house in the second half, not settling down until the last 10 minutes or so. The Mustangs eventually cut the lead to two, but UCR sacked up and found its footing, ultimately grinding out the victory. It was a team effort, with four players in double figures. Cunningham, Cleavon Barlow, Jalonni Diggs (game-high 16 points), Severin Gates, Aaron Scott, Christian Soto, and others all played with heart, composure, and belief in their skills.

UCR is building confidence at the perfect part of the season, and their next game offers a chance to stay on a roll as they are on the road at Long Beach — after 10 days rest. Big West foes: you’re officially on notice as we look down the road to the conference tourney. A handful of wins at the Anaheim Convention Center, and the Highlanders are dancing.

Somewhere, legendary UCR coach John Masi is smiling. Well, probably not, actually. But even he has to recognize the progress. I don’t think he’ll smile until he sees the backside of Stan Morrison filling the doorframe on his way out. I witnessed first-hand the quality of Masi’s program during the D2 golden era, and in Nate Carter and Vili Morton he had the foundation of dangerous team — dangerous — but it was not meant to be. I now can’t help but look forward, with Stan, to the future with high hopes for Wooldridge.

Mark Pub Wisdom’s words — this is the season it all changed for the D1-era Highlanders. The end of the beginning.