With a month to go in the Big West regular season, teams are trying to out-duel one another, juggling up and down in the conference standings in an attempt to increase their records for the Big West Tournament.
It appears as though two separate races are emerging in the Big West standings. The battle for first place has dwindled to two teams: #19 Utah State (19-1 overall, 11-0 in the Big West) and the University of Pacific (15-7, 10-1). The Aggies disposed of the Tigers 66-51 in Logan, Utah on Jan. 15, but the rematch Saturday night at the Alex G. Spanos Center just might determine the conference regular season champion. Although Utah State has won 16 straight games, UOP might be the toughest team in the Big West right now. Senior guard Miah Davis, coming off his Co-Big West Player of the Week accolade, has propelled the Tigers to six straight wins, including a 76-56 trumping of the Gauchos on Jan. 24.
The second race that seems to be emerging is the battle for third place in the conference. Santa Barbara (12-8, 6-5) currently holds the spot with the quickly-rising University of Idaho (9-12, 5-6) and Cal State Northridge (9-10, 5-6), both on the prowl and are just a game behind. The Vandals have won four straight contests after beginning the conference season in last place at 2-6. UC Irvine (9-11, 4-7) and Long Beach State (6-14, 4-7) are not far behind either.
“I still definitely feel good about our chances going into the conference tournament,” UCSB Assistant Coach David Campbell said. “I’ve been around these guys for three years, and I feel confident in our guys that they will be able to step up to the challenge.”
The new Big West Tournament format helps teams who do well during the regular season, rewarding first and second place finishers more favorably than past years. The conference’s top two teams receive two automatic byes and a free ride to the semifinals. In addition, the #3 and #4 seeds earn a bye to the quarterfinals to face one of the lower seeds who will have already battled in a play-in-game type setting for the right to continue to compete.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going to be able to catch Utah State,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of teams in the Big West that can do damage in the Big West Tournament and get to the NCAA Tournament, including us.”
The Big West Tournament begins Mar. 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center with the conference championship game scheduled for Mar. 13 at 9 p.m.