Big West Tournament Preview
Taking place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, the Big West Tournament provides an opportunity for eight members of the nine-team conference to vie for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. While the regular season is important, as the UC Irvine Anteaters appear the clear-cut favorite with a 15-1 conference record, history has shown that being the regular season champion doesn’t guarantee success in the Big West Tournament.
For instance, in 2014, the Cal Poly Mustangs earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, despite a seventh-place finish in the regular season with a 6-10 conference record. The following year saw third-place UC Irvine earn the at-large berth, and 2018 witnessed fourth-seeded Cal State Fullerton go dancing. This tournament can certainly yield some befuddling results.
As mentioned, a league filled with parity has been dominated by UC Irvine. Head coach Russel Turner’s squad has had a phenomenal season, finishing with a whopping 27-5 record. With wins over the likes of Texas A&M and Saint Mary’s, this team appears to be the real deal.
The Anteaters rely on a balanced offensive attack, with eight players averaging at least six points per game. Their leader is undersized junior guard Max Hazzard, from Los Angeles, California. Shooting just a tick under 39 percent from 3-point range, Hazzard leads the team in scoring and will need to continue his scoring ways in the upcoming tournament.
The only legitimate threat to the Anteaters seems to be the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. They come in with a 21-9 overall record and have stayed competitive with teams like the Washington Huskies. Not to mention, they only lost to the Anteaters by four on their home court. If anyone has a shot at upending “Zot-Zot Nation,” the Gauchos and their double-digit scoring starting five will need to continue their balanced scoring ways—and then some.
Surprisingly, the Cal State Fullerton Titans tied Santa Barbara for second place in the Big West during the regular season. While having a far less impressive non-conference record, the Titans had won nine of 10 before slipping up in the final four games with a 1-3 record. The Titans like to get out and score, averaging 72.5 points per game as a team. Guards Kyle Allman Jr. and Khalil Ahmad are each averaging 17.8 points per game, and they will both need to be on their A-game if they want to mount an upset against the likes of Irvine or Santa Barbara.
Still, there is Long Beach State, the only team in the conference to beat Irvine this year, 80-70 at the Bren Events Center. On a sloppy night when neither team shot the ball particularly well from outside, the 49ers prevailed over the Anteaters, using stifling defense to keep Hazzard in check with only seven points, his lowest total of the year in the conference.
While the bottom half of the conference poses little to no threat of competing with the common Big West powerhouses, there is a formula to success for emerging from the Honda Center victorious. With good defense, timely shooting, and a little bit of luck, any one of the previously mentioned teams has the potential to beat UC Irvine. However, as things stand right now, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Anteaters don’t go dancing.
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Sophomore / Broadcast Journalism