By Kevin Sweeney
It’s hard for me to think of a league that is more “down” this year than the Big West. Looking up and down the league, I just don’t see the talent level we have seen in years past in this year’s group. That said, the Big West should be absolutely wide open this year (this was definitely one of the hardest ones for me to project) making it potentially one of the most fun to watch leagues in the country.
1.Long Beach State: Last season was a definite disappointment for “The Beach”, but a solid core of Gabe Levin and Temidayo Yussuf returns along with reinforcements in the backcourt in the form of grad transfer Bryan Alberts (Gonzaga) and JUCO point guard Deishaun Booker.
2.UC-Irvine: A young team with no seniors, UC-Irvine does lose a lot of production from a season ago. However, the Anteaters still have plenty of talent and a talented sophomore class that played a lot of minutes as freshmen.
3.UC-Davis: The Aggies return the clear top player in the conference in Chima Moneke, and should be right up there at the top of the Big West. Jim Les continues to do a great job building this program.
4.UCSB: The job that Joe Pasternack has done in a short time since taking over UCSB this spring has been outstanding. If Gabe Vincent returns to 100% health following an ACL tear.
5.Cal State Fullerton: A trio of double-digit scorers return for the Titans, including double-double machine Jackson Rowe. Don’t rule out the Titans in the Big West race.
6.Hawaii: Jack Purchase and Gibson Johnson form a formidable frontcourt pairing, but the Rainbow Warriors will need someone to step up in the backcourt if they want to contend in the Big West.
7.Cal State Northridge: The Matadors certainly have plenty of offensive firepower, but have to improve an atrocious defense to make noise in conference play.
8.Cal Poly: 3 starters graduate for the Mustangs, whose anemic offense held them back a season ago. They will have to create more efficient offense and rebound the ball better to stay out of the bottom of the conference.
9.UC Riverside: Last season was an ugly one for the Highlanders. However, if Boston College transfer Idy Diallo can make an impact in the frontcourt, it would give UCR a big boost.
Champions: Long Beach State
Last season did not go according to plan, as the favorites never got things going and wound up finishing 4th in the Big West. That said, things could have been a lot different with a couple of bounces going in the other direction, as LBSU was 0-4 in overtime games and lost several more games by single digits. The Niners are still a talented club despite some key departures, especially with the addition of Bryan Alberts from Gonzaga, a versatile guard who can shoot the 3, handle the ball, and defend. The Big West is wide open, but as of now I’ll put my bets on “The Beach” to take home the title.
Dark Horse: UC-Santa Barbara
UCSB made one of the best coaching hires of the offseason in Arizona Associate Head Coach Joe Pasternack, who has immediately set the Gauchos up for success now and in the future. For the short term, he has landed a pair of grad transfers who’ve averaged double-digit scoring at the Division 1 level in Marcus Jackson (Rice) and Leland King (Nevada). Add that to a healthy Gabe Vincent and the return of big man Jalen Canty, and this team could be the team no one in the Big West will want to see on their schedule.
First Team All-Conference:
⁃ G: Gabe Vincent (UCSB)
⁃ F: Gabe Levin (LBSU)
⁃ F: Tavrion Dawson (CSUN)
⁃ F: Jackson Rowe (Cal State Fullerton)
⁃ F: Chima Moneke (UC Davis)
Player of the Year: Chima Moneke– There really isn’t too much to debate on this one. Moneke is a rare example of a guy who redshirted after arriving as a JUCO transfer, but it’s been a move that has certainly paid dividends as he has blossomed into an instant star for UC Davis. He’s a force on the boards, and his offensive arsenal is very difficult to defend, especially as he has expanded the range on his jump shot. He’s definitely one of the most under appreciated stars in college basketball.
Breakout Player of the Year: Tommy Rutherford (UC Irvine)- The sophomore big man Rutherford was very productive as a freshman, and should see a much bigger role this season. He averaged over 6 points and 5 rebounds per game in under 20 minutes per contest while shooting nearly 60% from the field. Rutherford seems to be next in the line of great bigs at UC-Irvine in the Russell Turner era.
Newcomer of the Year: Bryan Alberts (LBSU)– Alberts and LBSU were a perfect match for each other this offseason. The talented Alberts was buried in the insanely deep Gonzaga backcourt, while LBSU was left in dire need of good guards following the premature departures of Justin Bibbins and Evan Payne. Alberts will provide and experienced, steady hand for Dan Monson’s team, and is a big reason I’m picking LBSU to win the conference.