Following a banner season for Cal Poly men’s basketball, the next thing for Head Coach Joe Callero and the Mustangs is to make program history and win the Big West title.
Earning a program record in conference wins (12), winning percentage (.667) and going as far as the Big West Tournament semifinals last season, Cal Poly has established itself as a serious contender to capture the conference championship this year.
“The last three years we’ve had the second most wins in conference play, and we just want to continue that, and be in the top half of the bracket with continued improvement,” Callero said.
Since Callero took over the program five years ago, his team has had the reputation of being the grittiest team in the conference. Last season’s postseason appearance, the first ever in school history, is a testament to the Mustang’s slow style of play. Relying on more of the same defensive tenacity this season, Cal Poly looks to exceed its predicted third-place finish in the preseason media poll.
“[The style of play] has been successful a few years, I think it’s going to continue to be successful,” Callero said. “It really speaks to our commitment to defense, rebounding and being smart on the offensive end.”
Leading the league in defense for the past three seasons has not come at the expense of poor offense for Cal Poly. Scoring has come by way of First-Team Big West selection, senior forward Chris Eversley. With team averages in points (14.0) and rebounds (7.2), Eversley is expected to be one of the best players in the league this year.
“Chris is a First-Team All-Conference player, I think he has the chance to repeat that honor, but it also goes hand in hand with team success,” Callero said.
Aside from Eversley, the tandem of wing player David Nwaba and sophomore forward Brian Bennett make up one of the strongest frontcourts in the league. Last season, Bennett shot 52.4 percent from the field and averaged 9.3 points per game, while Nwaba, despite being a transfer, is second on the team in points (11.5) and rebounds (4.5).
Even with its defense and talent, Cal Poly is coming into conference play on a four-game losing skid ahead of its conference opener against Hawaii on Thursday. With a record of 4-9, the Mustangs’ biggest weakness has come when playing on the road. After Saturday’s road loss against Delaware, the team has fallen to 0-7 when away from home with all the losses coming by double digits.
“We still haven’t hit our stride, and we like to hopefully play our best basketball during conference play and then during playoffs,” Callero said.
Cal Poly has however notched impressive wins against Santa Clara (64-53) and Cal State Dominguez Hills (85-49). In spite of its record, Cal Poly ends its nonconference schedule first in Big West in defensive scoring (65.2) and has proven to take care of the ball, turning the ball over the least of any team in the conference (10.6).
Cal Poly begins Big West play at home on Thursday against Hawaii and meets UCSB in the season’s first installment of the Blue-Green rivalry on Saturday at the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of January 8, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.