Sean White / Daily Nexus

UCSB Gauchos by Calvin Thrift 

The new campaign has done wonders for the UCSB men’s basketball team, and there is no doubt that they will continue to ride that momentum as conference play continues.

Currently sitting at 13-5 overall, the Gauchos have already doubled their win count from last season, which saw them go just 6-22.

Santa Barbara has struggled in the early parts of conference play, sitting in sixth place with just a 2-2 mark in Big West play thus far.

In their two Big West losses this season, UCSB has lost by a combined two points with both games being away from home at Cal Poly and Hawaii.

That being said, the Gauchos will hope to improve and make the tournament this year as opposed to last year, which saw them miss the Big West Tournament for the first time since 1998.

The biggest reason for Santa Barbara’s turnaround has been the addition of graduate transfer forward Leland King II and the emergence of sophomore guard Max Heidegger.

King II has helped the Gauchos on both ends of the floor, and he is a near shoe-in to win Big West Newcomer of the Year.

He currently averages a double-double with 16.7 points per game, fourth-best mark in the conference and 10.2 rebounds per contest, the best mark in the Big West.

However, the most shocking transformation has been that of Heidegger, who has completely transformed his game to become one of the most dangerous scorers in the Big West.

The sophomore currently leads the league in points per game with 21.6 and is lethal from beyond-the-arc, shooting 44.4 percent.

The team’s quick turnaround also has a lot to do with new Head Coach Joe Pasternack who, in his first season, has already broken the best start by a rookie coach in the program’s history.

Overall, there is no doubt that the Gauchos are the biggest surprise in the Big West this season, but the key will be if they can continue this in Big West play.

UCSB will take on UCI at 9 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Thunderdome, where the Gauchos are still undefeated.

Long Beach State 49ers by Sean White

It has been nearly six years since the Long Beach State men’s basketball program won its last Big West Tournament title. The 49ers were winners of the 2012 conference tournament — their last conference title — and nearly pulled off an upset over No. 1 seeded Hawaii in the 2016 Big West championship game before ending their season with an NIT first round loss.

Since its NIT appearance, the Beach has seesawed between being in the middle of the pack to a potential top-tier team within the Big West.

The NIT and near NCAA tournament appearances certainly influenced the 49ers’ decision to boost last season’s strength of schedule as they began their non-conference slate against elite programs such as Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA and Washington. Unfortunately, this got the best of them as they lost all five games straight, which then extended to nine games prior to their first win of the 2016-17 season.

Now in the beginning stages of its 2017-18 Big West conference campaign, Long Beach State is currently in third place after a 84-75 loss to UC Davis on Wednesday, and are now 9-12 overall, 3-2 in conference play.

Despite last season’s tough schedule backfiring, LBSU remained committed to challenging itself with games against premier non-conference opponents such as Arizona, Michigan State and West Virginia.

Despite losing each game, senior forward Gabe Levin has been still managing to produce on the 49ers’ end. He leads LBSU in scoring and rebounds and is tied for the lead in steals with averages of 16.3 points, 7.2 rebounds per game and 22 steals. With just 8-of-30 three-pointers made on the season, it is evident that Levin is a dominant force for the 49ers in the paint and interior areas. Junior guard Bryan Alberts is the team’s second leading scorer at 14 PPG.

LBSU will host Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised by FoxSportsWest.

Cal Poly Mustangs by Andrew Hernandez

Junior point guard Donovan Fields carried the ball up the floor with less than a minute left in a Nov. 18 game at Santa Clara University in a pivotal moment in which his team needed a bucket to break the 59-59 tie.

Fields’ 21 point effort was vital in keeping the Mustangs in the game all night, and it was the team looking at him again with just seconds on the clock.

The junior answered the call and pulled up with 18 seconds left only to bury a jumper, giving the Mustangs the lead and the win.

Much like that night against the Broncos, Fields has played a significant role for the Mustangs’ offense all season.

The point guard leads the team in assists with 63, and his 13.2 points per game is good for second highest on the team this season.

Senior Victor Joseph’s 13.8 points per game leads the team, and he is among one of the four players who have scored 100+ points so far this season, along with Fields, Jakub Niziol and Luke Meikle.

Cal Poly is off to yet another tough start. The Mustangs sit at 6-11 and 1-2 in Big West play. The team lost seven players from last year’s squad and despite filling a majority of those roster spots, the Mustangs still find themselves playing catch-up in this early part of the conference schedule.

Cal Poly is coming off an underwhelming December, in which the team lost five of its seven games and is hoping to bounce back.

Thus far, January hasn’t been too friendly either.

The Mustangs have lost their last two consecutive conference games to CSUF and Hawaii following their conference-opener victory over UCSB that was decided at the free-throw line after a controversial foul call.

Earning some wins is the next objective for the Mustangs, who went 6-10 in conference play last season.

The Cal Poly Mustangs play at UC Irvine Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.

Cal State Northridge Matadors by Kendra Jackson

The Cal State Northridge Matadors currently possess a 4-14 overall record and sit at 1-3 in conference play, and earned its most recent win with a 66-57 victory over UCR Wednesday night.

Last season, the Matadors ended with an 11-19 overall record and stood at 7-9 within Big West conference play, which clinched the No. 6 seed for them in the Big West Tournament.

Northridge is a balanced team as far as its roster, having nine underclassmen and eight upperclassmen. Their struggles have become apparent as their only wins have been sporadic and have only been achieved on their home court.

In comparing the current season status of the Matadors to that of last season, the differences are evident. In the 2016-2017 season, CSUN was 7-7 at home, but managed to win some away games, with a 4-8 away record.

Their biggest streak was a losing streak of six, which all came towards the winding down point of the season, with their last game being a loss versus the team that would eventually eliminate them from championship contention, CSUF.

Northridge opened up their season in November with a win against Life Pacific, but shortly after endured a run of eight losses in non-conference play.

The Matadors now stand as the eighth seed, sitting only in front of UC Riverside, who is 5-14 overall and 0-5 within the Big West. CSUN is due to host Cal Poly on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 4 p.m.

UC Irvine Anteaters by Richard Benites

Coming off of last year’s impressive 12-4 Big West record that earned it the bragging rights of being the Big West’s regular season conference champion, the UCI men’s basketball team will look to establish consistency and make a redeeming return to the Big West Tournament Finals. However, it had a tough non-conference slate, which has contibuted to its current overall record of 7-13, while thus far the Anteaters have split their Big West conference matchups by a record of 2-2.

After coming up just short in its 50-47 loss to UC Davis in the Big West Tournament Finals, UC Irvine has been in reflection mode as it prepares for perhaps another championship run. Big West Coach of the Year, Russell Turner, will once again work with his junior forward Jonathan Galloway, who placed second in the conference in rebounds per game. They will try to inspire a fresh new team that consists of almost three-fourths underclassmen.

Following their most recent 71-54 victory on the road against the CSUN Matadors, the Anteaters’ current .500 win percentage has them sitting exactly at mid table in the Big West Men’s Basketball standings.

Although they have had their fair share of close games, an indicator of UC Irvine’s early struggles can be found in their scoring differentials. As of late, the Anteaters have averaged 70.3 points per game.

Meanwhile, their opponents have tallied an average of 71.1 points per game. UC Irvine has also averaged a total of 15.3 turnovers each game, a staggering amount compared to its 10.8 forced turnovers average.

UCSB will host the UC Irvine men’s basketball team this Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Thunderdome.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors by Brandon Victor

Just two years removed from upsetting Cal during the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Rainbow Warriors (12-5, 3-1) will look to improve upon last year, in which the team finished fifth in the Big West with an 8-8 conference record (14-16 overall).

Despite being picked to once again finish fifth in the Big West and losing last season’s leading scorer in former star guard/forward Noah Allen, the Rainbow Warriors have implemented a balanced attack on the offensive end that has enabled them to average 73 points a game.

“Our team strength is probably our balance,” Head Coach Eran Ganot said. “We have different guys who can step up and score for us on any given night. We play inside-out, play as a team and we share the ball really well.”

While its 9-4 non-conf. start was encouraging, Hawaii was beating up on lesser competition. Against stronger opponents, the Rainbow Warriors have looked outmatched, losing by 13 to Nevada, 18 to Miami, 20 to Utah and 14 to Princeton.

“Right now, we need to find consistency,” Ganot said.  “We’ve shown flashes, from a game-to-game basis and within games. I’m not sure if we’ve put together a complete game this year. We need to find an ability to find a consistent level.”

Another potential concern heading into conference play is Hawaii’s lack of true road games. Hawaii split their first two conference games on the road, losing to Long Beach by eight before drubbing CSUN by 19.

But Hawaii has always been dominant at home, and if it can even split their road games, the Rainbow Warriors are likely to finish near the top of the conference this season. Hawaii takes on UC Davis at home on Saturday, Jan. 20th at 9 p.m.

UC Davis Aggies by Jorge Mercado

Last season was a dream come true for the UC Davis men’s basketball team.

After putting up a tremendous effort in the regular season, the team finished with a 23-13 overall mark and an 11-5 conference record. They then made program history, winning their first Big West Tournament title and an NCAA playoff match before having their historical run end against top-seeded Kansas.

The player behind that historical run is Chima Moneke. He was a force to be reckoned with, averaging 14.6 points per game and 9.5 rebounds. Moneke earned Big West Newcomer of the Year honors as well as an All-Big West First Team nod.

Moneke was the guy everyone was going to have their eye on, and it’s safe to say he has not disappointed.

The senior forward has had an excellent season averaging 19.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest, both second-best marks in the Big West. He has been the biggest force in helping the Aggies reach an 11-6 overall mark and 2-1 conference record so far this season.

Also, the brighter the stage, the bigger Moneke shines and stands out, allowing for his team to continue thriving and relying on their senior captain. In a game against Pac-12 opponent Washington State, Moneke finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead UC Davis to the victory.

Even with being picked to finish second in the conference by the media, there is no doubt that the Aggies will be tough to beat and will be on everyone’s mind come tournament time.

UC Davis continues its run in Big West play against Hawaii on Saturday, Jan. 20.

UC Riverside Highlanders by Andrew Bishop

The UC Riverside Highlanders entered their 2017-18 season hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that culminated in a record of 7-21. The Highlanders had a hot start, going 3-0 during a brief tour in Quebec, and upsetting Pac-12 powerhouse UC Berkeley on the road.

Despite early successes, the remainder of the Highlanders’ season has been nothing short of turbulent. The Highlanders entered conference play with a record of 5-9, and shortly after, parted ways with their head coach of 5 years, Dennis Cutts. They are now 5-13 overall and remain winless in conference play at 0-4.

Cutts went 50-87 at the helm of UC Riverside’s men’s basketball team, and was succeeded by Associate Head Coach Justin Bell, who will serve as the team’s interim head coach until a replacement is hired. Bell, a UC Riverside alumnus, has struggled to lead his team to victory in all of their four conference games, putting the Highlanders at 0-4 in the Big West.

Throughout the season, the Highlanders have distributed their point production somewhat evenly amongst their starters. Sophomore guard Dikymbe Martin has emerged as the team’s leader in scoring, averaging 13.1 points per game. The Highlanders have also relied heavily on their veteran players on offense, with redshirt senior guard Chance Murray and senior forward Alex Larsson averaging 10.8 and 10.6 points per game, respectively.

While the Highlanders have boasted solid performances from a few key players, it is clear that it will take more for them to be successful in the Big West. Bell and his players will look for their first conference win against UC Irvine next Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.

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