LWOS continues its conference previews with the Big West Basketball Preview. The league has been run by UC Irvine in recent years. The Anteaters even got the conference an NCAA Tournament win back in 2019. However, a changing of the guard seems to be on deck. UC Santa Barbara looks poised to potentially take the reigns of the league for 2020-21. Still, UC Irvine and the rest of California University system members in the league will be on their heels.
2020-21 Big West Basketball Preview
11. Cal State Northridge Matadors
Key Returners: Darius Brown II
Key Losses: Lamine Diane, Terrell Gomez, Elijah Harkless
Key Newcomers: Atin Wright, Kailen Rains
No school in the league will see a bigger drop in the standings than Northridge. The Matadors had a generational talent in Diane, but he is taking his talents to the NBA after two seasons. Gomez is also gone, deciding to use his graduate eligibility at San Diego State. That leaves behind a group that is young and largely inexperienced. Furthermore, depth is also a big area of concern. The Matadors are in a full rebuild mode.
10. Cal Poly Mustangs
Key Returners: Colby Rogers, Tuukka Jaakkola, Keith Smith
Key Losses: Junior Ballard
Key Newcomers: Riley Till (Iowa), Camren Pierce
Cal Poly has nowhere to go but up after finishing in last place last season. Luckily, the Mustangs have a veteran returning at almost every position. However, depth beyond that is still fairly young. The bottom line is that this program is still facing an uphill battle to be competitive in the Big West. That is to be expected for a school that truly concerns itself with academics first. From a basketball standpoint, this could be a crucial development year towards climbing the standings in the future.
9. Hawai’i Warriors
Key Returners: Samuta Avea, Justin Webster
Key Losses: Eddie Stansberry, Drew Buggs, Zigmars Raimo
Key Newcomers: JoVon McClanahan, Casdon Jardine (Utah Valley), James Jean-Marie (San Diego)
Hawai’i’s biggest opponent this year may just be playing games. However, assuming the program can find a way to do just that, there is still a lot to figure out on the court. The Warriors’ top three performers from 2019-20 are gone. Those holes are expected to be filled by the incoming transfers to help in the short-term. Regardless, this is a season that will be all about finding the right lineup and who works well together. Hawai’i is another team that will be taking a step back in the standings.
8. UC San Diego Tritons
Key Returners: Tyrell Roberts, Mikey Howell, Marek Sullivan
Key Losses: Christian Oshita, Scott Everman
Key Newcomers: Jake Killingsworth (Columbia), Matt Gray (JUCO)
UC San Diego enters its Division I era on the heels of a fantastic final year in Division II. The Tritons finished at 30-1 and were a favorite for the national title at that level before all basketball competition was canceled. Roberts was the player of the year in UCSD’s prior league and is a scoring machine. He should be able to adjust to the new level of competition just fine. Overall, the Tritons should be competitive as well, though typical transitional growing pains will arise.
7. Cal State Fullerton Titans
Key Returners: Wayne Arnold, Vincent Lee
Key Losses: Brandon Kamga, Jackson Rowe, Austen Awosika
Key Newcomers: Josh Hall (Missouri State), Jalen Harris (JUCO), Dante Maddox Jr.
Cal State Fullerton is another team in the league that enters 2020-21 without its top three contributors from last season. The Titans have a plethora of incoming transfers to try and immediately fill those holes. Hall is the most experienced and should provide the biggest boost right away. This roster has some talent, but the adjustment period with the newcomers will most likely put them around the same spot in the standings. Keep an eye out for this group in a year, though.
6. Long Beach State 49ers
Key Returners: Chance Hunter, Michael Carter III, Drew Cobb, Colin Slater
Key Losses: Joshua Morgan
Key Newcomers: Joe Hampton (JUCO), Teddy Ochieng (JUCO), Raymond Hawkins (Alabama)
Long Beach State has arguably underachieved over the last few seasons compared to fan expectations. Given this projection, a middle-of-the-pack finish seems likely again. The strength of this team can be found with the guards. The group is led by Hunter, who was an honorable mention on the All-Big West team last season. However, the frontcourt is the complete opposite and will rely on transfers. A small improvement is probable, but the team will go as far as the backcourt takes them.
5. Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners
Key Returners: Taze Moore, Czar Perry, Shawn Stith
Key Losses: Cam Allen
Key Newcomers: Grehlon Easter (JUCO), Travis Henson (JUCO), Shaun Williams (Kansas State)
Bakersfield enters its first year as a Big West member after leaving the Western Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners have a chance to make an impact right away with a senior-heavy roster. This group has lots of experience playing with one another and that should translate well in their new home. The depth in this team comes from transfers, meaning they will have to carve out roles. However, the pressure on them should be minimal with the returning experience, allowing them to ease into their jobs.
4. UC Davis Aggies
Key Returners: Ezra Manjon, Elijah Pepper, Caleb Fuller
Key Losses: Joe Mooney, Stefan Gonzalez
Key Newcomers: Aaron Murphy, Hugh Hogland (Portland), Francesco Borra
UC Davis was led by a spectacular freshman season from Manjon. His 12.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game were enough for him to take home the freshman of the year honor. However, he is just one of many talented guards that lead this Aggie squad. The frontcourt is a little more concerning, with the depth looking less exciting. Still, Davis showed what they are capable of with a respectable fourth-place finish in 2019-20. That seems to be their floor entering the new season, with more certainly possible.
3. UC Riverside Highlanders
Key Returners: Callum McRae, Arinze Chidom, Dominick Pickett
Key Losses: Khy Kabellis
Key Newcomers: Jock Perry (St. Mary’s), Flynn Cameron (DePaul)
UC Riverside has a league title on their minds coming into 2020-21. That optimism starts with the talent they possess in the frontcourt. McRae and Chidom took home honorable mention honors last season and are capable of taking home more this season. The backcourt is not any kind of slouch either, with plenty of experience of its own. Riverside showed improvement last season, and that trend is expected to continue with a finish towards the top half of the league.
2. UC Irvine Anteaters
Key Returners: Collin Welp, Brad Greene
Key Losses: Evan Leonard, Eyassu Worku, Tommy Rutherford
Key Newcomers: D.J. Davis, Andre Henry, Dawson Baker
UC Irvine finds itself in unfamiliar territory given how well they have done the last few seasons. Of course, dropping to a projected second-place finish does not mean they are not title contenders. The Anteaters still have Welp, who is a force on the inside. He gets help in the paint from Greene. This area is starkly contrasted to the backcourt, which lost a lot of key contributors. There will be a little bit of reliance on the incoming freshmen there. Russell Turner is a quality coach and will have Irvine right there at the end. However, the gap has shrunk between them and the rest of the league, at least this season.
1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
Key Returners: Amadou Sow, JaQuori McLaughlin, Devearl Ramsey
Key Losses: Max Heidegger, Matt Freeman
Key Newcomers: Miles Norris (JUCO), Destin Barnes (Jacksonville)
This feels like the season where UCSB finally breaks through. The Gauchos have been chasing UC Irvine for the last two seasons, but they seem to have the upper edge heading into 2020-21. Sow and McLaughlin are a dynamic duo, with Sow being the leading candidate for player of the year. Furthermore, the addition of junior college transfer and former Oregon recruit Norris will provide a huge boost in the paint. Meanwhile, Barnes adds a veteran scoring presence. Joe Pasternack has a group that is finally ready to claim that elusive league title and NCAA berth.
2020-21 Big West Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Amadou Sow, UC Santa Barbara
Sow had an impressive stat line of 14.1 points, seven rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game as a sophomore. Considering that he is still developing his game, it is scary to think about the fact that those numbers will improve. Simply put, Sow is the best player on arguably the best team in the league heading into 2020-21.
Newcomer of the Year: Tyrell Roberts, UC San Diego
Roberts averaged 19.2 points and 3.1 assists per game last season. He also shot 46.3 percent from beyond the arc. While those statistics were done at the D-II level, it is not hard to imagine that he should still be able to find similar success this season. He will be a big reason why the Tritons will be competitive in their first year with the big boys.
Freshman of the Year: D.J. Davis, UC Irvine
With all of the talent loss at guard for the Anteaters, Davis should find himself getting plenty of minutes in the rotation. He averaged 19.2 points and 2.3 steals per game as a senior at Riverside Poly High School. While he may not be relied upon to put up those kinds of scoring numbers as a freshman, his talent and ability should still shine when he is in the game.
Coach of the Year: Joe Pasternack, UC Santa Barbara
If this is the year the Gauchos do breakthrough then Pasternack will certainly have earned this award. He has won at least 21 games in each of his first three seasons at the helm and won no less than 10 league games. The only thing left is the trip to the Big Dance, which would be the school’s first in ten years.
All-Conference First-Team Projection: Amadou Sow (UC Santa Barbara), Collin Welp (UC Irvine), Ezra Manjon (UC Davis), JaQuori McLaughlin (UC Santa Barbara), Arinze Chidom (UC Riverside), Tyrell Roberts (UC San Diego)