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Hope Index: UC Davis’ first ever NCAA trip was no surprise

If you’re looking for the longshot, it wasn’t the Aggies.

NCAA Basketball: Big West Conference Tournament Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the offseason we’ll be looking back at each 2016-17 mid-major conference tournament champion to see how probable (or improbable) it was that they ended up on the sport’s grandest stage. An explanation of the exercise, and factors we’ll be considering, can be found here.

The NCAA Tournament had been a long time coming for Jim Les.

UC Davis finally crashed the party in his sixth season in charge, beating UC Irvine in the title game to earn a First Four trip, and the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament bid. But flash back to 2014-15 and it seemed like all that fun was in the cards.

That season, the Aggies cruised through the Big West en route to a #102 KenPom rating. Hawaii would end that dream in the Big West semifinals, sending UC Davis home.

So, did the 2016-17 Aggies finally cash in on a quality season, or play the spoiler?

UC Davis Aggies

  • 2016-17 Big West Tournament champion | Finished second (11-5) in regular season
  • No. 16 seed, Midwest Regional
  • Beat No. 16 North Carolina Central (67-63), Lost to No. 1 Kansas (100-62)

Record: 4

The Aggies didn’t win the Big West regular season championship, but they didn’t disappoint. A winning non-conference (9-7) included two top-147 KenPom wins (Santa Clara, Utah Valley) and only one loss to a team that finished with a worse KenPom rating (Air Force). Big West play went even better. The second-place Aggies lost consecutive games just once and ran out to a 5-1 start. A 30-point loss at regular season champion UC Irvine in the finale wasn’t pretty, but the Aggies had taken care of business against the Anteaters earlier in the season with a nine-point home win.

Trends: 4

UC Davis finished the regular season at 3-3, but it was an understandable .500 stretch. All three losses came on the road and two of them were close, including an overtime defeat at Long Beach State. The slight ding comes because the Aggies defense, which they relied on throughout the year, was sagging a bit going into the Big West Tournament. This was especially the case in the blowout loss at UC Irvine and a high-scoring win against Cal State Northridge.

Health: 5

The Aggies were in tip top shape. Les’ seven-man rotation was healthy, and UC Davis’ two most important players — Brynton Lemar and Chima Moneke — were filling heavy minutes with quality play. Over the six games leading up to the tournament, Lemar averaged 19.5 points per game and Moneke pulled down 10.6 rebounds per game.

Metrics: 3

This is where UC Davis gets docked. According to KenPom, the Anteaters were the heavy favorite to get the Big West bid. They had the most efficient offense and defense in league play, and finished 139th in the overall ratings. This was a considerable distance from the Aggies (218th), mainly because of an offense that struggled during the season’s early months. But UC Davis didn’t come out of nowhere. They had a disruptive defense that was the second-most efficient in Big West play. And offensively, they did much better generating free throws against conference competition.

Hope Index: 16

The Aggies weren’t a slam dunk like Texas Southern, but they weren’t a shock either. You’ll need to look elsewhere for a true ray of hope. Here’s where we stand:

Hope Index

Team Index Verdict
Team Index Verdict
Texas Southern 19 Obvious
UC Davis 16 Little surprise