In the words of college basketball’s finest sage: it’s only November.
But given sportswriting’s infatuation with ranking teams too early (or in some cases, way-too-early) it’s never too early to start power ranking teams in the Big West.
If your favorite Big West team is ranked a spot or two below your least favorite Big West team, then take these observations with a grain of salt. There’s not too much to know about how the league will shake up; everything will look vastly different come conference time.
For now, let’s embrace the chaos of the non-conference from what we know so far.
Performances of the Week
Max Heidegger: 33 points (10-19 FGs), 3 reb, 3 ast, 8-14 3FGs vs. North Dakota State
Leland King II: 23 points (7-13 FGs), 9 reb, 3 ast, 3-5 3FGs vs. North Dakota State
Alex Larsson: 15 points (7-14 FGs), 13 reb vs. California
Chima Moneke: 28 points (10-21 FGs), 8 reb, 1 blk, 1-2 3FGs vs. Northern Colorado
Mike Thomas: 29 points (12-16 FGs), 11 reb, 2 ast vs. North Dakota
Hate to sound like a broken record, but Heidegger’s 33-point eruption was the most impressive of the five stat-lines listed above. Sophomore guards don't roll out of bed and shoot 57 percent from three. Although that level of production will likely be unsustainable, having another offensive threat in the backcourt will be invaluable for the Gauchos’ Big West title hopes.
With that said, let’s rank some teams:
9. Cal State Northridge Matadors (1-1)
Bold take: Cal State Northridge should get comfortable at the bottom of the Big West
A 26-point win against non-Division I member Life Pacific, coupled with allowing Fresno State to shoot a 71.3 eFG% from the field is effectively a wash for the Matadors. If the win projections on KenPom.com remain true, then Cal State Fullerton’s best shot at a Division I win will be when they host Idaho State for the second half a rare two-for-one contest on Dec. 23. The likeliest scenario for this team is a 5-8 record rolling into conference play, which isn’t the most ghastly outcome.
8. Cal State Fullerton Titans (0-2)
Bold take: Come January, Fullerton will be much better than their record will indicate
The Titans were trounced by the No. 10 team in the most recent AP poll, which was expected. But the Titans’ first win against a Division I school might not come until they face Portland on Dec. 6. Until then, their opponents are Bethesda, Georgia and Cal Lutheran. It’s no wonder the Titans have the 11th-toughest schedule, per KenPom’s rankings.
7. Cal Poly Mustangs (1-2)
Bold take: The Mustangs will be a much better offensive team this season
The Mustangs were excruciatingly close from being the second Big West team to beat Cal on the road. A tune-up game against non-Division I affiliate kicks off a brutal non-conference slate from here on out; Cal Poly will face top-100 teams Charleston, Fresno State, Princeton and SMU in the span of a month. On the bright side, the Dec. 19 matchup against SMU is the only true road game of the aforementioned gauntlet.
6. UC Riverside Highlanders (1-1)
Bold take: A non-conference run will assure the UC Riverside of its first winning season since 2008-09
Speaking of the California Golden Bears, the Highlanders prompted one of Jon Rothstein’s first “epitome of brutality” tweets of the season by upsetting California in their season opener. This win was Riverside’s first against a high-major school since they edged Washington State 64-63 on Nov. 27, 2011.
5. Long Beach State 49ers (2-0)
Bold take: The 49ers will have a sub-.500 record going into conference play, but don’t count them out of the top four
An 83-71 road win over San Francisco, the West Coast Conference’s darlings, is notable for Dan Monson’s enigmatic squad. The fact that the 49ers pulled the upset without Temidayo Yussuf is even more notable.
4. UC Irvine Anteaters (2-1)
Bold take: The Anteaters will upset off a Power-5 school in the next week
Losing to a South Dakota State team that’s poised to win the Summit League is nothing to be ashamed about. Squandering a chance at a win when our favorite Large Adult Son Mike Daum only notches a 12-and-6 outing, however, is frustrating for a team with a deep frontcourt like UC Irvine’s.
Yet if there’s anything the Anteaters have learned in these two games, it’s the importance of Utah State transfer Elston Jones. The 6’9,” 275-pound big man looks like a solid rim-protector coming off the bench — something the Anteaters will need if Jonathan Galloway gets into foul trouble.
3. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (3-0)
Bold take: Big West schools, don't read this: Hawaii....hello,
On one hand: 24 hours after squeaking past a decent North Dakota State team, Hawaii squandered a 15-point against Troy, nearly bricked the game away at the free throw line — the Warriors shot 64 percent from the charity stripe — and escaped overtime with a five-point win in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic.
On the other hand: Hawaii is 3-0, and only one of those wins was against a walkover team (apologies to Arkansas Pine-Bluff). Six different ‘Bows have put up double-digit scoring outings, which is rather balanced.
2. UC Davis Aggies (2-0)
Bold take: Chima Moneke will be a threat from beyond the arc, too
The Aggies’ first half at Northern Colorado didn't inspire confidence, as UC Davis had a three-point halftime deficit that should’ve been much larger that Chima Moneke dragged them back in the mix of things during the second half.
Chalking up a comeback win to the conference’s best individual player seems like a cop-out. But seriously: Check out the win probability in the second half, then consider Moneke made 15 of his 28 points — most of which came from drawing fouls — when the Aggies needed him the most. Although the backup front court needs work (Pepperdine transfer A.J. John was a missed three and four personal fouls away from an eight-trillion), sophomore point guard Joe Mooney looks like he’ll be the spark-plug the second unit needs.
1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (1-1)
Bold take: The Gauchos will be the breakout team in the Big West
Yes, it was only one game, but the Gauchos looked like a completely different team during their season-opening win against North Dakota State. The Gauchos’ athleticism in the paint will be a force to be reckoned with, and having several players capable of carrying the offense (hello, Max Heidegger) will separate Joe Pasternack’s team from the rest of the league.
If UC Santa Barbara’s mix of transfers and upperclassmen can keep up its balanced attack — the Gauchos lead the Big West in offensive efficiency with a No. 192 national ranking, per KenPom — then the rest of the Big West should be concerned.
Games of note
Here are four games to keep an eye on for the upcoming weekend. Not all of these games are against power five schools, but the ones that are listed are the best shots at making the Your Nightly Brutality live blog. All times are Pacific (Let’s face it, right-coasters: Will you stay up for these? If so, let me know.)
UC Davis at Utah Valley — Saturday Nov. 18, 2:00 p.m. (WAC Digital Network)
Long Beach State at Oregon State — Saturday Nov. 18, 8:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
UC Riverside vs. Portland State — Saturday Nov. 18, 4:00 p.m. (Big West.TV)
UC Irvine at Arizona State — Sunday Nov. 19, 11:00 a.m. (Pac-12 Network)