Last Word on Hoops rounds out its spotlight on the new teams to Division I with the UC-San Diego Tritons. You can find the previous piece in the series on the Tarleton State Texans here. UC-San Diego, located in La Jolla, California, will be joining many of its University of California university system partners in the Big West.
UC-San Diego Tritons, Welcome to Division I
UC-San Diego began playing basketball in 1965. The Tritons participated at the Division III level until 2000. As a D-III program, UCSD made four tournament appearances, all during the 1990s. That includes one Sweet 16 appearance. As a member of Division II, the program has made six tournament appearances, including five straight before jumping to Division I. The Tritons have played in two D-II Sweet 16s.
Most of UC-San Diego’s success as a Division II program has been recent. Prior to the 2010s, the Tritons had not done all that well. However, it does take time for programs to adjust to a higher level of competition. UCSD has shown that it is capable of doing that at each level of basketball it has played.
All of UC-San Diego’s success at the Division II level has come under current head coach Eric Olen. Olen is 159-56, becoming the best coach in program history. He is the fastest in school history to win 150 career games and has won at least 20 games in five straight seasons. Including his years as an assistant, he has been with the Tritons since 2004.
UCSD had been a member of the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) at the D-II level. The Tritons captured three regular-season and five tournament titles, including four straight, while in the CCAA. The CCAA has produced 14 Division I programs, mostly all from the University of California system, including Fresno State and San Jose State. All of UC-San Diego’s new Big West rivals are old CCAA foes except for Hawaii.
This past season, UCSD went 30-1, including a 22-game winning streak to end the season. The Tritons had earned the top seed in the West Region of the NCAA Division II tournament. Even more impressive was UC-San Diego’s 16-0 record away from their home gym, including 14-0 in true road games.
UC-San Diego enters Division I with a record of 55-143 against current D-I programs. However, most of those games came against programs that were D-II themselves at the time. They played two exhibition games against San Diego State and UC-Irvine this past season, losing by 35 to the Aztecs and 16 to the Anteaters, respectively.
The exhibition game against UC-Irvine is a great measuring stick for the program, as the Anteaters are the gold standard in UCSD’s new conference. The Tritons have 13 players returning from last year’s historic squad, so that bodes well for their first year in D-I. UC-San Diego should have a great shot to finish in the top half of the Big West and get an invite to the CIT or CBI in year one. Along with Bellarmine, they are the other transitioning team that has a great chance to surprise someone in non-conference play.