No. 1 UC Davis Aggies (24-5, 14-2) vs. No. 8 CS-Northridge Matadors (9-23, 4-12)
Head to Head: UC Davis 2-0 (at UC Davis: UC Davis 71-61; at CSUN: UC Davis 68-55)
Last season, Northridge went from the 5-seed to the conference championship game. Could we be in for a repeat? Realistically, probably not. Still, upset will be the mantra Northridge will use when it takes on the Big West Player of the Year Corey Hawkins and Big West Coach of the Year Jim Les, in its quarterfinal matchup against UC Davis.
You could say that the Aggies' schedule was weak but they took care of business, beating everyone they were suppose to beat, and adding a conference regular season championship with just two losses, both on the road.
Cal State Northridge enters the tournament somewhat on a roll, having won three of five games. They hope the good times continue behind the one-two punch of Stephan Hicks (16.0 ppg) and Stephen Maxwell (14.6 ppg). They were the top two in scoring for the Matadors and will look to outscore Hawkins' 20 points per game. Hicks is probable for Thursday's matchup due to a knee injury.
First round prediction: UC Davis by 10
No. 2 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (18-12, 11-5) vs. No. 7 Cal Poly Mustangs (13-15, 6-10)
Head to Head: UC Santa Barbara 2-0 (at Cal Poly: UCSB 50-45; at UCSB: UCSB 64-56)
For the second season in a row, the Big West quarterfinals feature UCSB facing up against Cal Poly.
This is anything but music to the ears of UCSB fans who saw the Gauchos get blown out of the water against the Mustangs last year. Cal Poly won that game 69-38 sending UCSB home empty handed and in absolute shock.
The Mustangs went on to shock the conference by winning the Big West tournament and receiving the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. This season the Gauchos have gotten revenge twice, beating the Mustangs in both meetings this season including a win to close out the regular season just five days ago.
It may be a cliche but it is hard to beat a team three times in one season.
The Gaucho's real revenge would be Thursday night against the Mustangs. But because I see no upsets in the other quarterfinal matchups, Cal Poly over UC Santa Barbara has to be the one.
No, the Mustangs don't have the talent of Chris Eversley like they did a season ago, and yes, the Gauchos are undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference having won five straight. I just can't envision Cal Poly losing back-to-back games to the same team even if it is against Alan Williams and the Gauchos.
The burn offense -- the brilliance of Joe Callero -- will lead Cal Poly into the semis.
First round prediction: Cal Poly by 5
No. 3 UC Irvine Anteaters (18-12, 11-5) vs. No. 6 UC Riverside Highlanders (14-16, 7-9)
Head to Head: Split 1-1 (at UC Irinve: UC Irvine 69-55; at UCR: UCR 70-63)
Russell Turner has turned the UC Irvine Anteaters from pretenders to potential Tournament Champions in the span of about an hour.
Say what you want about their unconventional playing style, the Anteaters have won more Big West Conference games than everyone else over the last two years. UC Irvine won the regular season championship last season and nearly repeated.
This is another rematch of last year's quarterfinals, a game that Irvine won by 20 points.
In that quarterfinal game and the two meetings this season, UC Irvine holds a 82-66 edge in points in the paint over the Highlanders. The size of the Anteaters has caused some huge problems for typically undersized Highlander squad.
But Riverside did split its two games against Irvine although their defensive performances against the Anteaters have been ones to forget. UC Irvine has made 12 of 21 attempts from 3-point range and have shot just shy of 50 percent in the two games this season.
Defense is the name of the game and UC Irvine's top field goal defense in the Big West should be too much to handle for a RIverside team that ranks bottom three in the Big West in shooting percentage and personal fouls.
First round prediction: UC Irvine by 8
No. 4 Long Beach State 49ers (16-16, 10-6) vs. No. 5 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (20-12, 8-8)
Head to Head: Split 1-1 (at LBSU: LBSU 65-50; at Hawaii: Hawaii 78-59)
Long Beach State didn't meet expectations this season, but it looks to put that behind itself as it takes on Hawaii in the first round of the Big West Tournament. Long Beach State has reached at least the semifinals of the Big West Tournament over the last six seasons.
Michael Caffey became just the fourth player in 49er history to earn three first team all-conference honors. Caffey averages 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Yet in the two meetings against Hawaii, Caffey was held to a combined 16 points on 6-for-28 shooting. Give credit to Big West Defensive Player of the Year Roderick Bobbitt who contained Caffey extremely well in both contests.
Hawaii is led by sophomore Aaron Valdes, who has emerged this year as a true scoring machine. Valdes is averaging 13.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, leading the Rainbow Warriors in both categories.
Hawaii has the talent to beat Long Beach State and they have proven it already this year. On the other hand, the 49ers are coming into the Big West Tournament with momentum, having won their last three games.
If Long Beach State is going proceed into the semifinals for a 7th straight year, Caffey has to step up and prove he's a leader. However, if Caffey is shut down for a third game by Bobbitt, Hawaii could squeak out a close win.
First round prediction: Long Beach State by 4