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Big West Conference Basketball Predictions February 28: Gauchos looking for 3rd straight win, Aggies looking to regroup

We have entered the final stretch of Big West Conference play and the middle of the standings remains tightly packed. UC Santa Barbara hosts UC Irvine on national television while UC Davis looks to get back on track at Cal Poly.

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UC Irvine Anteaters (17-10, 10-3) vs. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (15-12, 8-5), midnight Eastern, ESPN2.

You can bet the Thunderdome will be rocking Saturday night when the UC Irvine Anteaters invade Isla Vista to take on the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2, so I wouldn't be surprised if UCSB tried to get the entire student body out to this one.

After a 74-60 takedown at home against first place UC Davis, the Gauchos will look to keep it going against the second place Anteaters. This might be a tall task for UCSB.

UCI's 7-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye returned Thursday from a foot injury, helping the Eaters to an impressive 63-58 road victory over Cal Poly. UC Irvine also features 7-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos, 6-10 John Ryan, and the school's all time leading shot blocker, 6-8 Will Davis II.

Ryan is questionable for Saturday night's contest. With the height advantage clearly in favor of UCI one would have to imagine points will be hard to come by in the paint for UCSB even with the reigning conference player of year Alan Williams at forward. Williams is the best all-around player in the conference and a few NBA mock drafts have him going late in the second round.

The scouts are expected to be on hand Saturday to see how Williams will fare against NBA-sized forwards and I think "Big Al" will deliver. Of course, it can't be just Williams who leads the Gauchos to victory in this one, he'll need a little help from his teammates.

Look for freshman standout Gabe Vincent to have a big game along with juniors Michael Bryson and John Green.

UCI almost has it's entire roster healthy for the first time since November, but the wild UCSB crowd might be a little too much for the Anteaters on Saturday night.

I still think UCI is the favorite to go dancing come March in the Big West Tournament. On Saturday night though, I believe UCSB will be partying all night long.

The Pick: UC Santa Barbara by 5.

UC Riverside Highlanders (14-13. 7-6) vs. CS-Northridge Matadors (8-22, 3-11), 10:30 p.m. Eastern, Prime Ticket.

Both the Highlanders and Matadors are looking to keep the good vibes rolling Saturday night. Cal State Northridge finally broke a nine-game losing streak with a win over Cal State Fullerton earlier this week. And UC Riverside has three wins in a row.

A loss for the Matadors also means that Cal State Fullerton again sneaks into the picture for the final spot the Big West Conference Tournament. A must-win attitude will be seen from a Matador team in control of their destiny.

For the Highlanders, the team's confidence is at an all-time high. They are solidly in the middle of the pack in the Big West, and with three games to play, their likely opponent could be anyone. And Riverside still has a chance to move up as high as No. 3 in the league. They need to win out though for that to come to fruition.

As fans of the league know, anything can happen in the Big West. This final stretch will test both teams.

The Pick: UC Riverside by 6.

Cal State Fullerton Titans (9-19, 1-12) vs. Long Beach State 49ers (13-16, 7-6), 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN3.

Saturday's classic rivalry matchup between the Titans and the 49ers is a must win game for both teams. Cal State Fullerton must win all three of its remaining games to give them a chance to make it into the Big West Tournament.

Long Beach State is crumbling right before everyone's eyes. The 49ers have dropped five straight games in Big West play and have looked awful in every single loss. They have struggled mostly on the offensive end, averaging a dismal 57 points per game.

The main drop in offense for the 49ers has come from star point-guard Michael Caffey, whose team-leading 17 points per game in conference play has dropped to 11 during the five-game skid. His shooting percentage has also gone down significantly, dropping from 45 percent to 30 percent.

For the 49ers to pull out a victory Saturday, Caffey really needs to get his shooting back on track. He also needs to be more of a vocal leader on the court, something he has struggled with all year long. Caffey will likely have the pleasure of guarding the Titans star guard Alex Harris. He will have to contain Harris, something he struggled with last time these two teams played.

For the Titans to leave The Pyramid with a win, I believe the key is to keep crashing the boards. The Titans are statistically the 3rd best rebounding team in the Big West and Long Beach State has been out rebounded in four of its last five games by an average of 6.4 rebounds per game.

Saturday's matchup promises to be a close one as both teams need the win. The question is who will want it more. Will Long Beach State break their five-game slide with a solid home win? I think so.

The Pick: Long Beach State by 7.

UC Davis Aggies (21-5, 11-2) vs. Cal Poly Mustangs (13-13, 6-8), 10 p.m. Eastern.

Saturday's matchup between UC Davis and Cal Poly should be a good one. It is a showdown between the Aggies' league-best offense and the Mustangs' top defense.

If sheer statistics are any indication, this could prove to be a nail-biter. The Mustangs love to run a "burn offense" which slows down the pace of play tremendously. As a result, the Mustangs are only averaging 59 points per game in conference play.

Don't let their low scoring offense fool you: they are the best defensive team in the Big West. Cal Poly allows only 57 points per game. On the other hand, UC Davis is averaging a league-leading 72 points per game.

UC Davis can sure rip a game wide open with their hot shooting, but they are also very sloppy with the ball. The Aggies average a Big West-leading 14 turnovers per game..

This game is huge for the Aggies as a loss could potentially mean a tie for first place with UC Irvine.

As we saw last season, Cal Poly loves dashing hopes and dreams. Last year, the Mustangs upset second seed UC Santa Barbara by 31 points in the opening round of the Big West Tournament. Cal Poly would go on to win the next two games and advance to the NCAA tournament, where they beat Texas Southern in Dayton.

With Cal Poly's defense, and UC Davis's lackluster offensive performance Thursday night against UCSB, I am going to give this one to the Mustangs.

The Pick: Cal Poly by 3.