The Big West has a number of impact players this coming season, some which may have been missed by the major media outlets. While some teams have multiple playmakers (see Long Beach State), we have narrowed that list of impact players to one per team.
As part of our continuing look at the players to watch within each conference, here is our pick for the impact player on each team.
D.J. Seeley - Cal State Fullerton, Sr.: What can you say about Seeley? A transfer from Cal, Seeley made a huge impact last season, averaging 17.3 PPG right behind conference leaders Casper Ware, Phil Martin and Orlando Johnson. He was the main reason why the Titans made it where they did and why they ruined LBSU's perfect conference record. With Seeley held to 12 points in last year's Big West Tournament, No. 7 seed UC-Irvine was able to pull the upset in the quarterfinals. Entering his senior season, Seeley is sure to be a dangerous player on the court for the Titans, and now that Ware, Martin and Johnson are gone, he will be an automatic name to remember for the Big West MVP.
Ross Rivera - Pacific, Jr.: Forward Ross Rivera led the way last season, with 11.0 PPG in an anemic Pacific offense. If the Tigers want to be successful in their last Big West season, they need Rivera to step up the scoring. This Tiger team has many seniors (8 of them!), but none of them are poised to take a leadership role like Rivera.
Stephan Hicks - Cal State Northridge, So.: As a redshirt freshman last year, Hicks was the one bright spot for the woeful Matadors, leading the team scoring at 15.4 PPG and being second on the team with 25 steals. For the Matadors to improve (and really it's not hard considering last year's .250 winning percentage), Hicks needs to continue his great scoring effort, and step up on defense. Like Pacific, this team is not going to score a lot of points, so key defensive plays have to catalyze the offense.
Josh Ritchart - UC Davis, Jr.: With the choice between Ryan Sypkens and Josh Ritchart for UCD's impact player, I went with Ritchart. He scored less points than Sypkens, but with a little more accuracy, that can change drastically. His .383 3PT%, while not great (69-for-180), can be much more deadly with a little mechanical fix that could probably be addressed in practice. And his approach at the free-throw line needs work, at just 70.1 percent. With these two changes though, the team's 5-26 record from last year could easily improve.
Michael Wilder - UC-Irvine, Sr.: Wilder could be one of the biggest deep threats in the conference this year, but he also needs to improve his accuracy. He has a tendency to force 3-point field goals when he doesn't need to (hence the 202 attempts), and if he took a split second more to consider potential options, he will be a good double-double player throughout the season. His fro gets bonus "impact points."
Alan Williams - UCSB, So.: He has easily been the most hyped player in the Big West this off-season; and for good reason. Averaging 6.9 PPG and 6.5 RPG in a little over 17 MPG shows great potential. Throw in the fact that he is only a sophomore this year, and you have yourself one nearly-guaranteed, impact player in the making. The problem is that this is all potential speculation; a sophomore slump is very possible. For this to be avoided, Williams has to stay focused.
Chris Eversley - Cal Poly, Jr.: Eversly made a huge impact at the end of last season for the Mustangs when they finally started him. In the final 18 games of last season, he had 13 double-digit scoring efforts. For Cal Poly to continue their success from last year, Eversley must keep his scoring-to-minute ratio up.
James Ennis - Long Beach State, Sr.: Ennis comes in as one of two seniors on a team that is reloading. He needs to balance his paint points with his 3-point chances, and this means he needs to improve that perimeter shooting. It will be Ennis, not Pappageorge, who will provide true leadership for this team, and their success will be built on how he guides his teammates.
Vander Joaquim - Hawaii, Sr.: The Angolan led Hawaii to a .500 season by being the leader in PPG and RPG as a junior. Hawaii's first year in the Big West can prove to be a good one if Joaquim can continue his success into his senior season. The one thing to fix in Joaquim's play: the atrocious 63% FT percentage.
Robert Smith - UC Riverside, Sr.: The Highlanders are a team built truly on defense, but they need to average more than 59.4 PPG if they want to make an impact on the conference. Being banned from postseason play this year gives UCR a chance to play a true spoiler role, and there's nobody better to lead them than Smith. With Phil Martin and Kareem Nitoto gone, Smith has to be the guy for the Highlanders. However, he either needs to abandon his 3-point game completely (an atrocious .284 3PT% should make the case) or get better immediately. Being a smaller guard, I vote the latter, because at 5-11 he isn't going to successfully drive to the paint well.