The same caveat prefacing the Big West Frontcourt Players to Watch applies to the backcourt players too: The Big West lost so. many. guards.
Here are the All-Conference teams from last season (take note of the guards):
Let’s work down the list. For those scoring at home, that’s five seniors, a transfer, another senior, another transfer, two more seniors, a player who’s still at UC Riverside, a player who went pro, and a player who’s still at UC Davis. Not only that, the players who left accounted for significant minutes on eight of the nine teams in the conference.
Here are five backcourt players to watch in the Big West, including the two holdovers from last year’s All-Conference honors:
Marcus Jackson, RS Senior, UCSB
Last season (Rice): 12.2 points (on 43.5 FG%) , 2.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists/game
Don’t get me wrong: I usually don’t include newcomers on a preseason players to watch list. Gauging the success of junior college transfers and unranked recruits is nearly impossible based on high school highlight reels and junior college statistics alone.
That said, of all of the newcomers replacing a senior-heavy conference, none of will have the same expectations as graduate transfer Marcus Jackson.
The Rice transfer will be a major contributor from day one. In an interview with UCSB Gaucho Hoops blog, new head coach Joe Pasternak revealed that he will implement an Arizona-like two-guard system with Jackson and sophomore guard Max Heidegger.
Jackson will be responsible for scoring and distributing, while providing veteran leadership in the backcourt. Thankfully for the Gauchos, Jackson is rather good at all three (or at least an upgrade over what the Gauchos had last season). As a three-year starter at Rice, Jackson started in 87 of 94 games, scored in double-figures, and led Conference USA in three-pointers.
No matter how he performs this season, Jackson will take some of the weight off of redshirt senior guard Gabe Vincent, who tore his ACL in February.
Victor Joseph, Senior, Cal Poly
Last season: 12.0 points (on 48.1 eFG%), 1.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals/game
Try to guess the guard who scored the most points last season and will return to the Big West this season.
Spiler alert: It’s the guy this section is named for. Victor Joseph.
Joseph is a high-volume shooter who is also adept at getting to the rack and drawing fouls. He’s absolutely fearless. Joseph not only led the Mustangs in fouls drawn per 40 minutes according to KenPom’s metrics, but also ranked ninth in turnover percentage amongst Big West players last season.
Although I wasn’t too hot on Cal Poly in my preseason rankings, banking on Joseph’s ability to put the team on his shoulders is a safe bet. He is arguably the Big West’s best hero ball player. To wit: Joseph was the spark behind a 74-70 upset of UC Davis last season, scoring 16 of his 20-points in the second half (and seven of the Mustangs’ final nine points). In order for Cal Poly to succeed in conference play, it’ll have to linger in games long enough for Joseph to work some late-game magic.
Dikymbe Martin, Sophomore, UC Riverside
Last season: 9.3 points (on 50.4 eFG%), 2.6 assists, 1.9 steals/game
UC Riverside's 8-23 record doesn’t sound good, but the fanbase has hope for the future in the form of guard Dikymbe Martin — the only freshman to make the 2016-17 Big West honor list.
The Riverside product averaged 9.1 points and a 1.45 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. His best performances came in a six-game stretch from late January to early February, in which he averaged 16 points (on 57.8 percent shooting) in 32.7 minutes per game. If those games are indicative of the player Martin can become, then there’s reason to believe he could be a consistent all-Big West selection during his career.
For a team that has had one winning season at the Division I level, having Martin on the roster is a blessing. The first season for a collegiate guard is usually the most difficult; that Martin was able to go above and beyond expectations is a promising sign.
Siler Schneider, Junior, UC Davis
Last season: 10.3 points (on 47.3 eFG%), 3.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists/game
If UC Davis aims to repeat as Big West champions, then it will depend on Siler Schneider's production.
The Big West Sixth Man of the Year was merely the sixth man because he was behind scorer Brynton Lemar and starting point guard Darius Graham on the depth chart. Schneider still played a prominent role in the Aggies' offense.
Need a three pointer? Schneider's the guy. Need a defensive stop? Schneider's a lockdown defender as well. The junior from Kansas has become a staple in the Aggies' offense because of his ability to hit the outside shot. Not only does this make him the go-to guy now that Lemar and Graham have graduated, but it also makes him one of the conference's most battle-tested players.
Schneider averaged 23.2 minutes per game and took 27.6 percent of his team's available shots, despite coming off the bench last season. With the aforementioned seniors gone, Schneider's role will undoubtedly increase.
Eyassu Worku, Sophomore, UC Irvine
Last season: 7.2 points (on 44.8 FG%), 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists/game
UC Irvine’s roster is full of young players with high ceilings, Eyassu Worku included.
Of the crop of Big West guards, Worku is the thinking person’s pick. His freshman numbers aren’t gaudy, but keep in mind that Worku played behind Luke Nelson and Jaron Martin — both 1,000-plus point scorers and all-Big West First Team selections — on depth chart. Few, if any, freshman guards in the Big West would have started on UC Irvine’s roster last season, so this isn’t a knock against the sophomore.
Although Worku was used as a change-of-pace backup point guard last season, don't be surprised to see him in the starting lineup this year. The 6’2 guard uses his quickness and his agility to his advantage on both ends of the floor: Worku can seam through passing lanes and screens on defense as easily as he can attack the basket and make off-ball cuts on offense. That said, Worku is still rail-thin at 170 pounds, which will be something to keep in mind over the next few years of his development.
Worku is a gifted athlete with the ability to play both guard positions. His potential as UC Irvine’s starting 2-guard will be a rather intriguing storyline to watch in the Big West — after all, he was a McDonald’s All-American finalist in high school.
Khalil Ahmad (Junior, Cal State Fullerton)
Sheriff Drammeh (Junior, Hawai’i)
Max Hazzard (RS Sophomore, UC Irvine)
Chance Murray (RS Senior, UC Riverside)
Gabe Vincent (RS Senior, UCSB)