After a blowout victory against North Dakota State University in its season opener, the UCSB men’s basketball team is looking to string together consecutive wins for the first time since March 2016 when it takes on the University of Pittsburgh Wednesday evening.
This matchup is a regional round game of the Progressive League Classic, signaling the first of four contests UCSB will take part in throughout the remainder of this week along with next Monday and Tuesday.
One of the most intriguing storylines heading into Wednesday’s game revolves around how sophomore Max Heidegger will follow up the career-high scoring performance he had in UCSB’s season opener.
While expecting the guard to score 33 points again might be a bit much, Heidegger’s hot hand would be of much help considering there’s no timetable on when graduate transfer guard Marcus Jackson will make his Gaucho debut after sitting out with a hip injury.
As Gabe Vincent continues to fully get back to game speed, Heidegger is currently the team’s most vital asset in its backcourt. Santa Barbara’s dependence on the second-year guard is not only in terms of scoring, but also includes the duty of running the Gauchos’ offense.
Down in the post, both Jalen Canty and Leland King II will be battling on the frontlines of what the Gauchos like to call the “rebound war.”
King II scooped up a game high nine rebounds in UCSB’s last game against NDSU while Canty notched seven, but it will be a whole new battle against the strong frontcourt of the Panthers, who currently average 34 rebounds per game.
In the Gauchos’ post-game conference this past Saturday, UCSB Head Coach Joe Pasternack stressed the value that this team gives to winning rebounds and loose balls. This is valuable as doing such dirty work is essential when going up against any Power-5 conference opponent such as Pitt.
The Panthers come into the game 0-2, which means the Gauchos are more than likely going to withstand a big burst of energy to start the game. Pitt has trailed to start the second half in both of their games this year, something the coaching staff will certainly be looking to change.
It’s going to be up to UCSB to keep the home crowd out of the game and match Pitt’s runs, which starts on the defensive end.
One major aspect of the defensive game plan for UCSB will be limiting the production of Pittsburgh’s two most dynamic players, junior guard Jared Wilson-Frame and senior forward Ryan Luther.
The junior combo guard out of Hartford, Conn., is averaging 17.5 points per game so far,and is most lethal when maneuvering his 6’5” frame into getting a good shot over smaller defenders.
Meanwhile, Luther has been a force in the paint thus far. He was the team’s leading scorer last year and has shown solid production for both rebounds and scoring as he is currently averaging 16 points and 9.5 rebounds through two games this season.
Last game, the Gauchos were able to stifle NDSU’s offense with an active and switch-heavy defense. It was easier to switch against the Bison because their best player was a guard, but having to face a skilled big man like Luther offers a different concern for their defensive game plan.
How UCSB communicates on pick and rolls will be a big factor in how effective their defense is on Wednesday, as switching too much can lead to big mismatches.
If Saturday’s game was any indication, the Gauchos have a lot of firepower. They turned in their first 80-point performance since the first round of the Big West Tournament in 2016 with ease and have a few players that can catch fire at any time.
However, a hot shooting night may not just be enough while on the road. Going forward with this next slate of opponents, high discipline on both ends of the floor will be the most important goal for UCSB.
Santa Barbara takes on Pitt at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, November 15 at the Petersen Events Center. The game will also be streamed on ESPN3.