The first week in January always marks two things: the beginning of Winter Quarter and Big West conference play in basketball. This year’s Big West looks to be especially interesting given the way the preseason unfolded and the similar strength of schedules and records of the teams. The obvious favorites are the preseason #1 and #2, Cal State University of Northridge and UCSB. However, another school that should not be taken lightly and looks to make a significant difference in this year’s conference is the University of the Pacific’s Tigers.

The Tigers are off to the Big West best preseason start (7-4) and have the coaching experience to make a serious run at the conference title. Bob Thomason, head coach of Pacific, has been named Big West Coach of the Year five times and is second in Big West victories only to legendary Jerry Tarkanian, a former national championship winning coach. However, despite all Thomason’s accolades, he remains incredibly humble.

“[Tarkanian] is a great coach,” Thomason said. “Even if I passed him, it wouldn’t mean I’m a better coach.”

Thomason’s humility has kept the Tigers consistently good, as they never look past an opponent.

“[We] have to respect every single opponent,” Thomason said.

This approach is one of the many causes of Pacific’s impressive preseason and how they have competed with several big programs. Their four losses have come against powerful Pac-10 teams in California and Washington as well as St. Mary’s and Fresno State, and the Fresno game was decided by only two points. More importantly, though, the Tigers have also defeated several noteworthy opponents. The Tigers beat Nevada 67-59 on the road to give them their first of the three road victories on the young season. Then Pacific went on to defeat Santa Clara in a decisive 63-57 score at home before facing the very tough and formidable opponent in University of San Francisco. After trailing for most of the game, the Tigers displayed their resiliency by outlasting San Francisco and coming away with 66-60 victory. The win over USF is probably Pacific’s best of the year, considering the come from behind and the fact that USF had already defeated Big West foe University of California, Santa Barbara this year. Thomason remains humble, but can’t help being optimistic.

“I feel good [heading into conference play],” Thomason said. “The team is getting better every week and if we come out, we can beat anyone [in the Big West].”

Thomason also acknowledged that any team could beat his Tigers if they do not come out to play, but with the way things are going, it appears that they will continue to do so.

Despite being the Big West preseason third pick, Pacific’s hot start could now vault them to the top of the conference and have them be considered the favorite. Pacific came out firing in preseason, coming away with 7 wins and 4 losses, while the other top teams started off abysmally to say the best. Northridge, the preseason favorite, went a dismal 3-7 while Santa Barbara traveled a mediocre 6-6. However, even more notable than their record is Pacific’s three road wins in only five road games. Santa Barbara only has one road win in the same amount of games and Northridge only has one road win like Santa Barbara, but stretched out over eight games. However, despite the Tigers’ impressive start coupled with the slow starts of the other programs, Thomason does not feel like his team has an advantage.

“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Thomason said. “I think every [Big West] team can beat any [Big West] team on any night.”

After narrowly missing out on a share in the Big West regular season title last year, Thomason and the Tigers are hungry for a shot this year.

“My goal is the same everywhere: [I want] to win league and be the best we can be,” the five time Big West Coach of the Year said.

If the Tigers continue the impressive pace, they can likely dethrone Northridge from the number one spot, but Northridge will not go down without a fight. Big West Play has already begun and Northridge is coming off of an impressive 90-64 dismantling of Cal State Fullerton on the road. Those are startling numbers, even enough to frighten Northridge’s next opponent. And their next opponent happens to be the Pacific Tigers. Still, Thomason remains calm and collected and will continue to go about with his every day routine, which has brought him success over his 20 seasons.

If the Tigers come out and play their game, they may get their fourth road victory of the year against Northridge. But if Northridge’s players can finally bring it together, they may beat Pacific for only their fifth win of the year in 12 games. However, nothing is for sure in a conference with as much parity as the Big West. Who exactly will be holding up the Big West title at the end of the year is very uncertain, but Pacific should definitely not be kept out of the talks.