Cal State Fullerton Titans: 20-11, 10-6 in the Big West
Head coach: Dedrique Taylor (5th season)
Players to watch: Kyle Allman, Jr. (19.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, .430 3PT%); Khalil Ahmad (15.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG); Jackson Rowe (12.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
Season recap: Kyle Allman Jr. and Khalil Ahmad shot the Titans past UC Irvine in the Big West Championship game to deliver Cal State Fullerton its first conference championship and NCAA tournament berth in 10 years. The Titans, who started the season 1-3, finished it by winning eight of their past ten games, including three straight as they enter the opening weekend of tournament play.
Fullerton’s offense largely runs through Allman and Ahmad, the team’s dynamic junior guard duo who combined to average just less than half of the Titans’ 73.2 points per game. Sophomore Austen Awosika rounds out the backcourt, contributing 7.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game himself. Fullerton was one of the strongest offensive teams in the Big West, finishing fourth in the conference in points per game and first in team field goal percentage.
Sophomore forward Jackson Rowe, the sole player to start every game for the Titans, is also the team’s anchor down low, averaging nearly seven boards per game for a team that finished fourth in its conference in rebounding. Next weekend will mark just the third time the Titans take the court in NCAA tournament play—prior to their appearance in 2008, Fullerton had not advanced to the Big Dance since 1978, when it made a surprise run to the regional finals.
How they make a run: Allman and Ahmad carry over their heroics from the Big West tournament, Rowe continues to be dependable down low and the Titans make their second postseason run in as many weeks.
How they falter: Fullerton can’t keep up with bigger, stronger teams in the post, Awosika and the rest of the guards go cold, and the Titans are left to console themselves as Big West champions.