The regular season is finally here for the UCSB men’s basketball team as it gets ready to take on North Dakota State in its home season opener this Saturday, kicking off a new era for Gaucho basketball.
Coming off of a 92-69 win against Fresno Pacific in the annual exhibition game, UCSB now has to set its sights on a team that has made it to the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years and as far as the third round in one of them.
This will be the first real test for new head coach Joe Pasternack and the coaching staff he brought in to help this team.
Last year, the Bisons finished 19-1, beat a UC Davis squad that made it to the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, finished one game out of first place in the Summitt League and made it to the quarter finals in their conference tournament before getting upset by Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis.
In comparison, UCSB only finished 6-22 last year and came in dead last in the Big West, making it the only team to not qualify for the Big West tournament.
It was the first time the team missed the conference tournament since 1998.
Luckily for Pasternack and fans alike, the team has changed drastically from last year both in terms of new players and just being healthy.
One of the biggest storylines this year is going to be the return of senior guard Gabe Vincent, who consistently has been the team’s best player since he arrived three years ago.
How he responds to coming back from a season-ending injury remains to be seen, but the production of the team is definitely going to be linked with his production.
Last year Vincent led the team in points (295) and points per game (14.8) at the end of the season, even though he missed the last eight games. Despite coming back from injury, the media surrounding the Big West conference still respects Vincent’s game, as he was one of the six athletes named to the All-Big West Preseason Team.
While he will be better equipped to maintain a high usage rate this year, one of the main focuses of the team is going to have to be looking for increased offensive production from other players to provide a supporting cast.
Both of the new offseason graduate pickups, Leland King II and Marcus Jackson, will play an integral role in making this happen.
During King II’s two years at Brown, he averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and while his numbers did drop his last year with Nevada, if he can get them at least closer to what they used to be, he will be a big boost to the Gaucho offense.
While the forward wasn’t able to provide any scoring in his exhibition game debut going 0-4 from the field in 13 minutes of play, he did rebound well finishing with four, second most for the Gauchos, and defended hard.
What he lacked offensively was picked up by the other transfer, Marcus Jackson, who scored 14 points on 6-11 shooting in his first game with UCSB.
Jackson has already played a decorated career at Rice, where he made the second most three-pointers in school history and scored over 1,000 points.
Adding another veteran presence to the starting lineup will certainly help communication, something that a team that last year ranked in the bottom half of the league in three-pointers given up, points given up and opponent field-goal percentage desperately needs.
Looking at the Gauchos’ opponent on Saturday, it seems that the bulk of the game plan defensively for UCSB is going to be focused on senior guard Paul Miller.
Miller led the Bison in three-pointers made (74) and both scoring (501) and points per game (16.7) last year.
He tallied five assists in NDSU’s exhibition win against Concordia-Moorhead this year and, along with the rest of the Bison offense that scored 74.8 points per game last year, should offer a good first test for the Gaucho defense.
Miller was also voted to the preseason All-Summit League First Team for the second consecutive season.
Another notable returner will be senior combo guard/forward A.J. Jacobson, who shot better than 40 percent from downtown last season and has already tallied over 1,000 points as a Bison, becoming the 33rd in history to accomplish that goal.
Unlike last Saturday, the match this weekend will count in all facets, including the team’s record, Pasternack’s overall record and, most importantly, how the fans will see this team.
For a mid-major program, home crowds are everything, which is something Pasternack has routinely expressed. Wins play a huge factor in that role.
UCSB faces off against North Dakota State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Thunderdome.
A version of this story appeared on p. 6 of the Nov. 9, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.