Conference Tourney Primers: Big West

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big West Tournament

Dates: March 12-14

Site: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)


What to expect: UC Davis, picked seventh in the preseason, put together its best campaign in program history and won the conference championship with ease. The Aggies are the best three-point shooting team in America and nearly impossible to stop when guard Corey Hawkins and his pinpoint accurate teammates catch fire. Still, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine – beset by injuries for much of the year – are finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, while inconsistent-but-talented Long Beach State remains a threat. The Big West has good star players – Hawkins, USCB’s Alan Williams and LBSU’s Mike Caffey among them – along with an element of unpredictability that should make for a fun few days in Anaheim. In 2014, #7 seed Cal Poly beat #5 seed Cal State Northridge for the tournament crown, so anything is possible.

Favorite: UC Davis. The Aggies won their first-ever Big West title by three full games after going just 4-12 in conference play last season. How did that happen? For one thing, they got healthy – forwards Josh Ritchart (11.9 PPG) and J.T. Adenrele (6.3 RPG) returned after missing most of 2013-14 – but also because they simply shot the lights out. Both Hawkins and coach’s son Tyler Les shoot around 49 percent from behind the arc, and as a team they drill 45 percent of their attempts – easily the best mark in college hoops. With the conference’s most lethal offensive attack, UC Davis is the team to beat.

Darkhorse: Hawaii. The Warriors are pain in the neck to play against and could be a very dangerous #5 seed in Anaheim. They like to play uptempo and ratchet up the pressure, boasting the 11th-best defensive turnover rate and fourth-best steal rate in the country. If it gets past Long Beach State this evening – a team it throttled by 19 points two weeks ago – Hawaii will likely get a crack at UC Davis on Friday. Benjy Taylor’s high-energy crew forced 24 turnovers and beat the Aggies by eight in their first meeting on January 22.

Who wins: UC Santa Barbara. After losing in the opening round as the #2 seed a year ago, I have a hunch that UC Santa Barbara will cherish the moment this time around. The Gauchos were forced to play without 2013-14 Big West Player of the Year Alan Williams for a full month in the middle of conference play, which seems to have made them more well-rounded upon his return; they ended the year on a five-game winning streak, including a 14-point victory over UC Davis. Defensively-stout UC Irvine is a tough hurdle on the bottom half of the bracket (especially with 7’6” center Mamadou Ndiaye back in the lineup), but look for the Gauchos to go the distance.

Player to watch: Corey Hawkins – UC Davis. The 6’3” son of Hersey Hawkins averages 20.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 3.5 APG while sporting the country’s fourth-best offensive rating for heavily-used players, behind only Frank Kaminsky, Seth Tuttle and Tyler Haws. Yes, he’s that good.

Another player to watch: Alan Williams – UC Santa Barbara. Speaking of statistical monsters, Williams is back at it this year. The 6’8”, 265-pound senior leads the country in defensive rebounding rate and ranks among the top 100 in block rate, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and percentage of possessions used. In UC Santa Barbara’s regular season finale against Cal Poly, he logged 26 points and 19 rebounds.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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