Each week CC will take a closer look at an under-appreciated team that Louisville fans can scoff at because of what they didn't achieve 20 years ago, but who in reality would probably play right with the Cardinals if they faced them on the hardwood tomorrow.
For what it's worth (read: because I like to bitch), due to computer troubles I had to redo this thing four times. Savor every word.
Team: Cal State Fullerton Titans
Record: 15-4 (5-2)
Conference: Big West Conference
Coach: Bob Burton (4th year) (63-46)
In just three years, Bob Burton has resurrected a Fullerton program that had been left for dead. The Titans have posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in two decades, and they appear poised to extend that streak to three, a feat that hasn't been matched since George McQuarn posted four consecutive winning seasons from 1981-85.
Though Burton is yet to lead CSF to the big dance, a three-game run in the 2005 NIT was enough to get him a contract extension through the 2009-2010 season.
Best Win: 76-70 over Pacific on Jan. 10
Worst Loss: 100-110 at Eastern Washington on Nov. 27
Standout: After getting the better of UCLA's Jordan Farmar and USC's Gabe Pruitt in the 2005 L.A. Summer League, Bobby "L.B." Brown had NBA scouts calling him the best point guard on the West Coast. The 6-0, 175 lbs Brown attended the '06 NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando, and worked out for the Suns (twice), Lakers and Clippers before ultimately deciding to return to Fullerton for his senior season.
The decision seems to be working out for all parties involved.
Brown is averaging a career-best 20.6 ppg and 5.3 assists. He's scored 20 or more points in nine of the 16 games he's appeared in, including a now infamous 47-point performance against Bethune-Cookman (See video below) in which he drilled 11-of-13 tries from beyond the arc.
The 2003-'04 Big West Freshman of the Year, Brown is the odds-on favorite to take home Player of the Year honors in his senior campaign.
Pomeroy Ranking: 144
Sagarin Ranking: 130
College Insider Mid-Major Ranking: 19
Points Per Game: 86.6 (4th in country)
Points Allowed Per Game: 74.3 (279th in country)
The high scoring Fullerton men's basketball team is having the kind of season that should generate the type of university support ordinarily reserved for the baseball team. As it is, the vast majority of the second largest student body in the state of California are ignoring the fact that the Titans are in first place in the Big West Conference, off to their best start in 23 years, and have have an excellent opportunity to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1978.
Brown is a bonafide mid-major superstar, but he does have the reputation of being a bit erratic from time-to-time which is why having a strong supporting cast has been crucial for Fullerton's success.
Junior forward Scott Cutley is just 6-5, but he leads the conference in rebounding at 9.5 boards a game (more than twice his previous season high), and is also tossing in just under 17 points a contest. He dropped 31 in a two-point win over Louisiana Lafayette early in the season, and then scored a career-high 35 Thursday night in the Titans' non-conference win over UC Davis.
Marcus Crenshaw, Justin Burns, Frank Robinson and Ray Reed are also averaging double figures for a Fullerton team that ranks fourth in the nation in scoring.
A 15-4 record at this point in the season is definitely something to be proud of, but there's a reason the computers aren't exactly enamored with the Titans.
CSF own a monumental victory over three-time defending league champion and occasional bracket buster Pacific, but other than they really don't have a win on their resume worth claiming.
Burton's boys had a chance to pull of the ultimate signature win when they jumped out to a 14-4 lead on the road at then #1 UCLA. The Titans trailed by just six at the break, but tired in the second half and ultimately fell by 24.
"They are such a second-half team," Burton said after the game. "We had to keep our best players on the floor in the first half to stay in it and I don't like to do that. Our guys got tired and hit a wall in the second half."
Fullerton's only other loss came in a 100-110 shootout against Rodney Stuckey and Eastern Washington. Stuckey scored 27 and got the better of Brown in the highly anticipated showdown between the two mid-major stars.
With Pacific looking shaky for the first time in years, and Utah State playing its second season in the WAC, the door is wide open for someone else to live the dream this March. Who that someone else is, is anyone's guess at this point.
Long Beach State (13-6, 4-2) is the one team in the league who can score with Fullerton, and they appeared to be playing the best ball in the conference before falling to UC Irvine on Thursday night. Santa Barbara is also 4-2 in league play, but the Gauchos have been amazingly inconsistent, the best example being a 36-point loss to LBSU just five days after a big win over Fullerton.
The Big West is one of the conferences that truly rewards stellar regular season play. Though composed of eight teams, the perfect number for a standard quarterfinal, semifinal, final type tournament, the Big West grants the league's regular season champion and runner-up a free ride into the semifinals, and forces the tems in the bottom half of the league's final standings to win four games in four days if they want to nab a tourney bid. Obviously this makes breaking free from the pack all the more imperative.
In a conference this rich with parity, the deciding factor in who gets to hear their name called on Selection Sunday may be that the tournament is being played at Cal State Northridge. The Matadors are .500 in league play, and are just as capable of winning two or three consecutive games as anyone else in the conference.
Still, on paper Fullerton is the team to beat. No one in the league has been able to hold CSF under 70 points, and the Titans still have rematches with LBSU and UCSB at home. Of course when tournament time rolls around, the bulls eye will undoubtedly shift back to Pacific, regardless of the Tigers' record.
To an outside observer, the Big West appears as up in the air as any conference in America, but with expectations this high in Titan land, the pressure is certainly on Burton's boys to assume a throne left cold since the Carter administration.
Predicted Final Record: 21-7 (11-5)
Predicted Conference Finish: Third
Predicted Postseason: None