It’s nearly halfway through the Big West Conference men’s basketball season, and an unusual suspect is standing at the top.
Cal Poly heads to UC Davis today to take on an Aggies team tied with conference powers UC Irvine and Long Beach State atop the Big West standings at 5-1.
Who could have guessed? Certainly not the media, which selected UC Davis to finish seventh out of nine teams in the conference preseason poll.
That made sense. The Aggies have finished in last place in the regular-season standings three of the past four seasons. They were just 9-22 last year, and the 4-12 conference record wasn’t exactly out of character.
But all that said, UC Davis (15-4) has turned it completely around this year and is particularly hot lately, winning six of its past seven. At this point, the Aggies are serious title contenders.
“Davis has been playing real well,” Cal Poly associate head coach Paul Fortier said this week. “If you want to look at total conference and nonconference, Davis has the best record in our conference.”
A big part of that is senior guard Corey Hawkins.
Hawkins, the son of former 13-year NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins, leads the Big West with 21.2 points per game. The former Arizona State transfer is also fourth in the conference in field goal percentage but impressively still shoots better from 3-point range (52.7 percent) than he does from inside the arc (51.3). He also leads the team with 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Yet for the Aggies, it’s not all about Hawkins. He’s been either first or second in the Big West in scoring all three seasons he’s played since he left the Sun Devils in 2011, and he obviously couldn’t do it all alone.
This season, senior forward Josh Ritchart is averaging 11.7 points, and UC Davis is getting contributions from junior forward J.T. Adenrele, who missed all of last season with an injury, and former UC Riverside standout and City College of San Francisco transfer Josh Fox, who’s averaging 9.5 points per game and leads the conference shooting 64.6 percent from the field.
“They have a great player in Hawkins,” Fortier said, “then at the same time, just have the couple of guys that weren’t there last year that were sitting out. So, you have some fifth-year guys and age. You have a team that’s a little bit older, and now they’re used to playing together.”
For the Mustangs (10-9, 3-4 Big West), conference play has continued an apt correlation: Cal Poly is dangerous at home but has trouble on the road.
Including Thursday’s 67-57 loss at UC Irvine, the Mustangs are 1-3 on the road in conference play and 4-7 overall away from Mott Athletics Center.
At home, Cal Poly is 5-1 but has played only three conference games in the friendly confines. The road woes could continue tonight, but there is a silver lining for the Mustangs. Five of their final eight regular-season conference games will be at home.
“Playing at home, there is an advantage, and that’s for every home team,” Fortier said. “So, now, we have to realize knowing that going on the road, baskets are tougher to come by because the home team guys sometimes feel more comfortable at home.”