Conference Tournament Primer: Big West ConferencePosted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014
Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.
Dates: March 13-15
Site: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)
What to expect: The Big West pecking order finally sorted itself out in the final month of the season, as UC Irvine – league favorites entering 2013-14 – captured the title over UC Santa Barbara and grabbed the top seed in Anaheim. The Anteaters are a stingy defensive unit that holds opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in the country, and enters the tournament having won nine of its last 10 games. They will be the slight favorites this week. However, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and Hawaii were all competitive this season and each will be capable of making a championship run, or at the very least knocking off UCI. The champs will meet the fourth-seeded Warriors on Friday if both advance to the semifinals, which could mean drama: They split a pair of overtime thrillers in the regular season, including one that featured a half-court, haltime buzzer-beater and a crazy game-tying bank shot. Likewise, LBSU pushed Russell Turner’s club to the brink twice this year, losing two games by a combined five points. It’s the Gauchos, though – led by brawny center Alan Williams, who averages 21.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and two blocks per night – that will be the Anteaters’ strongest threat in the Honda Center. KenPom suggests they are almost identically-matched teams, and Williams shredded UCI for 26 points, 10 rebounds and three steals back in January. The next three days should be interesting.
Favorite: UC Irvine. The Anteaters will be slightly favored this week, if only because their quarterfinal opponent, UC Riverside, is easily the worst team in the tournament. Beyond that, it’s probably a toss-up between UCI and UCSB.
Darkhorse: Cal State Northridge. Looking past LBSU and Hawaii, how about the Matadors as a darkhorse? They don’t play much defense, but Reggie Theus’ guys have beaten each of the top four seeds this season, including LBSU last week and UCI just three weeks ago. They are highly adept at drawing fouls, which is an even greater strength considering that – at 78.4 percent – no team in the country shoots a higher percentage from the free throw line. If Northridge can slip past Hawaii tonight, it will likely face the Anteaters for a trip to the title game. In their victory over UCI, the Matadors shot a ridiculous 38-of-43 from the stripe.
Who wins: UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos are the Big West’s most balanced team, boast the league’s best player, and were just about as good as UCI this season save the additional conference defeat. Finally, they have a head coach – Bob Williams – who has coached in this tournament for the past 15 years and knows a thing or two about winning the event. Things could play out any which way in Anaheim, but I have a hunch that Williams the coach and Williams the player will find a way to go dancing.
Player to watch: Alan Williams – UC Santa Barbara. Again, Williams is a force in the paint on both ends of the floor. Along with his monster per-game averages, the 6’7’’, 240-pound junior ranks among the top 25 players in the country in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and falls within the top 50 in block rate and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He was also recently named the Big West Player of the Year. Keep an eye out for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, UCI’s shot-stuffing center Mamadou Ndiaye, as well. Then again, at 7’6’’, you will have a hard time missing him.
Bubble Implications: None.