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Big West Roundup, Vol. 3: Is it time to worry about UC Irvine?

Plus Fullerton soars, UCSB stays hot, and it’s time for some hair theory.

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at UC Irvine Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Even though exam week is in the rear-view mirror, student-athletes and coaches alike on the Big West’s nine teams have some last-second cramming to do.

With Big West play two weeks away, these nine teams have a limited amount of opportunities to solidify themselves in our power rankings before we see how the conference actually stacks up.

Performances of the Week

Bryan Alberts: 18 points (6-16 FGs), 2 reb, 2 ast, 6-12 3FGs vs. Eastern Michigan
Kyle Allman: 30 points (11-18 FGs), 5 reb, 2 stl, 4-7 3FGs vs. California
Sheriff Drammeh: 20 points (6-13 FGs), 3 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 4-8 3FGs vs. Utah Valley
Gabe Levin: 22 points (7-14 FGs), 8 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl vs. Eastern Michigan
Gabe Vincent: 17 points (7-12 FGs), 7 ast, 3-8 3FGs vs. USC

This go-ahead three gave Drammeh a career high. It also earned our performance of the week award.

9. Cal State Northridge Matadors (1-9)

Last ranked: 9th

The Matadors’ best chance at a win over a Division I opponent is on Saturday against Idaho State. Cal State Northridge is No. 336 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings. If the season ended today, the 2017-18 Matadors would be the lowest-ranked Big West team in the KenPom era.

8. UC Riverside Highlanders (3-7)

Last ranked: 6th

It’s no coincidence that the two teams at the bottom of the Big West are the least dependent on the three. Two-pointers make up 57.9 percent of the Highlanders’ 63.8 points per game, which isn’t a great combination. UC Riverside’s offensive efficiency and points per game are among the worst marks the nation.

7. Cal Poly Mustangs (4-7)

Last ranked: 7th

I was ready to move the Mustangs up in the power rankings, but it was not a red-letter week. Cal Poly kicked off its two-game finals week swing with 14-point road loss to bottom-20 team Bethune-Cookman, then they were blown out by 20 to a struggling Princeton squad. Call it regression to the mean, but Cal Poly shot 17.1 percent from distance last week.

6. Long Beach State 49ers (5-8)

Last ranked: 5th

Although ranked sixth of nine teams doesn't look the best on paper, the middle tier of the Big West is separated by a thin line. The 49ers have the talent and offensive ability to match up with anyone in the Big West, but they have to be committed to closing out games. Long Beach State could very well be 7-6 had it not played lackadaisically against Southern Utah and Eastern Michigan.

5. UC Irvine Anteaters (4-9)

Last ranked: 4th

Is Head Coach Russell Turner’s streak of 20-win seasons in jeopardy?

On one hand: No. Last season, the Anteaters were 5-8 at this point, limped into Big West play at 7-9, then went on a six-game winning streak once Luke Nelson returned to the starting lineup.

On the other hand: Smash that panic button.

This team is not last year’s 21-15 team that was two plays away from an NCAA berth. Unlike last season's team, this year’s squad doesn't have an all-conference scorer like Nelson — he of 16.9 ppg on 45.7 percent shooting.

On the bright side, the Anteaters’ work is halfway over; they already have the best, deepest frontcourt in the conference. Finding a consistent offensive threat to compliment their bigs — paging John Edgar Jr, Evan Leonard and Eyassu Worku — will be paramount for the Anteaters to reverse course.

4. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (7-2)

Last ranked: 3rd

As strange as it sounds, Sunday night’s game against Utah Valley was a must-win. The Rainbow Warriors’ last five games were against Utah and Nevada (both losses), two non-Division I teams, and noted SWAC powerhouse Prairie View A&M. Thankfully for Hawaii, it took care of business against the Wolverines behind the aforementioned Drammeh performance and another solid outing from Michael Thomas.

Hawaii will prove itself on the ESPN family of networks in the Diamond Head Classic later this week.

3. Cal State Fullerton Titans (6-4)

Last ranked: 8th

I’ve been workshopping a theory: Almost all of the best Big West players have eccentric hairstyles. TAke a look, y’all:

Leland King of UC Santa Barbara sported a blonde palm tree atop his head earlier this season...

...UC Davis has not only Garrison Goode (No. 44) and his malleable afro...

...but also Chima Moneke’s unbeatable hair+bandanna+goggles trifecta...

...and Cal State Fullerton’s Kyle Allman has sported a high-top with dreads.

Allman has looked sharp in more ways than one. Alongside teammate Khalil Ahmad, Fullerton’s pair of junior guards have taken 64.6 percent of the Titans’ shots while both notching over a 50 percent true shooting percentage.

2. UC Davis Aggies (7-3)

Last ranked: 2nd

The Aggies’ loss to San Francisco isn’t enough for a slide down the power rankings. UC Davis has beaten teams it was supposed to beat, and lost to teams it should have. Throughout the non-conference, Jim Les’s squad has done an admirable job bouncing back from losing four of last season’s starters. In this case, no news is good news for the Aggies.

With that said, the team at the top of my rankings looks like the favorite to win the Big West. Which is a shame, because the Big West’s top two teams are fun to watch for their own reasons.

1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (8-3)

Last ranked: 1st

Losing to a more athletic USC team in the Galen Center was expected. But UCSB’s defense is still an unexpected downer for a program helmed by former Sean Miller assistant Joe Pasternack. The Gauchos allowed USC to shoot 56.7 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three. The good news for UC Santa Barbara? USC will be the best team it’ll face all year. Cupcakes Sacramento State, San Diego Christian and Pacific Union await the Gauchos before conference play.


Games of note

Here are five games to keep an eye on for the upcoming week. All times are Pacific (Let’s face it, right-coasters: Will you stay up for these? If so, let me know.)

UC Irvine at Montana, Tuesday, 6 p.m., Big Sky TV
UC Davis vs. Nevada, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Big Sky TV
Long Beach State at Colorado State, Saturday, 1 p.m., Big West TV
Cal State Northridge vs. Idaho State, Saturday, 3 p.m. TheW.TV
Hawaii vs. Davidson/New Mexico State, Saturday, TBD

Big West teams vs. Power 5 programs: 4-19
Vs. KenPom Top 100: 2-21