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Big West Men's Basketball Predictions February 26: UC Irvine's Ndiaye Due to Return

As we head into crunch time, upsets are bound to happen. Will any take place Thursday in the Big West? It seems the conference has at least one poised to occur.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Just two weeks remain in the Big West schedule, and with many teams thinking upset heading toward the conference tournament, will we see any take place Thursday?

Here are our predictions for the next set of games:

UC Irvine Anteaters (16-10, 9-3) vs Cal Poly Mustangs (13-12, 6-7), 10 p.m. Eastern.

This will truly be a test of UC Irvine's offensive capabilities. Cal Poly loves to run a "burn offense" which slows down the tempo on both sides of the ball. As a result, the Mustangs are last in both points per game and points allowed in conference play. Coming into Thursday's contest, UC Irvine is averaging 10 points per game more than Cal Poly. Mamadou Ndiaye is expected to be back for UCI, after missing numerous games due to a foot injury. With Mamadou back in the lineup, I see the Anteaters walking away with a low-scoring win.

My pick: UC Irvine by 4

Cal State Fullerton Titans (9-18, 1-11) vs CS-Northridge Matadors (7-22, 2-11), 10 p.m. Eastern.

This game is a must win for the Titans. If they fail to win this game, they will most likely lose all hope at qualifying for the Big West Conference Tournament. However, CSUN relies heavily on a seven-man rotation, while Fullerton can and has gone as deep as 11. Thursday's game between the two worst teams in the Big West should actually be a fairly exciting game, both teams have excellent post presence and above-average guard play. Statistically speaking, CSUN should win this game, especially since it is on their home floor, but I think otherwise. I believe if star guard Alex Harris, who has missed Fullerton's last three games, is back in the starting lineup, the Titans will emerge victorious in a vicious shootout. If Harris does not play, the game will most likely be in favor of the Matadors.

My pick: Cal State Fullerton by 4

UC Davis Aggies (21-4, 11-1) vs UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (14-12, 7-5), 10 p.m. Eastern

The Aggies are the best team in the Big West and have a chance to be a true Cinderella this year. UC Davis ranks among the top three in the nation in field goal percentage and leads the nation in 3-point shooting. Led by four fifth year seniors and red hot shooting from all around, the Aggies seem to be unbeatable thus far in Big West play, only losing one of their first twelve games. On the other hand, UCSB when healthy, is one of the top teams in the Big West and appear to be returning to full form with a healthy Alan Williams leading the way once again. Thursday's contest will only be Williams' third game since returning from a shoulder injury. He seems to be 100 percent healthy though, posting a double-double in his first two games back. Josh Ritchart of Davis is listed as probable for tomorrow nights match-up. If Ritchart doesn't play, the game could swing in favor of UCSB. All things considered, it is still very hard for me to see the hot shooting Aggies losing this game.

My pick: UC Davis by 5

Long Beach State 49ers (13-15, 7-5) vs Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (18-11, 6-7), midnight Eastern.

The 49ers of Long Beach State are in the middle of a four-game losing streak. It has been their offense that has held them back, as they have failed to score more than 60 points in any of the games. Long Beach State seems to lack a second scoring threat to compliment star point guard Michael Caffey. UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb has been a disappointment thus far for the slumping 49ers. Long Beach State's second best scorer statistically is Travis Hammonds, but he is only playing 14 minutes per game. For the 49ers to break out of their slump, I see them needing Hammonds on the floor for at least 30 minutes per contest. While the 49ers can't stay in their slump forever, I don't believe Thursday's contest will be the game that will end it. Hawaii plays a very up-tempo offense and defense, and they love to press the ball. As a result of the Rainbow Warriors up-tempo defense, they force a lot of turnovers per game. Led by junior transfer Roderick Bobbitt (3.8 steals in conference) on the defensive end, the Rainbow Warriors are averaging 11.6 steals per game in conference play. Plus playing Hawaii at home is what teams call "the toughest road trip" of the year: it is a tough arena and a long flight. I believe Hawaii will defend the Stan Sheriff Center Thursday against the 49ers.

My pick: Hawaii by 3

If all holds true and all four of my predictions are right, here is how the updated standings in the Big West would look:

  1. UC Davis Aggies (22-4, 12-1)
  2. UC Irvine Anteaters (16-10, 10-3)
  3. Long Beach State 49ers (13-16, 7-6)
  4. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (14-13, 7-6)
  5. UC Riverside Highlanders (14-13, 7-6)
  6. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (19-11, 7-7)
  7. Cal Poly Mustangs (13-13, 6-8)
  8. Cal State Fullerton Titans (10-18, 2,11)
  9. CS-Northridge Matadors (7-23, 2-12)