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Big West Conference preview: Regular season starts this week

A new year always brings hope, and that means all nine teams in the Big West Conference have a shot at the 2020 title. At least for now.

The Big West regular season begins this week, and based on the non-conference results, there is no clear favorite. UC Irvine dominated the conference last season and was the preseason selection to repeat. However, the Anteaters are 8-8 entering conference place.

Only three teams have winning records entering conference play – UC Santa Barbara is 11-4, Hawai’i is 9-5, and UC Riverside is a surprising 10-6.

Here is a capsule look at each of the nine teams (in alphabetical order):

Cal Poly (3-11)

Head coach:
John Smith (1st season at CP, 1st season at NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 321

Significant victories: 70-66 vs. Siena; two wins against non-NCAA Division I teams

Notable losses: 79-48 at No. 18 Saint Mary’s; 85-59 at Iowa; 73-57 at No. 15 San Diego State

Players to watch: Junior Ballard (6-3, So., G) is averaging 11.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Malek Harwell (6-5, Sr., F, transfer from Boise State) is averaging 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Kyle Colvin (6-6, Fr., F) is averaging 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Colby Rogers (6-5, Fr., G) is averaging 8.4 points per game and leads the team with 19 3-pointers. Keith Smith (6-0, Jr., G) is averaging 3.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

Notes: The Mustangs rank last in the Big West for scoring offense at 63.7 points per game. They also have the lowest team field goal percentage at .418. Cal Poly is 0-9 in away games this season, and have lost 14 straight away games dating to last season. Hank Hollingsworth, a 6-10 starting center last season, has been limited to three games this season due to injury. Head coach John Smith was previously an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton.

Cal State Fullerton (5-10)

Head coach: Dedrique Taylor (7th season at CSUF, 7th season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 254

Significant victories: 77-74 at UCLA; 60-53 at Wyoming

Notable losses: 76-58 at BYU; 70-54 at Stanford; 91-69 vs. San Francisco

Players to watch: Austen Awosika (6-3, Sr., G) is averaging 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Brandon Kamga (6-5, Sr., G, transfer from High Point) is averaging 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Jackson Rowe (6-7, Sr., F) missed the first 11 games of the season due to a knee injury. He is averaging 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game since returning to action this season. He had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the upset win at UCLA. Wayne Arnold (6-4, So., G) is averaging 11.3 points per game and leads the team with 33 3-pointers. Davon Clare (6-6, Sr., F) is averaging 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Notes: The Titans are averaging just 63.9 points per game, but are allowing just 66.1 points per game to opponents. Fullerton is the only Big West team that has made at least four 3-pointers in every game this season. The Titans made 14 3-pointers in their upset win at UCLA. Fullerton won the Big West Conference Tournament in 2018, and lost in the championship game of the conference tournament in 2019. Two new assistant coaches joined the Fullerton staff prior to this season – Gus Argenal and Brandon Dunson. They were both at Nevada last season.



CSUN (5-11)


Head coach: Mark Gottfried (2nd season at CSUN, 22nd season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 269

Significant victories: 73-72 vs. Fresno State; 71-64 at Portland

Notable losses: 116-70 at No. 22 Auburn; 90-62 at Richmond; 79-73 at Pacific; 103-72 at Boise State

Players to watch: Lamine Diane (6-7, So., F) became eligible in late December and is averaging 30.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots per game in the three games he played so far. He was the Big West Player of the Year as a freshman last season. Terrell Gomez (5-8, Jr., G) is averaging 21.3 points per game and ranks second in the nation with 56 3-pointers. Elijah Harkless (6-4, So., G) is averaging 10.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Lance Coleman II (6-6, Jr., F) is averaging 9.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Darius Brown II (6-1, So., G) is averaging 9.4 points and 4.6 assists per game.

Notes: Of the 10 players in the main rotation for game minutes, there are two freshmen, six sophomores, two juniors and zero seniors. The Matadors lead the Big West in scoring at 74.8 points per game. They are also surrendering the most points per game at 81.4. Head coach Mark Gottfried was previously a head coach at Alabama and North Carolina State. Assistant coach Jim Harrick was previously a head coach at UCLA, Rhode Island and Georgia.



Hawai’i (9-5)

Head coach: Eran Ganot (5th season at UH; 5th season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 155

Significant victories: 72-67 vs. Pacific; 85-75 vs. San Francisco; 67-63 vs. UTEP

Notable losses: 66-53 at Illinois; 89-64 at No. 12 Oregon; 72-61 vs. No. 21 Washington; 70-53 vs. Georgia Tech

Players to watch: Eddie Stansberry (6-3, Sr., G) is averaging 16.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and leads the team with 44 3-pointers. He is the only player to be named Big West Conference Player of the Week twice so far this season. Samuta Avea (6-6, Jr., F) is averaging 11.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and ranks second on the team with 27 3-pointers. Drew Buggs (6-3, Jr., G) is averaging 9.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. Zigmars Raimo (6-9, Sr., F) is averaging 9.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He also leads the team and ranks second in the Big West with 25 steals. Justin Webster (6-3, Fr., G) is averaging 7.3 points per game as the first guard off the bench.

Notes: Head coach Eran Ganot missed the first 13 games of this season while on a medical leave of absence. The Rainbow Warriors are 9-3 at home and 0-2 on the road. Hawai’i used the same starting lineup for 13 of its 14 games so far this season. Only six players have appeared in all 14 games this season. Junior college transfer Junior Madut (6-5, Jr., G) became eligible in late-December, but has yet to appear in a game.



Long Beach State (5-11)

Head coach: Dan Monson (13th season at LBSU, 22nd season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 277

Significant victories: 66-65 vs. Providence; 74-62 vs. San Diego

Notable losses: 69-65 at UCLA; 81-63 at Saint Mary’s; 104-67 at Arizona; 102-63 at Florida

Players to watch: Chance Hunter (6-6, So., G) is averaging 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, and leads the team with 26 3-pointers. Michael Carter III (6-5, So., G, transfer from Washington) is averaging 12.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. Colin Slater (6-1, Jr., G, transfer from Tulane) is averaging 11.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. Joshua Morgan (6-11, Fr., C) is averaging 8.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game, and leads the team with a .629 field goal percentage.

Notes: The 49ers are 1-9 in away games. They lead the Big West in steals (6.8 per game), but are also committing the most turnovers (17.4 per game). Head coach Dan Monson is the winningest coach in school history with 205 victories. He was previously a head coach at Minnesota and Gonzaga. Assistant coach Senque Carey was an assistant coach at Hawai’i during the 2014-15 season. Another assistant coach, Bobby Braswell, was previously a head coach at CSUN.



UC Davis (6-10)

Head coach: Jim Les (9th season at UCD; 18th season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 216

Significant victories: 85-66 at Northern Arizona; 67-65 vs. Loyola Marymount

Notable losses: 82-48 at Loyola Chicago; 72-66 at Cal; 77-73 at Utah

Players to watch: Joe Mooney (6-3, Sr., G) is averaging 15.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and is second on the team with 34 3-pointers. Matt Neufeld (6-11, Sr., C) is averaging 10.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, and has a .617 field goal percentage. Ezra Manjon (5-11, Fr., G) is averaging 10.3 points and 4.1 assists per game. Stefan Gonzalez (6-2, Sr., G) is averaging 9.5 points per game and leads the team with 41 3-pointers and a .477 percentage form 3-point range. Elijah Pepper (6-4, Fr., G) is averaging 6.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

Notes: The Aggies lead the Big West in 3-point percentage (.368) and free throw percentage (.776). They rank last in the conference for rebounding (31.0 per game). UCD is 4-0 at home this season, and 2-10 in away games. Five of the Aggies’ losses this season have been by six points or fewer. Head coach Jim Les is a former NBA player, and was previously a head coach at Bradley for nine seasons before his hiring at UCD.



UC Irvine (8-8)

Head coach: Russell Turner (10th season at UCI; 10th season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 124

Significant victories: 69-60 at Boise State; 76-73 at San Diego; 69-56 vs. Pacific

Notable losses: 69-53 at No. 25 Colorado; 59-58 at TCU; 67-61 at UTEP; 77-73 at Harvard

Players to watch: Collin Welp (6-9, So., F) is averaging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while playing just 23.9 minutes per game. Eyassu Worku (6-2, Sr., G) is averaging 12.3 points, 4.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. Tommy Rutherford (6-8, Sr., F) is averaging 10.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, and had a .685 field goal percentage. Evan Leonard (6-1, Sr., G) is averaging 9.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Brad Greene (6-11, Jr., C) is averaging 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and has a .574 field goal percentage.

Notes: The Anteaters finished 31-6 last season, including 18-1 against Big West teams. UCI ranks first in the Big West in rebounding (40.6), rebound margin (+10.3), assists (15.1), blocked shots (3.6) and opponent field goal percentage (.377). The Anteaters have finished either first or second in the final Big West Conference standings in each of the previous six seasons.



UC Riverside (10-6)

Head coach: David Patrick (2nd season at UCR; 2nd season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 207

Significant victories: 66-47 at Nebraska; 80-65 at San Jose State; 60-57 at Fresno State

Notable losses: 58-51 at Pacific; 70-56 at Washington State; 105-56 at Air Force
Players to watch: Arinze Chidom (6-9, Jr., F, transfer from Washington State) is averaging 13.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game with a .533 field goal percentage. He became eligible in late December due to NCAA transfer rules. Callum McRae (7-1, So.. C) is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game with a .559 field goal percentage. George Willborn III (6-3, Jr., G) is averaging 8.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Dikymbe Martin (6-1, Sr., G) is averaging 6.4 points per game. He was a preseason All-Big West selection, but has been slowed by injuries this season. Dragan Elkaz (6-5, So., G) is averaging 6.3 points per game and leads the team with 31 3-pointers. Khy Kabellis (6-4, Sr., G, transfer from Pacific) is averaging 4.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as the starting point guard.

Notes: The Highlanders have already matched their win total of last season, when they finished 10-23. UCR ranks first in the Big West for 3-pointers made (8.4 per game). UCR has also emerged as a top defensive team, ranking first in the Big West for points allowed (59.4 per game) and second for opponent field goal percentage (.389). Head coach David Patrick is originally from Australia, and the UCR roster has three players from Australia and two from New Zealand.



UC Santa Barbara (11-4)

Head coach: Joe Pasternack (3rd season at UCSB; 7th season as NCAA head coach)

Current NET ranking: 151

Significant victories: 64-60 vs. Cal State Bakersfield; 72-68 vs. Texas-Arlington; 85-77 at Louisiana

Notable losses: 77-61 at UCLA; 78-67 at Oregon State; 82-81 vs. Rice

Players to watch: JaQuori McLaughlin (6-4, Jr., G) is averaging 15.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Amadou Sow (6-9, So., F) is averaging 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game with a .549 field goal percentage. Matt Freeman (6-10, Sr., F, transfer from Oklahoma) is averaging 10.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and leads the team with 25 3-pointers and a .455 percentage from 3-point range. Devearl Ramsey (6-0, Jr., G) is averaging 8.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Max Heidegger (6-3, Sr., G) has been limited to six games this season due to injuries. He is averaging 14.0 points and 3.0 assists per game. His status for the Big West season is unknown.

Notes: The Gauchos lead the Big West in field goal percentage (.474) and free throws made per game (15.3). UCSB is the only Big West team that won 20 or more games in each of the last two seasons. The Gauchos finished  23-9 in 2018, and then 22-10 in 2019.  Head coach Joe Pasternack was previously a head coach at New Orleans, and the top assistant at Arizona. The Gauchos are 7-1 at home this season, with the only loss by one point against Rice (82-81).

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