IRVINE – So, what do the experts have to say?
Members of the media, head coaches and selected players gathered in Irvine on Wednesday morning for the 2003-04 men’s and women’s basketball Big West Media Day at the Irvine Marriott Hotel.
The UCSB men’s and women’s basketball teams were both selected as preseason favorites to win the Big West. Returning four starters from a team that won its first ever regular season title, the UCSB men’s basketball team earned the early season honors from both the media and the coaches, each pegging Santa Barbara as the team to beat through the end of March. The Gauchos beat out Utah State and Irvine in both polls. The Aggies won the Big West Tournament title last season and gave the University of Kansas, a squad that made it to the NCAA Finals, a run for its money. Irvine has continually been a mainstay atop the Big West standings over the last few seasons.
“Santa Barbara is surely the favorite to win the league,” Utah State Head Coach Stew Morrill said. “They’re going to guard you, which makes them tough to beat every night. But being on the road in college basketball is tough, which makes parity this year such a reality in this conference.”
The coaches and media have selected the UCSB women’s basketball team to capture its ninth straight Big West championship this year. The Gauchos are ranked 18th in the country by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, and return two 2002-03 First Team All-Big West selections in senior center Lindsay Taylor and junior forward Kristen Mann. The Gauchos have also found a lift in senior point guard April McDivitt, a transfer from powerhouse University of Tennessee. University of the Pacific was selected to finish second in the Big West standings this year. After beating the Gauchos in Stockton last season, senior forward Gillian d’Hondt and the Tigers will try to snag a victory or two from Santa Barbara this season.
“It’s a race to finish in second in this conference,” Idaho Head Coach Mike Divilbiss said. “A team like Santa Barbara makes everyone here better, because it is the type of program that we are all trying to emulate.”