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Big West Tournament bracket, preview and schedule: Anteaters look to make it two in a row

Tournament will be played in front of no fans due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Kansas State vs UC Irvine Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

UC Irvine was the clear favorite heading into 2019-20, and they’re the clear favorite entering the conference tournament.

Teams like Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii all have impact players who can take over a ball game. Also, Cal State Fullerton beat UCLA, Long Beach State beat Providence, and UC Riverside beat Nebraska. Those are the league’s bottom three teams in the tournament.

This league has a clear favorite, but the other seven teams have a shot due to key players and big-time wins. With no fans in the arena either due to COVID-19 concerns, this is anyone’s game.

Bracket

Schedule

Note: All games will take place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The semifinals are reseeded, and all times are Eastern.

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 12) — ESPN3

Game 1: No. 7 Cal State Fullerton vs No. 2 Cal State Northridge, 3 p.m.

Game 2: No. 6 UC Riverside vs No. 3 UC Santa Barbara, 5:30 p.m.

Game 3: No. 8 Long Beach State vs No. 1 UC Irvine, 9 p.m.

Game 4: No. 5 UC Davis vs No. 4 Hawai’i, 11:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Friday, March 13) — ESPN3 & ESPNU

Game 5: Highest Remaining Seed vs Lowest Remaining Seed, 9:30 p.m.

Game 6: Second Highest Remaining Seed vs Second Lowest Remaining Seed, 11:59 p.m.

Finals (Saturday, March 14) — ESPN2

Game 7: Game 5 Winner vs Game 6 Winner, 11:30 p.m.

The Favorite

UC Irvine (21-11, 13-3): Last March, the Anteaters were one of the country’s biggest mid-major stories. As a 12-seed, they dominated a depleted Kansas State team. They return nearly everyone from that team, and looked as dominant towards the end of the season as they did during the dance last year.

Collin Welp, Brad Greene and Tommy Rutherford’s play down low is the major key. Welp doesn’t start, but ranks in the top 100 in the nation in percentage of shots taken, free-throw percentage and three-point percentage. Greene is top-40 in the nation in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He also has a block percentage of 7.1%. The big men have worked together to rank 2nd in the nation on defense in 2-point FG%. Three Anteaters average double-digit points as well.

The Dark Horses

UC Santa Barbara (21-10, 10-6): The Gauchos have won eight of ten, and are the hottest team in the Big West. They have an amazing three headed monster in Amadou Sow, JaQuori McLaughlin and Max Heidegger but Heidegger has missed the past three games with a gruesome injury, and isn’t a guarantee to play in the conference tournament. Sow, is a big presence down low though, averaging nearly 14 points and 7 rebounds per game. McLaughlin, a junior transfer from Oregon State, averages 13.4 PPG.

Cal State Northridge (15-17, 10-6): The Matadors not only have the highest scorer in the conference, but also the player of the year as well. Lamine Diane missed the first half of the season due to academic issues, but returned as strong as ever. Coming off his Freshman of the Year campaign, he returned and averaged a double double at 25.6 PPG and 10.4 RPG. His guard Terrell Gomez leads the Big West with 19.8 PPG and shoots 44.0% from three.

Hawai’i (17-13, 8-8): Through the month of January, the Rainbow Warriors looked like the team to beat. But since a 5-1 start, they have finished the season 3-7. It mostly goes down to guard play. When Eddie Stansberry is having a good game, everyone else around him is having a good game. Both him and Drew Buggs are in the top 100 in usage rate. Keep Samuta Avea out of foul trouble too, and he’s nothing to be messed with. He has scored double digits in his last three games.

The Long Shots

UC Riverside (17-15, 7-9): With wins against Nebraska and Fresno State in the non-conference, this team knows how to play in the big game.

Cal State Fullerton (11-21, 6-10): The Titans have two of the top five scorers in the conference with Brandon Kamga and Jackson Rowe. They also beat NCAA Tournament hopeful UCLA at UCLA. CSUF has big game experience and has the chance to let that shine in Anaheim.

Players to Watch

  • Collin Welp, UC Irvine (13.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 47.6% FG%)
  • Max Heidegger, UCSB (16.0 PPG, 3.2 APG, 46.3% FG%)
  • Amadou Sow, UCSB (14.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 54.7% FG%)
  • Lamine Diane, CSUN (25.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 48.0% FG%)
  • Terrell Gomez, CSUN (19.8 PPG, 43.9% FG%)
  • Eddie Stansberry, Hawai’i (15.9 PPG, 40.4% FG%)
  • Samuta Avea, Hawai’i (10.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 40.9% FG%)
  • Drew Buggs, Hawai’i (9.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 36.2% FG%)
  • Zigmars Reimo, Hawai’i (9.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 44.6% FG%)
  • Joe Mooney, UC Davis (13.1 PPG, 46.4% FG%)
  • Brandon Kamga, CSUF (15.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 42.5% FG%)
  • Jackson Rowe, CSUF (15.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 46.7% FG%)

Prediction:

UC Irvine will make it two dances in a row, beating CSUN and Lamine Diane in the final.