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Let the conference games begin

Is UC Santa Barbara for real? Is UC Irvine over rated? Can CSUN really be that bad? What’s going on at UC Riverside?

Those are just some of the questions that have emerged for the Big West Conference, which begins league play this week.

Hawai’i will open Big West action on the road, at Long Beach State on Thursday, then at CSUN on Saturday.

UCSB, which finished 6-22 last season, is one of the top turnaround teams in the country so far this season. The Gauchos have the best record and RPI rank among Big West teams after pre-conference games. They are 11-3 with an RPI rank of 47 (out of 351 teams) under new coach Joe Pasternack.

CSUN, on the other hand, is an inexplicable 351 – dead last in the nation – in the latest RPI rankings. The Matadors are 3-11, but only one of their wins was against NCAA Division I competition. By comparison, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (a familiar foe for Hawai’i in recent years) is 1-14 and at 349 in the latest RPI.

UC Irvine won the regular-season title last season and was picked to finish in first place in the Big West Conference Preseason Poll for this season. However, the Anteaters went 5-11 in pre-conference games, although nine of those losses came away from home.

In a recent development, UC Riverside opted to enter Big West action with a new head coach. Dennis Cutts was relieved of his duties as head coach on New Year’s Day. The Highlanders are 5-9, and associate head coach Justin Bell is now the interim head coach.

Here is a capsule look at the teams, in order of current RPI rank …

UC Santa Barbara 11-3 (RPI: 47)
Coach: Joe Pasternack (1st year)
Players to watch: Max Heidegger (6-2, So., G) leads BWC players with 22.1 ppg and 44 3-pointers; Leland King II (6-7. Sr., F), a transfer from Nevada, is averaging 17.1 ppg and 9.9 rpg; Jalen Canty (6-8, Sr., F) is averaging 11.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg; Gabe Vincent (6-3, Sr., G) is averaging 10.4 ppg and 3.6 apg; Marcus Jackson (6-4, Sr., G), a transfer from Rice, ranks second in BWC with 4.8 apg.
Of note: UCSB went 6-22 overall last year and finished last in BWC at 4-12. The Gauchos’ only three losses this season came on the road at Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and USC.

UC Davis 9-5 (RPI: 54)
Coach: Jim Les (7th season)
Players to watch: Chima Moneke (6-6, Sr., F), the Big West Preseason Player of the Year, is averaging19.0 ppg and 9.9 rpg; Siler Schneider (6-3, Jr., G) is averaging 12.9 ppg; TJ Shorts II (5-9, Jr., G) is averaging12.3 ppg and 3.6 apg, and also has 27 steals; Arell Hennings (5-8, Sr., G) is averaging just 4.5 ppg, but is 12-19 from 3-point range (63.2 percent).
Of note: UCD won the Big West tournament last year and went on to win a “First Four” game over North Carolina Central in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies have played just four home games so far this season, and are 4-0 in those games.

Cal State Fullerton 7-5 (RPI: 121)
Coach: Dedrique Taylor (5th season)
Players to watch: Kyle Allman Jr. (6-3, Jr., G) is averaging 16.6 ppg and 3.3 rpg; Khalil Ahmad (6-4, Jr., G) is averaging 16.1 ppg and 3.3 rpg, and has an .880 free throw percentage; Jackson Rowe (6-7, So., F) is averaging 12.3 ppg and 6.1 rpg, and has a .608 field goal percentage, including .636 from 3-point range (14-22).
Of note: The Titans have only one senior on their roster. Ahmad and Allman each scored 34 points in a game this season – individual high among Big West players this season. CSUF is 5-1 at home, with the only loss against Georgia. Among the road losses are at USC, Saint Mary’s and Cal.

Long Beach State 6-10 (RPI: 143)
Coach: Dan Monson (11th season)
Players to watch: Gabe Levin (6-7, Sr., F) is averaging 15.0 ppg and 7.2 rpg after missing the Big West season a year ago due to a knee injury; Bryan Alberts (6-5, Jr., G), a transfer from Gonzaga, is averaging 14.0 ppg and has 41 3-pointers with a ..414 percentage from 3-poit range; Jordan Griffin (6-3, So., G) is averaging 8.7 ppg, and has 35 3-pointers with a .467 percentage from 3-point range; Deishuan Booker (6-3, Jr., G) is averaging 8.7 ppg, and leads the BWC with 5.7 apg.
Of note: The 49ers have victories over Stanford and Oregon State, but have also suffered five blowout losses, including West Virginia, Arizona, Michigan State and Missouri. Eleven different players have started at least one game this season.

UC Irvine 5-11 (RPI: 167)
Coach: Russell Turner (8th season)
Players to watch: Evan Leonard (6-1, So., G) is averaging 11.2 ppg and 3.3 rpg; Eyassu Worku (6-2, So., G) is averaging 10.1 ppg and 3.6 apg; Tommy Rutherford (6-8, So., F) is averaging 9.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg with a .625 field goal percentage; Jonathan Galloway (6-10, Jr., F), last season’s Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging 7.3 rpg and leads BWC players with 32 blocked shots.
Of note: UCI’s top six scorers this season are all sophomores. The Anteaters have won at least 21 games in each of the previous five seasons. Among their road losses are at Kansas State, Arizona State, Saint Mary’s and UCLA.

Hawai’i 9-4 (RPI: 210)
Coach: Eran Ganot (3rd season)
Players to watch: Sheriff Drammeh (6-3, Jr., G) is averaging 11.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 2.8 apg; Mike Thomas (6-7, Sr., F) is averaging 11.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg, and is the only starter remaining from the 2016 Big West championship team; Gibson Johnson (6-8, Sr., F) is averaging 10.8 ppg and 5.3 rpg; Brocke Stepteau (5-9, Jr., G) is averaging 9.5 ppg and 2.4 apg.
Of note: The Rainbow Warriors have played only one road game so far this season, an 80-60 loss at Utah. Hawai’i leads the BWC in free throw attempts (336), but is last in free throw percentage (.652)

Cal Poly 5-9 (RPI: 254)
Coach: Joe Callero (9th season)
Players to watch: Victor Joseph (6-0, Sr., G) is averaging 13.6 ppg, and leads the team with 30 3-pointers; Donovan Fields (5-10, Jr., G) is averaging 13.1 ppg, 4.5 apg, and 3.9 apg, and has a .938 free throw percentage; Josh Martin (6-7, Jr., F) redshirted last season due to a knee injury, and is averaging 8.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg. He grabbed 21 rebounds in a game last season prior to his injury.
Of note: The Mustangs lead the Big West with 121 3-pointers, and made16 3-pointers in a loss at Cal. Among the road losses this season are at Stanford, Cal and SMU.

UC Riverside 5-9 (RPI: 268)
Coach: Justin Bell (1st season)
Players to watch: Dikymbe Martin (6-1, So., G) is averaging 13.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 3.0 apg; Chance Murray (6-3, Sr., G) is averaging 11.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 3.2 apg; Alex Larsson (6-10, Sr., F) is averaging 10.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg.
Of note: The Highlanders opened the season with a road upset win at Cal, but then lost their next seven road games. Dennis Cutts was relieved of his duties as head coach on January 1. He was the UCR head coach since 2013, and had a career record of 50-87 at the school. Associate Head Coach Justin Bell is now the interim head coach.

CSUN 3-11 (RPI: 351)
Coach: Reggie Theus (5th season)
Players to watch: Tavrion Dawson (6-8, Sr., F) is averaging 16.1 ppg and 5.9 rpg; Micheal Warren (6-5, Sr., G) is averaging 13.2 ppg and 6.4 rpg; Terrell Gomez (5-8, Fr., G) is averaging 10.7 ppg and 3.1 apg, and leads the team with 29 3-pointers and a .527 percentage from 3-point range.
Of note: The Matadors had an 11-game losing streak, but are on a two-game win streak entering BWC play. Their only win over a NCAA Division I team this season is 79-69 home victory over Morgan State. Kobe Paras, a touted player originally from the Philippines, is redshirting this season due to NCAA transfer rules.

1 Comment

  1. If this is what the conference looks like this year, then UH truly has a good chance to win the title! Irvine and Long Beach are both down this year and those are the two teams that always have talent.

    I say there are three guarantee road wins at CSUN, Riverside and Cal Poly. If UH can sneak one more road win from the rest, that would give them at least a 4-4 road record. If they go undefeated at home, that makes them 12-4 for conference and should be good for first place!

    Go Bows!

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