No team ended the 2006-07 Big West season with more momentum that Cal Poly. The Mustangs won eight of their final nine games – including their final seven conference contests – to finish in a three-way tie for second place before falling in the Big West Championship game to Long Beach State. If not for a poor second half, it would have been the Mustangs, not the 49ers, representing the Big West in the NCAA Tournament.
However, the strong finish to last year’s campaign did not carry over to 2007-08. The Mustangs posted a 5-6 nonconference record, posting wins over Utah State and Northern Illinois, while dropping matchups with Arizona State, Northern Arizona, Portland State and USC. Things did not get much better for Cal Poly once the conference slate began,as the team lost to Cal State Northridge before getting swept on a road trip through Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, stumbling to a 1-2 start to the Big West season to bring its record to 6-10.
A year ago, Cal Poly owned one of the most dynamic and balanced offenses in the league, with three players averaging 10 points a game and six who averaged at least eight. This year’s squad is equally balanced, with six players netting at least seven points a contest, but has struggled without a go-to scorer who has the ability to take over the game.
The Mustangs lost Derek Stockalper, one of the premier players in the Big West last season, and his 14.4 points per game, along with Tyler McGinn’s 10.6 points a night. Expected to carry most of the scoring load is senior guard Dawin Whiten, whose offense has fallen off more than two points per game from last season, as defenses are now giving him their full attention, thanks to Stockalper’s absence. Junior point guard Trae Clark, fresh off being named an All-Big West Honorable Mention after averaging 9.1 points and 3.7 assists a year ago has been a model of consistency, putting up similar numbers of 8.6 points per game along with 3.6 assists.
Spelling Clark has been junior guard Chaz Thomas, who netted a career-high 31 points in the Big West Championship game. Thomas averages 7.3 points per game along with two assists per contest, and combines with sophomore guard Lorenzo Keeler to give the Mustangs one of the deepest backcourts in the conference. A transfer from Mt. San Jacinto College, Keeler averages 8.7 points per game and has emerged as Cal Poly’s deadliest three-point threat, sinking 35 percent of his attempts from long range.
Senior forward Matt Hanson has been a pleasant surprise in the frontcourt for Cal Poly, nearly doubling his scoring output from last year while pulling down a team-high 5.6 rebounds per game, good for 11th in the conference. He is joined in the frontcourt by the reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Year, junior forward Titus Shelton, along with senior forward Dreshawn Vance. The 6’7″ Shelton and 6’8″ Vance each ranked in the top five in the Big West in blocked shots last season, and the two once again reside in the top four.
Head Coach Kevin Bromley is in his eight season on the sidelines after spending six years as an assistant and leading the Mustangs to a school Division 1 record of 19 wins last season. In addition to last season’s title game appearance, Bromley also lead his squad to the Big West Championship game in 2003. Bromley added four freshman guards to this year’s roster in Jordan Lewis, Bo Henning, John Biggs and Shawn Lewis. The latter Lewis is the only first year to see time on the court in an already crowded backcourt, averaging 11 minutes per game.
Lighting up the scoreboard has been a struggle for Cal Poly all season, and the squad ranks sixth in the conference, averaging 63.6 points per game and owning a league-worst .396 field goal percentage. The Mustangs are also the Big West’s poorest three-point shooting team and the worst at the free throw line. Despite the return of several players in the frontcourt, Cal Poly holds the second-worst rebounding margin among the nine Big West squads, but ranks second in the league in blocks, averaging 3.4 per game.
Things will not get much easier for Cal Poly anytime soon, as the squad hosts UC Santa Barbara – a team it defeated twice last year – this Saturday, before hosting UC Davis and traveling to Pacific for its next two games. Because the team lacks a player capable of taking control late in a game, the Mustangs seem destined for an early exit in the Big West Tournament.