Orlando JohnsonBy Paul Seaver (TheArenaPulse)
This post is part of The Arena Pulse's 2011-2012 Season Preview. For other previews, go to the '11-12 Season Preview page.
As college basketball turns the page into another new season, The Arena Pulse will examine and predict some of the things to watch within the various conferences across the nation.
Let's take a look at the Big West Conference:
Defending Regular Season Champion: Long Beach State
Defending Tournament Champion: UC-Santa Barbara
Top Returning Scorer: Orlando Johnson (UC-Santa Barbara, 21.1 ppg)
UC-Santa Barbara has represented the Big West in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons. With senior Orlando Johnson returning as the No. 2 overall scorer in the country (21.1 ppg in 2010-11), the Gauchos are the team to beat, but will their streak continue in 2011-12?
Long Beach State and head coach Dan Monson won the 2011 regular season championship, yet were unable to earn the league's automatic qualifying bid. With a plethora of talent returning, the 49ers will once again be expected to make a run at the NCAA Tournament this season.
As a likely two horse race will unfold in the Big West in 2011-12, others such as Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton will look to make their case and crash the league once conference play begins. David Hanson will help give Cal Poly a strong opportunity to threaten near the top of the standings, but will it be enough to get them over the hump and into the race for a championship? The same applies to Andre Hardy and Cal State Fullerton.
While Johnson and UC-Santa Barbara remain the two-time defending champions, their dynamite scorer will be the main focus for many opponents. Johnson has racked up 1,214 points in the past two seasons, but will his elite scoring threat be able to conquer an overall balanced attack from Long Beach State as the season rolls along.
LBSU is loaded and should be a team that can not only qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but also a team that could potentially make some noise come March. Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, and T.J. Robinson all return for the 49ers and should present a number of match-up nightmares for their Big West opponents.
Florida dispatched UC-Santa Barbara in the Round of 64 as part of last season's NCAA Tournament.
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Long Beach State
2. UC-Santa Barbara
3. Cal Poly
4. Cal State Fullerton
9. Cal State Northbridge
The Arena Pulse Preseason Player of the Year:
Orlando Johnson (UC-Santa Barbara)
The Arena Pulse Preseason All-Big West First Team:
G Orlando Johnson (UC-Santa Barbara)
G Casper Ware (Long Beach State)
C T.J. Robinson (Long Beach State)
F David Hanson (Cal Poly)
F Larry Anderson (Long Beach State)
*Photo: Orlando Johnson *Credit: bleacherreport.com
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