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Big West is down but Santa Barbara, Hawaii will be up

Greg Peterson
VSiN.com

November 3, 2017 09:40 AM

It was another weak year for the Big West as UC Davis made the NCAA Tournament as a No. 16 seed due to the conference's early-season struggles. The Aggies were the only team to have a record above .500 out of conference due to the teams taking too many payday games and getting humiliated in lopsided losses.

UC Davis will try to parlay its first-ever trip to the big dance into two in a row, but it must overcome a few losses in the backcourt to do so. Brynton Lemar is gone after leading the team with 16.1 points per game. Lawrence White and Darius Graham are also out of eligibility.

Fortunately, the Aggies have one of the conference's best big men with 6-foot-6 Chima Moneke leading the charge. He had a team-high 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks to go with 14.5 points per game. A.J. John, 6-foot-8 forward,  is now eligible after he sat out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules after leaving Pepperdine.

With 6-foot-6 freshman wing Delveion Jackson coming in, it should lend a helping hand to both the frontcourt and backcourt. He is a capable 3-point shooter and a good rebounder, which should be a welcome addition for guard Siler Schneider. The 6-foot-3 junior will be tasked with carrying their perimeter play after he notched 10.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and two assists per game.

UC Davis used drawing fouls to its advantage last year to attain a 23-13 record. The made just 67.4 percent of its free throws, but attempted 4.5 more per game than opponents last year.

The Aggies have a few nice pieces, but with five of their top seven players from last year gone, it will be tough for this team to go much higher than .500.

UC Santa Barbara was dead last in the conference and had an overall record of 6-22 last year, but it might be the only team in the nation sans UNLV that can go from worst to first in a conference.

The Gauchos brought in former Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack to replace Bob Williams, who left the school after 19 years. Pasternack managed to bring in two graduate transfers that should start immediately in former Rice guard Marcus Jackson and Nevada castoff Leland King.

Jackson was a huge part of Rice's program-record 23 wins last year, going for 12.2 points while making 36.8 percent of his 3s. The 6-foot-7 King had a marginal role with Nevada last year, bu logged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game during the 2014-15 campaign with Brown.

Leading scorers Gabe Vincent and Jalen Canty back and ready to play a full year. Canty was limited to just 10 games due to academic ineligibility for the second half of the 2016-17 season. In the 10 games he appeared in, he sparked the team with 10.2 points and a team-best seven rebounds per game. His 6-foot-8, 275-pound frame was missed badly.

Alex Hart to fend for himself down low as he was thrust into the starting lineup with their absences. He averaged 8.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in the 18 games he played with two big men out of the lineup, with Christian Terrell and Maxwell Kupchak getting starts alongside him at the four.

Vincent should give this team stability as he is coming off a season in which he had a team-high 14.8 points to go with 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Max Heidegger and Clifton Powell both made solid contributions as freshmen with a combined 13.7 points, 4.5 boards and 2.7 assists per game.

With shooting guard Brandon Davis also entering the program and looking like a guy who can contribute as a freshman, UC Santa Barbara looks poised for a massive turnaround. The team was second-worst in the nation in field-goal percentage and sixth-worst in free-throw percentage last year.

The Gauchos will lose several nonconference showdowns due to their always loaded schedule, but they have an opportunity to wreck shop in the Big West and possibly triple their win total from a year ago.

UC Irvine silently won the Big West regular season and posted an overall record of 21-15. If the Anteaters are able have the best record in conference play again this year, it would be nothing short of amazing with their top three scorers from a year ago no longer on campus.

The team can potentially replace their tallest loss as 7-foot-2 Greek center Ioannis Dimakopoulos is gone after averaging 10.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Solomon Ruddell, a 7-foot-1 freshman, likely will be his replacement and play key minutes alongside Tommy Rutherford in the post. The 6-foot-8 Rutherford had 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a freshman in a priority reserve role. The 6-foot-10 Jonathan Galloway saw the starts at the power forward position last year, serving as a glass-cleaning specialist, leading the team with 7.6 rebounds per game.

Russ Turner has to replace his top two scorers from a season ago in Luke Nelson and Jaron Martin. Martin and Nelson were also the team's top 3-point shooters. Eyassu Worku will enter the starting lineup after averaging 7.2 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman.

Fellow sophomore Max Hazzard started 16 games a year ago and could be running the point for UC Irvine.  He's far from a dynamic scorer but did a bit of everything last year with 4.9 points and 1.3 assists per game in limited minutes. The team also had Brandon Smith start 35 games and play over 21 minutes per contest despite averaging just 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

This is likely a .500 team due to the departure of the top three scorers, but if they can retain this group, the Anteaters have a good shot to win the Big West in 2019.

Hawaii not only went to the NCAA Tournament in 2016, but won a game as a 13-seed by pulling the upset over a shorthanded California squad.

The Warriors were unable to maintain that high level of play last year and posted a 14-16 record after losing much of their roster from a season ago. Noah Allen, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, departed after averaging team-highs 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but nearly everyone else is back from a team that lacked depth. All of the team's top six scorers played at least 24.5 minutes per game while three others logged between 10.5 and 12.5 minutes.

The depth should be better this year as Mike Thomas redshirted last year after starting every game in the 2015-16 season. His 6-foot-7 size was and 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds were missed as the team was 336th in the country in total rebounds a season ago. But 6-foot-8 Gibson Johnson is back for his senior year after posting averages of 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last year.

Fellow post player Jack Purchase is also still in campus after he played more of a stretch role with his 38.9 3-point shooting percentage. He registered 9.6 points and 4.2 rebounds as a sophomore. With 6-foot-10 Israeli center Ido Flaisher showing some promise and playing in every game a season ago, Hawaii should have a frontcourt that can hang with any stable of forwards in the Big West.

As for the backcourt, the torch has been passed from Allen to juniors Sheriff Drammeh and Brocke Stepteau along with sophomore Leland Green. All three need to work on their 3-point shooting as Green is the most proficient of the three from distance, making 36.1 percent of his 3s.

The Warriors are hoping their two recruits can provide the team with a bit more length as Justin Hemsley is 6-foot-5 and played the point in high school, but will likely move to the two. They also bring in an ESPN-rated three-star forward in 6-foot-6 Samuta Avea.

Last year was the program's first sub-.500 season since the 2009-10 season. Hawaii should be back in the top three of the conference standings and vying for the auto bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Cal State Fullerton was above .500 last year for the first time in five seasons but must replace its top scorer from a year ago.

The Titans were a poor 3-point shooting team a year ago with Tre' Coggins carrying the team from distance as he made 35.6 percent of the 8.3 3s per game. Coggins is out of eligibility after averaging 17.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The drop-off from their top scorer to No. 2 was quite large as Khalil Ahmad, who is entering his junior year, had 11.2 points per game. Finding more shooters who will sling it from distance is a big problem for this team as the Titans made only 31.1 percent of their 3s a year ago, which ranked 329th in the nation.

Kyle Allman is a guy who could take over as the team's man ball distributor after averaging 10.2 points and 2.1 assists per game as a sophomore, but he has flaws in that he shot 27.1 percent from distance. If sophomore Austen Awosika can become a more willing shooter, he could be the guy who becomes Fullerton’s 3-point threat. He played a sixth-man role last year and converting a team-best 40.7 percent of his triples.

As far as the bigs are concerned, 6-foot-7 Jackson Rowe is coming off a productive freshman season in which he posted per game averages of 10.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. He also proved to be a willing 3-point shooter, making over 34 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. The minutes of 6-foot-9 Arkim Robertson will likely see an uptick as a result after he accounted for 3.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last year as a priority reserve and occasional starter.

The Titans played a lot of guys last year, but their overall talent is far from great. With the team not bringing in much in regard to transfers and freshmen coupled with former Wisconsin forward Riley Dearring doing jack squat in his first year at Fullerton, this team will likely fall back below .500 and be in the lower half of the conference standings.

Reggie Theus has yet to turn around the Cal State Northridge program as he has coached the Matadors for four years and has failed to post a record of .500 or better. The Matadors had just one senior on their roster, and they had an additional loss with leading scorer Kendall Smith transferring to Oklahoma State.

The pressure is on Darin Johnson and Michael Warren to have monster years after Johnson was a solid wing starter and Warren was a priority reserve. The two are the team's top returning 3-point shooters as Warren made 45.5 percent of the 2.3 threes per game he attempted while totaling 7.3 points per game. Johnson had 13.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while converting 36.8 percent of his 3s.

Theus expects to have guard Jason Richardson back after he was limited to five games last year due to injury.  When he played a full 2015-16 season, he averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 assists while getting 12 starts.

Despite the team's lack of outside shooting, they did tally 78 points per game a season ago thanks of the play of their forwards. The Matadors’ defense needs work as the team allowed 81.3 points per game, which ranked 334th in the nation, but 6-foot-8 Tavrion Dawson coming back gives this team a threat in the paint. He had 14.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game a season ago and showed some range, making 34.9 percent of his 3s.

The team also has a more traditional big to pair with Dawson in Rakim Lubin, who racked up 8.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a junior. The team also has 6-foot-6 senior Reggie Theus, the coach’s son, as a potential contributor.

Northridge is gambling on TCU transfer guard Lyrik Shreiner and former George Washington wing Anthony Sean after neither saw any significant playing time at their past stops. Guard Sam Finley could be a difference-maker as he played at UC-Riverside and Ole Miss before sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules. He is a 25.7 percent career 3-point shooter, but the 6-foot-2 guard was a good bench player at both stops, scoring 12.5 points per game at Riverside and 5.1 points per outing at Ole Miss.

Expect a fifth straight losing season for Theus.

Despite being in the NCAA Tournament in 2014, Cal Poly had its fourth consecutive losing season in 2016-17, mustering an 11-20 record due to the team's offensive woes. While the Mustangs had the fifth-fewest turnovers in college basketball last year, they were 319th in total rebounds, 342nd in assists and 332nd in field-goal percentage.

The road does not get easy for them as guards Kyle Toth and Ridge Shipley are out of eligibility after combining for 20.3 points and 5.1 rebounds. The team also had to play most of the year without Minnesota transfer Josh Martin, who 10.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in the post before suffering a season-ending leg injury.

Martin should return this year with top scorers Victor Joseph and Donovan Fields controlling the backcourt. The two combined for 23.3 points per game while shooting in the neighborhood of 36 percent from 3, though their passing and rebounding were poor. They could use some help from 6-foot-7 wing Jakub Niziol, who shot just 28.4 percent on field goals, averaging four points and 2.3 rebounds. His shortcomings should lead to junior-college transfer DeAndre Stallings playing huge minutes as the 6-foot-8 stretch player hit 39.1 percent of his 3s en route to averages of 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game a year ago.

The team also brings in former Arizona guard Paulo Cruz, who did not score a single point in two years at the Pac-12 power, and 6-foot-4 junior-college transfer Eric Toles Jr., who did a little of everything last year with 15.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Cal Poly has the parts to trend upward, but not quite enough to be one of the big dogs in the Big West. This team should be right around .500 when the season ends.

Long Beach State went 15-19 last year, mostly because of a brutal nonconference schedule that led the 49ers to a 1-9 start. The team does bring in former Gonzaga guard Bryan Alberts to bolster the stable of guards but lost four of their top seven scorers to transfer.

Leading scorer Evan Payne is back after scoring 14.2 points and grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game a year ago, but his main backcourt running mate is now playing for Utah. Alberts, who played sparingly in two seasons at Gonzaga but has 6-foot-5 size, will have to lead the charge in the backcourt for coach Dan Monson.

If the 49ers can get 6-foot-7 Gabe Levin back to full health, he should be able to allow this team to be solid in the paint. Levin had 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 16 games before a knee injury and showed he could make threes by hitting 33.3 percent of them.

The team also returns 6-foot-7 forward Temidayo Yussuf, who is coming off a sophomore campaign that saw him post averages of 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds. The frontcourt also has perhaps the two biggest freshmen of mystery in the conference as 6-foot-8 Jordan Roberts and 6-foot-10 Milos Apic will try to make an immediate impact for the team.

The biggest key to success for Long Beach will be cutting down on turnovers as it ranked 313th in the nation in regards to total turnovers. While not having a guy who can really take over a game with his shooting or an overwhelming player in the post, the little things are critical for this team. With all of the turnover on the roster and uncertainty with both the forwards and guards, it will likely be another sub-.500 season for Monson due to yet another insanely tough nonconference schedule.

In 17 years at the D-I level, UC Riverside has finished .500 or better just once and it's hard to see a winning season for the Highlanders in 2017-18.

In a day and age where offense and jump shooting is king in basketball, this program is trapped in the dark ages. Riverside’s 65.3 points per game ranked 325th in the country last year, and its 3-point shooting percentage was 326th. In addition, the Highlanders were 315th in total rebounds and 330th in total assists.

The team went eight deep last year and must replace the top scorer and rebounder from that bunch, 6-foot-5 wing Secean Johnson. His 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game will be absorbed by committee as scorers two through seven below him logged between 10.2 and 6.2 points per game.

Chance Murray, who began his career at Arizona State, will have to do the heavy lifting for this squad after posting averages of 10.2 points, 2.7 assists and five rebounds per game. Seniors Alex Larsson and Brandon Rosser had a combined 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and must increase those numbers as both were starters a year ago.

The will likely compete with 6-foot-11 Boston College transfer Idy Diallo for minutes after the sat out the 2016-17 season due to NCAA transfer rules.  He played sparingly in his one year in the ACC.

Dikymbe Martin must also help the offense maneuver smoothly as he and Murray were the team top distributors, as Martin had 9.3 points and 2.6 assists per game as a freshman last year.

This conference as a whole has fallen on tough times, and it's possible UC Santa Barbara, which finished last in the Big West last year, could take the conference crown this year. While Hawaii should be better, as well, there are few teams that seem to have improved.

Greg Peterson’s Big West forecast:
1. UC Santa Barbara
2. Hawaii
3. UC Irvine
4. Cal Poly
5. UC Davis
6. Long Beach State
7. Cal State Fullerton
8.Cal State Northridge  
9. UC Riverside

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