The post Big-Al era officially tips off this Friday when the UCSB men’s basketball team heads on the road to face Nebraska-Omaha in both teams’ season-opener.

Michael Bryson searches for a way past the defender. Jenny Luo/Daily Nexus

Michael Bryson searches for a way past the defender. Jenny Luo/Daily Nexus

Santa Barbara is coming off of a year in which it went 19-14 overall and 11-5 in the Big West, losing to UC Irvine 72-63 in overtime in the Big West Tournament semifinals before falling 91-87 to Oral Roberts in the College Basketball Invitational in Oklahoma.

The Gauchos recently saw their first action of the new school year in a 66-45 exhibition win over San Francisco State at home this past Sunday. Senior guards John Green and Michael Bryson handled the offensive load in that game, scoring 23 and 20 points, respectively.

After a series of unfortunate injuries kept Green out for much of his collegiate career, he was finally able to stay healthy last season, playing in all 33 games. His averages of 11.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game earned him an All-Big West Honorable Mention. He figures to be one of the team’s most critical players in his senior year, especially with the departure of UCSB great Alan Williams.

Alongside Green as one of the team’s two starting guard/forward combo players is Bryson, the only Gaucho who was named to the Big West Preseason All-Conference Team. With averages of 13.9 points and 4.8 rebounds a game in 2014-15, Bryson was named First Team All-Big West. Unfortunately for UCSB, he will be unavailable for Friday’s game after he was suspended by the NCAA earlier this week for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game in July.

With their most proven, consistent scorer out of the lineup, the Gauchos will need to rely on their other role players to provide a scoring punch. That shouldn’t be a problem for reigning Big West Freshman of the Year Gabe Vincent. The sophomore had averages of 10.1 points and 2.1 assists per game last season and was second on the team in threes with 57, knocking the long ball down at an efficient rate of 41.6 percent.

The Gauchos still have huge shoes to fill in the middle with Williams, the program’s all-time leading rebounder and second all-time leading scorer, now playing in the Chinese Basketball Association. However, if Head Coach Bob Williams continues to stick with the starting lineup he used against San Francisco, which included two point guards in Vincent and junior Eric Childress, the former inside-out approach that utilized “Big Al” in the center position may be replaced with a small ball, guard-heavy offensive style.

Nebraska-Omaha has not played since August, when it went a perfect 4-0 on a tour through Italy, outscoring its foreign opponents by an average margin of 48.5 points per game. In the Summit League Preseason Poll, the Mavericks were picked to finish seventh out of nine teams in the conference this season, with no players being named to the Preseason All-Conference first or second teams.

Friday’s game will be the first of 10 non-conference games away from home for UCSB. The Gauchos will play only three non-conference home games this season and two games on a neutral site when they face Akron and Iona in Las Vegas over winter break.

Santa Barbara has not played a season opener without Big Al since 2011. Playing without him in 2014-15, the Gauchos went an impressive 5-2, a mark which gives them confidence that they will be able to succeed this season playing without their focal point from the last three years.

UCSB’s and Nebraska-Omaha’s seasons tip-off at 5 p.m. this Friday at Ralston Arena in Nebraska.


A version of this article appeared on page 13 of November 12, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.