Through 11 nonconference games and one Big West contest, the UC Davis men’s basketball team has been all over the place, literally and figuratively.
While playing in arenas everywhere from Stillwater, Okla., to Reno, the Aggies (4-8, 0-1) have been unpredictable. Sometimes, UCD looks like it has the speed and firepower to be a darkhorse candidate for a conference title, while other times the locals seem too inexperienced to even beat the mid-level teams in the Big West — as was the case in their league opener against UC Irvine on Saturday.
“I told my guys that I was really proud of the way they faced adversity… we were just a couple of plays away,” head coach Jim Les said after the loss in overtime.
After shooting 45.6 percent from the field in regulation to force overtime, the Aggies froze up in the extra period and were outscored 11-0 by the Anteaters (7-7, 1-0) en route to a 69-58 loss at the Bren Events Center.
The stretches of cold shooting are mystifying, considering UCD has so many natural shooters on its roster, most notably Corey Hawkins (17.8 points per game) and Ryan Sypkens (15 ppg).
The streakiness also has extended to the other side of the court, where, despite having defensive standouts like Ryan Howley — 20th in the nation in rebounding — and J.T. Adenrele, the Aggies have been unable to consistently keep teams off the boards and away from the bucket.
The up-and-down play has UCD fans asking, “Will the real Aggies please stand up?”
Fans should get a better idea of the team’s real identity this weekend as a Saturday matchup with Pacific (7 p.m.) is its first contest at The Pavilion since mid-December and begins a three-game homestand.
If the Aggies can find a way to consistently play as well as they have in occasional bursts this season, they should be able to play with any team in the conference. Still, there are several strong Big West teams standing between UCD and a league title, including last year’s champion Long Beach State.
The 49ers (5-7, 1-0) lost four starters to graduation last spring, but they still have 6-foot-7 forward James Ennis, who earned All-BWC honorable mention for his 2011-12 performance. So far this season, Ennis is averaging 17.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and getting help from Tony Freeland (15 ppg) and Mike Caffey (11.2).
It should also be noted that LBSU’s seven losses have come against a murderers’ row of opponents in North Carolina, USC, Syracuse, UCLA, Ohio State, Arizona and Fresno State.
Even more dangerous than the 49ers could be Cal State Fullerton, which finished second in the Big West last year.
The 2012-13 Titans are led by D.J. Seeley, who was a preseason Player of the Year candidate and has lived up to the expectations by putting up 18.4 points, 3.9 boards and 4.2 assists per game. And Seeley isn’t even his team’s top scorer, as Kwame Vaughn is pouring in 19 points a night. Fullerton (7-5, 1-0), like Long Beach, has had a daunting schedule, facing teams like Stanford and Nevada.
Northridge (9-4, 0-1) Cal Poly (5-6, 1-0), Pacific (6-7, 1-0) and Irvine could all be in the mix behind the 49ers and Titans. The Tigers and Anteaters each have their starting lineups from last year intact, the Matadors topped the league in nonconference victories and the Mustangs have a stud in junior Chris Eversley (15.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).
Hawaii (7-5, 1-0) is in its first year as a Big West member, but could be a factor depending on how well it adjusts to the rigors of the conference, while UC Riverside (3-10, 0-1) and UC Santa Barbara (4-8, 0-1) are young squads that aren’t expected to make noise this season.
Where UCD fits into the Big West puzzle remains to be seen.
— Reach Will Bellamy at [email protected]