From the looks of its performance thus far in the season, the Davis men’s basketball team will benefit from its final year of transition status before becoming a full-fledged member of the Big West Conference in the 2007-2008 season.
The Aggies have posted just a 2-11 overall record in the 2006-2007 season, but return over 80 percent of their shooting from the 2005-2006 season and have hopes that experience and closeness will boost their record in their provisional fourth and final season before becoming a member of the Big West.
“We want to go out and win some games. We had a young team last year, but we don’t have excuses this year,” sophomore guard Vince Oliver said. “We want to win the games we’re supposed to win and win games we’re supposedly not going to win.”
Last season, the Aggies finished a disappointing 8-20 overall and 4-12 versus Big West teams, but the experience gained should aid them with their complete Big West schedule this season. A high for Davis last season was the 64-58 defeat of Pac-10 opponent Stanford in front of a season-high 5,386 at home in the Pavilion.
“[The victory over Stanford] was a confidence booster,” Oliver said. “It showed we’re doing it right, and that we have a good foundation and we can build off that.”
The Aggies snagged only one win – a 66-58 win over the visiting Jackson State (9-7 overall) – before beginning their Big West Conference schedule. In their first Big West game this season, Long Beach State (11-4, 2-0 in the Big West) overpowered Davis 89-75.
Against Irvine on Dec. 30, Davis put forth a strong first half, leading until just before halftime. However, the Aggies faltered in the second half, failing to demonstrate any kind of successful offense. The high point thus far in the season has been the buzzer-beating three-pointer by Oliver to defeat Brown at home on Jan. 2. The win electrified the Aggie bench and will possibly provide inspiration to improve upon their 2-11 record.
The Aggies have demonstrated an effective full-court press, but they fail to implement it in any fashion that would stop a team with a proficient offense. The Davis defense under the basket is a high point but has, on occasion, faltered to the more powerful teams.
After losing just one senior to graduation last season, the Aggies appear poised for success on paper. Davis returns last season’s top scorer in senior guard Rommel Marentez, who averaged 12.7 points per game in the 2005-2006 season, starting in 26 of Davis’s 28 games. Sophomore forward Kyle Brucculeri, Oliver, senior forward Thomas Juillerat and sophomore forward Jesse Lopez Low all saw extensive and quality playing time last season.
“We’re more experienced. We lost one senior, we’re more of a family [and] we don’t have to wear nametags – it bodes well for our maturation,” Head Coach Gary Stewart said. “The talent’s better; it’s the best talent since I’ve been there. Last year, we played with a depleted roster, so, this year, we can diversify play.”
The Aggies have been rotating their starting five thus far, with nine players seeing more than 150 minutes this season. Oliver leads Davis with 162 points, 51 more than second-place senior forward Ari Warmerdan and more than twice as much as the rest of the Aggie squad and has also dished out a team-high 40 assists.
Marentez has seen limited time on the hardwood, contributing a disappointing 68 points. The Chula Vista, Calif., native possesses incredible offensive skills, but has failed to show them consistently in a game this season.
If the Aggies improve their perimeter play in Marentez, Oliver, Brucculeri and sophomore guard David Carter, their shooting percentage will rise. As of Jan. 6, opponents are out-shooting Davis by 14.8 points per game and are out-playing Davis in virtually every category.
Regardless of what their overall record will show this season, the last provisional year before becoming a Division I member will benefit the Aggies, and they are excited about the looming official membership in the Big West.
“[Last season] gave us an indication of what we’re aspiring to be; we’re not going to be a visitor in the neighborhood [of the Big West],” Stewart said. “We’re coming into the league at a good time. It’s our belief that we’ll take our rightful place in the conference. We’ve got the date to get the keys; it’s an exciting time for us.”
The Aggies took on Utah Valley State (10-5 overall) at home Jan. 6 and fell to the Wolverines 57-38. In the contest, Juillerat led the squad with a dismal 11 points on the night, as the Aggies could only collectively post 27 points behind him. Much of the loss can be attributed to Davis’ subpar shooting on the night, as the squad only made 16 of 53 attempts.
In order to get closer to evening their overall record to one day become a potent threat in the Big West, the Aggies will have to step up their game and make better shooting choices.
In 13 contests this season, they have only been able to post a .388 shooting percentage, being outshot by opponents who are making 47.1 percent of their shots. Davis will finish out the 2006-07 season with a full Big West schedule in order to prepare for the 2007-2008 season in the Big West.
Or it’s back to Division II.