Big West Top 10 Countdown: No. 9

We're still a few months away before the games actually begin but Big West fan J. Kline gives us his early predictions of what's in store for the 2003-04 basketball season.

#9 Cal State Northridge
Predicted Record: 7-11

The BWC will be tougher this year than last; teams must improve to win the same number of games. Cal State Northridge has too much uncertainty to predict an improvement. The roster contains some impressive, but untested recruits. The immediate future of the program itself is unknown stemming from an investigation of John Clark's grades. And it remains to be seen if a full-court strategy will prevail in a conference of proficient half-court teams.

CSUN's hopes will rise with 4 new players. Eto Onyenegecha is a JC wing recruited by Arizona State and BYU, Davin White is a high-scoring JC guard, Thomas Shewmake is a huge RS-frosh center, and Austin Waggoner is a PF out of H.S. Braswell has called this recruiting class "the best we have ever had." The returning players of note are Ian Boylan, Joe Frazier, and Chris Davis. The key losses are Curtis Slaughter, Lionel Benjamin, and Ben Sullivan (transferred to Portland).

This group stacks up favorably to last year. Post players Armand Thomas and Dan Read were disappointments. Benjamin was a good role-player. But, Shewmake, Davis (now a junior), Waggoner, and Onyenegecha will be an upgrade. However, the rewards will be reaped for CSUN more in future years than now. Of the 4 players, three are brand new to CSUN and have never played in a D-1 game. White sat out of basketball last year and Waggoner is a true frosh. With Boylan and Frazier (both juniors), CSUN will have a strong core for 2004-05.

2003-04 Big West Projections
No. 10 Long Beach State
No. 9 Cal State Northridge
Braswell's strategy remains an issue because the BW will rarely run with CSUN. Opponents will continue to slow the tempo into a half-court game. Last year, CSUN's half-court defense frequently ended possessions by fouling, leaving no opportunity for transition offense. CSUN committed the most fouls and allowed the most FT attempts in the BWC. In order for this team to run, they must stiffen their half-court defense. They must get more stops and foul less. Given time, it could happen, but the results won't be immediate with inexperienced post players.

I look forward to seeing the new players, but Slaughter was a personal favorite. His long lanky frame posed match-up difficulties for opposing guards. Offensively, Boylan's stats were slightly better, but I thought it was Slaughter that should have been 2nd team All-BWC, not visa versa. I'm sure Boylan will have another fine year, but Slaughter's defense may be missed, because he was tough in both the half-court and the press. And defense is an area that CSUN must address.