There's no question who the favorite will be when the Central Valley Conference men's basketball race begins after the New Year.
Defending champion Fresno City College, 18-0 with five tournament championships and a No. 4 state ranking, seems to be on a level by itself. The Rams are averaging 103 points per game under first-year coach Vance Walberg and are the only CVC team that doesn't have at least five losses.
They've cracked 100 points seven times with a high of 139 and have been held below 90 only once. Five Rams are averaging in double figures, led by guard Jason Walberg at 19.9 points per game. Guard Tyrone Jackson is at 18.5, forward Carl Lee at 17.0, guard Adam Wall at 11.6 and guard Tyson Parker at 11.4.
Columbia, which chased Fresno to the wire last year and then qualified for the State Final eight, is probably second in line. The 20th-ranked Claim Jumpers (10-6) finished third in the Cosumnes River Tournament and won the consolation championship in Modesto (where Fresno won the title) and also owns a victory over No. 8 Chabot of Hayward.
The unquestioned leader of the Claim Jumpers is sophomore guard Derek Olich, who's averaging 18.4 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from 3-point range.
"I figured we would start slow (3-3) because of all the new guys we have on the team, but I know we're where we need to be heading into conference," Olich said.
Columbia will visit Fresno on Jan. 11 and will host the Rams on Feb. 5 at Oak Pavilion, where so far the Claim Jumpers have played only three games this season. The rest of the CVC is jumbled, with Porterville, Merced, Reedley, West Hills of Coalinga, Modesto and Sequoias of Visalia all a little bit above or a little bit below .500. Columbia opens conference play against Reedley on Jan. 8 at the pavilion.