Blazers focused on PLNU as PWC tourney starts Thursday

DSU was invited to the NCAA Division II tournament Sunday, file photo from Dixie State University vs. California Baptist University, Men's Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 11, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

IRVINE, Calif. – The Pacific West Conference begins its conference tournament for men’s and women’s basketball on Thursday. While the Dixie State women’s team failed to qualify for the tournament, the Dixie State men’s team is invited for the fifth consecutive year.

Coach Jon Judkins’ squad finished the year with a 19-7 overall record and a 16-4 mark in the conference standings. In previous years that would have been good enough for the season championship and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. But this year, two teams finished with better records. Hawaii Pacific (18-2, 26-2) and California Baptist (17-3, 25-3) finished first and second.

The top two seeds get first-round byes. Dixie State’s opening round opponent is Point Loma Nazarene University. The Sea Lions (11-9, 15-12) finished tied for sixth in the conference. Concordia (13-7, 17-11), in only its second season of NCAA Division II competition, finished ahead of PLNU, but is ineligible for post-season play. That elevated Point Loma into the tournament.

The other quarterfinal features No. 4-seed Chaminade (13-7, 17-10) against No. 5-seed Azusa Pacific (11-9, 16-14). Chaminade returns to the tournament for the first time since winning it in 2014. This is APU’s third consecutive trip to the tournament.

Below are team capsules and commentary for the teams playing in the tournament:

Game One-First Quarterfinal

No. 6 Point Loma Nazarene v. No. 3 Dixie State (2:45 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday)

SEA LIONS
Coach: Ryan Looney, 1st year at PLNU (15-12) 8th year overall (179-63)
Offensive Average: 75.2
Defensive Average: 73.9
Impressive Wins: Cal Baptist, Dixie State
Bad Losses: None
Record Against the Field: 2-7
Probable Starters: Josh Rodriguez (15.4 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.4 spg) Tanner Lancona (8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Sterling Somers (8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Zach Burnham (7.0 ppg, .582 FG%), Trevor Peterson (5.9 ppg)
Other Major Contributors: Vince Boumann (13.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, .623 FG%), Mike Planeta (8.3 ppg)
Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: Not ranked. Would have to win PacWest Tournament to get NCAA invitation.

TRAILBLAZERS
Coach: Jon Judkins, 12th year at DSU (222-108) 24th year overall (512-236)
Offensive Average: 77.5
Defensive Average: 71.3
Impressive Wins: Cal Baptist, Point Loma, Azusa Pacific, Chaminade, Concordia (2x), Sonoma State
Bad Losses: None
Record Against the Field: 4-4
Probable Starters: Trevor Hill (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, ,5.0 apg, 1.5 spg) Brandon Simister (11.6 ppg, .400 3FG%), Marcus Bradley (8.7 ppg, .506 FG%), Kyler Nielson (9.0 ppg, .522 FG%), Zac Hunter (8.7 ppg, .769 FT%)
Other Major Contributors: Josh Fuller (12.4 ppg, .610 FG%), Quincy Mathews (7.3 ppg), Dub Price (4.3 ppg)
Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: 8th. Only eight teams are invited so Dixie State is very much on the bubble. Has been helped recently with teams directly behind losing games. Would still probably need to win at least one game in the PacWest Tournament and then pray that Western Washington wins the GNAC. (WWU is currently the only GNAC team in the top eight. If another team wins the GNAC tournament it could knock Dixie State out of top eight with its automatic bid.) UPDATE: Dixie State moved to 7th in the March 1 NCAA West Region Rankings.

Both of these teams won the games they were supposed to during the season. Neither team lost to any team sporting a losing record. The teams split during the regular season with both teams winning at home. In the first game, Josh Fuller scored 17 in his last game before injury put him out for all but two minutes in the last home game. Brandon Simister lit the Sea Lions up for 21 in an 83-80 overtime win Dec. 19th at Burns Arena.

Four weeks later, PLNU overcame a halftime deficit to pull out a 68-64 win in San Diego. It was one of the few games that the Trailblazers shot less than 50 percent from the floor. Sea Lion post Vince Boumann recorded a double-double (13 pts, 11 rebs). Though Boumann has missed the last four games of the season, he is expected to play in the conference tournament.

“Our guys felt that was a game where they did not play as well as they should have,” said Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins. “We were still trying to figure out how to replace Josh’s dominant play in the post. We definitely missed Josh that game. Our other posts have been playing much better since that game.”

Coach Ryan Looney is in his first year at Point Loma after seven 20-plus win seasons at Seattle Pacific. He actually has a 5-4 record against Dixie State as a coach. While Point Loma has only beaten two teams in the conference tournament, those two teams happen to be on their side of the bracket.

“We have played much better closing out the season,” said Looney. “Our ball movement has improved and our guys have been sharing the ball more.”

Dixie State University vs Point Loma Nazarene University, Men’s Basketball, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

Offensively, Point Loma’s play usually hinges on how well do-everything point guard Josh Rodriguez plays. The speedy sophomore leads the Sea Lions in scoring, assists and steals. “Our offense goes through him,” said Looney. “He has been good at finding our shooters in good positions. And lately those shots have been falling.”

“(PLNU) has been running more stuff through Rodriguez,” said Judkins. “He is the one who beat Cal Baptist at the end. They have given him more freedom lately to create and he has delivered. (Zach Burnham) has also stepped up lately in Boumann’s absence. He has made the most of his opportunity to play more.”

Defensively, Looney said he will have his hands full with the Trailblazers. “Every team in the league knows that Trevor Hill can hurt you in so many ways,” said Looney. “And if you don’t shadow Brandon Simister, he will punish you from outside.”

Judkins compared the teams’ similar style of play. “Coach Looney has them prepared,” said Judkins. “They like to do much of the same stuff we do. They play tough defense.”

Game Two-Second Quarterfinal

No. 5 Azusa Pacific v. No. 4 Chaminade (7:15 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday)

COUGARS
Coach: Justin Leslie, 10th year at Azusa Pacific (225-88)
Offensive Average: 76.7
Defensive Average: 74.6
Impressive Wins: Texas A&M International, Dixie State, Point Loma (2x), Concordia, Hawaii Pacific
Bad Losses: BYU-Hawaii, Dominican, Fresno Pacific
Record Against the Field: 4-5
Probable Starters: Petar Kutlesic (14.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, .500 FG%), Joey Schreiber (14.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Corey Langerveld (12.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Connor Peterson (10.4 ppg, 4.4 apg), Justin Byrd (5.9 ppg, .500 FG%)
Other Major Contributors: Will Ferris (7.7 ppg), Austin Dyer (6.9 ppg)
Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: Not ranked. Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: Not ranked. Would have to win PacWest Tournament to get NCAA invitation.

SILVERSWORDS
Coach: Eric Bovaird 6th year at Chaminade (88-75)
Offensive Average: 83.9
Defensive Average: 81.0
Impressive Wins: Alaska Anchorage, Concordia, Azusa Pacific, Point Loma (2x)
Bad Losses: UH-Hilo, Fresno Pacific
Record Against the Field: 3-4
Probable Starters: Rohndell Goodwin (20.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, .426 3FG%), Kiran Shastri (16.3 ppg, .429 3FG%), Kuany Kuany (12.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, .485 FG%), Austin Pope (12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Sam Daly (10.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.1 spg)
Other Major Contributors: Walker Dantley (5.0 ppg), Tyler Cartaino (3.0 ppg)
Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: Not ranked. Would have to win PacWest Tournament to get NCAA invitation. (Was recently ranked as high as 9th, but losses have dropped them from top 10.)

Coach Judkins has mentioned in the past that the annual Hawaii trip takes its toll on teams. “Traveling wears you out,” said Judkins. “The first game is usually not too bad. But the second and especially the third game, it gets progressively worse.”

Those three games have a day’s rest between them. To win the PacWest Tournament, teams have to win three games in consecutive days – probably very difficult for those traveling from the islands. This will be game one for Chaminade though. These teams only met once and that was an 83-71 win for Chaminade in Azusa. In that game, Chaminade’s Goodwin scored 17 points in limited minutes (17) due to foul trouble. The difference came behind the arc, where Chaminade outscored the Cougars 48-27 and hit its treys at a 52 percent clip.

Game Three-First Semifinal

Game one winner v. No. 2 California Baptist (2:45 p.m. Pacific Time Friday)

LANCERS
Coach: Rick Croy, 4th year at Cal Baptist (103-21) 9th year overall (233-56)
Offensive Average: 83.2
Defensive Average: 69.2
Impressive Wins: UC-San Diego, Point Loma, Azusa Pacific (2x), Concordia (2x), Dixie State, Hawaii Pacific, Chaminade
Bad Losses: None
Record Against the Field: 6-3
Probable Starters: Michael Smith (24.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.7 apg), Kalidou Diouf (16.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, .670 FG%), Jordan Heading (12.8 ppg), Jason Todd (9.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, .923 FT%), Casey Norris (7.7 ppg)
Other Major Contributors: Marquise Mosley (5.5 ppg), De’jon Davis (3.4 ppg)
Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: 1st. Despite finishing second in the PacWest, the Lancers are still the top-rated team in the region. The Lancers’ strength of schedule is high. They beat UC-San Diego and unlike Hawaii Pacific, they had to play Dixie State in St. George (and won). Will get invited to NCAA no matter what they do in PacWest Tournament.

The Blazers won the tournament in 2013, but have had early exits the last three years, the last two at the hands of Cal Baptist. Last year, Dixie State was blown out in what could only be deemed as an officiating nightmare. The PacWest used officials outside the conference that were unfamiliar with the players and coaches. Players from both teams fouled out early and Judkins was issued a technical for yelling at his own player. In 2015, the Lancers won on a buzzer beater. A rematch is looming but only if DSU gets past Point Loma.

No matter which team wins game one, the Lancers have lost to both of them — and beaten them. All four games were not decided till late. This semifinal will be closer than the other. Interestingly for Cal Baptist, they beat Dixie State on the road without leading scorer Michael Smith. Then they lost to Point Loma at home with him. Still the Lancers seem to play very well at the PacWest Tournament, winning at least one game.

For Dixie State, it has been players other than Smith that have done more damage in its two season games. Diouf had his way against the Blazers in Riverside. When Smith was out in the second game, the Blazers doubled Diouf in the post and limited his production. But Heading picked up the slack and pulled out a win that DSU should have gotten.

Game Four-Second Semifinal

Game two winner v. No. 1 Hawaii Pacific (7:15 p.m. Pacific Time Friday)

SHARKS
Coach: Darren Vorderbruegge, 9th year at Hawaii Pacific 125-118
Offensive Average: 87.0
Defensive Average: 67.1
Impressive Wins: Alaska Anchorage, Chaminade (2x), Azusa Pacific, Concordia, Point Loma, Dixie State, Cal Baptist
Bad Losses: None
Record Against the Field: 6-2
Probable Starters: Chauncey Orr (19.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 spg, .552 FG%, .455 3FG%), Connor Looney (17.0 ppg, .399 3FG%), Jordan Martin (12.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.8 apg), Elliott DeFreitas (8.8 ppg, .555 FG%), Clayton Guy (4.7 ppg)
Other Major Contributors: Jonothan Janssen (6.1 ppg), Deven Riley (5.8 ppg), Spencer Vering (5.4 ppg), Colfax Nordquist (5.2 ppg)
Current NCAA West Regional Ranking: 7th. This ranking is puzzling. They are ranked 6th nationally above all other West Region teams, including Cal Baptist (8th). Yet in the West Region rankings (determined by formula not voting) they fall to 7th. And for the NCAA invitation, these are “the rankings that matter”. So despite HPU’s PacWest season championship and high national ranking, the Sharks still probably need to win at least one game in the PacWest to ensure an invitation. UPDATE: Hawaii Pacific moved to 4th in the March 1 NCAA West Region rankings.

As mentioned above, the traveling by the Hawaii teams could have an impact on their performance in the tournament. However, in the tournament’s short history Hawaii teams have won the tournament 50 percent of the time. The Silverswords won it in 2014 and BYU-Hawaii won it the next year.

Hawaii Pacific has never been in this position before. The Sharks usually make the tournament, but have never made it past the quarterfinals. Their last win in the tournament was in 2014, when they eliminated Dixie State before losing in the next round. Their last loss was to APU on the road after blowing them out at home earlier in the year. Travel fatigue may have been a factor as it was their third game after beating conference frontrunners Cal Baptist and Concordia earlier in the road trip. HPU has a much easier draw to make it to the final.

Game Five-Championship

Game 3 winner v. Game 4 winner (4:30 p.m. Pacific Time Saturday)

STGNEWS PREDICTION: The Blazers have a storied history in the PacWest. They have either tied for the best record in the conference season or won the conference outright in six of the last eight years. They have never finished worse than third place since they started playing in the PacWest. They enter this tournament as the third seed. “The third seed has won it the last couple of years,” said Judkins. “This is something new for us. We are normally waiting on the quarterfinal winner. But it is an extra game and our guys are excited. For us it is ‘survive and advance.’ And with the teams we are facing, that is the attitude we are taking. One game at a time. Focus on Point Loma. If we win that game, it is Cal Baptist and likely Hawaii Pacific waiting for us.”

No top-seeded team has won the tournament since Dixie State in 2013. Look for that trend to continue this year. The higher-seeded teams are favored to win in the quarters and semis, but Cal Baptist will beat Hawaii Pacific in the final and be the first PacWest repeat conference tournament champion.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

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