The Big West seemed to be a shell of its former self, but with several new coaches, solid recruits and many talented returners, it seems to be on the rise.
The Big West will not be at the bottom of the barrel this year, and prove that the west coast can hold up with all the other mid-major leagues. Coaching will be the biggest X-factor with coaches like Dedrique Taylor of Cal State Fullerton coming off a NCAA playoff berth and Long Beach State’s Dan Monson receiving a restructured five year extension. While Fullerton might have cruised to victory last season, expect a big shake up in the Big West this year.
1. UC Santa Barbara (23-9, 11-5 Big West)
The biggest offseason award goes to UC Santa Barbara, who will likely be holding the Big West trophy come March 16. The Gauchos are in good shape with the additions of Devearl Ramsey (Nevada), Zack Moore (Seattle U), JaQuori McLaughlin (Oregon State– eligible at semester break) and Ar’Mond Davis (Alabama). Max Heidegger also makes his return after a breakout season where he averaged 19.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. Head coach Joe Pasternack has done an outstanding job recruiting with freshman Amadou Sow joining the team this year. Santa Barbara is built well and has all the right talent to get back into the NCAA tournament.
2. Cal State Fullerton (20-12, 10-6 Big West, NCAA Tournament first round)
The Titans are the reigning Big West champions and with four of their top scorers returning, they will be the team to dethrone this whole season. While Fullerton may not have the same level of talent that UC Santa Barbara acquired this year, experience will set them apart from the rest of the conference. The dynamic backcourt of Kyle Allman (19.5 ppg) and Khalil Ahmed (15.1 ppg) will look to carry the load this season once again, plus little depth in the frontcourt to help even out the team. Dedrique Taylor will have to utilize his forwards to play the five and hope to get some solid minutes from them.
3. UC Davis (22-11, 12-4 Big West, NIT First Round)
While Fullerton may have been the reigning Big West champions, UC Davis has the reigning Big West Player of the Year in TJ Shorts II. The rising senior averaged 14.8 points and 4.4 assists in his first campaign. The Aggies will now have Saint Mary’s transfer Stefan Gonzalez, who had to sit out last year because of NCAA transfer rules. Gonzalez ended his career at SMC with a .480 percentage from distance, so he will provide a big help from beyond the arc. Rebounding hurt the Aggies last year, so in order for the team to get over the hump they will have to winmore rebounding battles.
4. UC Irvine (18-17, 11-5 Big West)
The Anteaters were the runner-up for the Big West tournament last season, and with eight of its top scorers returning this season, expect the team to finish in the top four at minimum. It was hard to rank Irvine fourth because its defense is top-notch and the team does a great job in rebounding, but it does lack in offense. The addition of Stanford’s Robert Cartwright could help the Anteaters offensively, but for now the top three teams have already proven to be formidable on both ends of the floor.
5. Long Beach State (15-18, 9-7 Big West)
Long Beach’s biggest offseason acquirement wasn’t a player at all. It was the restructuring of Dan Monson’s contract that gave him a five-year extension and the hiring of defensive specialist Bobby Braswell to the coaching staff. Monson has stated that the team has a different philosophy this year of not moving on until it can properly do it. Losing Gabe Levin hurts, but coaching will be the biggest difference for the team. Plus the addition of Ron Freeman and the improvement of all of its returners, expect the team to surprise the Big West this year. If the 49ers become defensive minded, the scoring will come and the team will be a force to be reckoned with.
6. Hawai’i (17-13, 8-8 Big West)
Hawai’i has some holes to fill after losing its dynamic frontcourt, but have some promising young players that could develop into good pieces. Drew Buggs and combo guard Brocke Stepteau will have to carry the majority of the offense this season, but it won’t be enough to make some noise this season. The Rainbow Warriors will definitely be another middle-of-the-pack team, but will look to make big strides this season.
7. UC Riverside (9-22, 4-12 Big West)
The Highlanders hired David Patrick this year, who has been known to recruit well. UC Riverside has only one winning season at the Division I level, so Patrick will look to change the culture of the team overall. The team doesn’t have many pieces this year, but look for Dikymbe Martin to help carry the team while Patrick to makes moves to build a winning culture in the Inland Empire.
8. Cal State Northridge (6-24, 3-13 Big West)
There’s more to be said about the drama that has unfolded at Cal State Northridge than the actual play of the team. Reggie Theus’s time at CSUN ended with a physical altercation with his athletic director, which lead to hiring former NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. The team has nine freshmen, which should be interesting to watch. At least the Matadors will have Mo Williams coaching on the sideline.
9. Cal Poly (9-22, 4-12 Big West)
Cal Poly hasn’t had any luck since 2014, when it made its miraculous run to the NCAA tournament as a sub-.500 team. It looks like this year will be more subpar basketball from the Mustangs, putting Jim Callero in the hot seat. Senior point guard Donovan Fields will have to carry the burden of providing offense, but it won’t be enough to make any noise. Prepare for another disappointing season, Mustang fans.