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The Big West Conference is always an entertaining and competitive league, and last season was no different. Three teams tied for the regular-season title, with UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge all going 12-4. Pacific finished one game back of those three, at 11-5. UCSB won nine of its last 11 games, including a key road win over Northridge in the next-to-last game of the season, while Northridge lost three of its last five. Fullerton won 11 of its last 13. In the conference tournament, Fullerton outlasted the rest of its first-place colleagues to win the automatic bid over UC-Irvine. They would lose to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament after putting up a fight, while UCSB fell in the NIT. This year, there is a clear-cut favorite at the top of the league.
Favorites: Cal State Northridge lost three starters from last season, but still have three of the best players in the Big West. How is that? Well, Deon Tresvant, the team’s leading scorer, and Tremaine Townsend, who nearly averaged a double-double for the season, started a combined eight games (all by Townsend). With those two in the starting lineup, along with Josh Jenkins, the best point guard in the conference, the Matadors are going to be loaded. Throw in returnees Rob Haynes and Rodrigue Mels, and Tulsa transfer Mark Hill, and this team is going to be tough.
Contenders: UC Santa Barbara loses co-conference player of the year Alex Harris, but returns a dynamite inside-outside combo in forward Chris Devine and guard James Powell. Both are explosive scorers. The Gauchos have a host of serviceable guards, namely Paul Roemer and D.J. Posley. They are hoping point guard Justin Joyner and his wrist will be fully recovered. Pacific, always a contender for the conference title, will be right in the mix again this season. The Tigers have two all-conference candidates in big man Anthony Brown and guard Chad Troyer. Brown needs to become more of a dominant player this season. Bryan LeDuc and Joe Ford return at forward, while JC transfer Royal Edwards will make an impact. Cal State Fullerton returns just one starter from its NCAA Tournament team of a year ago, but Josh Akognon might be the best player in the conference, and is one of the top shooting guards in the nation. Other than him, the only returnee is senior guard Marcio Lassiter. Out of the newcomers, point guard Jacques Streeter, JC transfer Gerard Anderson and 7-2 Adam Thomas could start.
Sleepers: Long Beach State finished eighth in the league last year, but the 49ers return all five starters and will improve. It starts with Donovan Morris, one of the top shooting guards in the country, but who gets overshadowed by Josh Akognon in the Big West. Mo Clady and Greg Plater also return on the perimeter, while Fresno State transfer Stephan Gilling will make an impact. Cornel Williams and Brian Freeman are back up front. UC Davis went just 2-14 in conference play last season, but returns four starters. Mark Payne is an all-conference candidate at whichever position he decides to play, while guards Vince Oliver and David Carter are also back. Up front, Dominic Calegari and Kyle Brucculeri return. Look out for Notre Dame transfer Joe Harden.
Rounding out the Pack: UC Riverside has won a total of 30 games in the past four season, but it returns four starters and could move upwards in the standings. In the backcourt will be Sean Cunningham, Jalonni Diggs and Cleavon Barlow, but JC transfer Javon Borum will get time. Aaron Scott and Christian Soto return up front. Cal Poly has the talent to stay out of the cellar this season. Double-figure scorers Lorenzo Keeler and Trae Clark return in the backcourt, as does point guard Chaz Thomas. Forward Titus Shelton is the main man up front, while freshman David Hanson is expected to make an immediate impact. UC-Irvine will definitely take a step back this season after finishing fifth in the league last year. Still, the Anteaters have a solid perimeter trio in juniors Michael Hunter and Chad DeCasas and senior Brett Lauer. Kevin Bland is the main returnee up front.
Prediction: Last season, the Big West featured a tremendous title race, with three teams eventually splitting the championship. Don’t expect the same this year, as there is one clear-cut favorite – Cal State Northridge. The Matadors have a fantastic trio in guards Josh Jenkins and Deon Tresvant and forward Tremaine Townsend, as well as several solid role players. No one has the personnel to match-up with them. UC Santa Barbara and Pacific have good inside-outside duos, but not much else, while Cal State Fullerton (Josh Akognon) and Long Beach State (Donovan Morris) rely too much on one player. Northridge has balance offensively and the Matadors also play solid defense. Expect to see them playing in March – perhaps for more than one game.
Player of the Year: Josh Akognon, G, Cal State Fullerton
G- Josh Akognon, Cal State Fullerton
G- Donovan Morris, Long Beach State
G- Josh Jenkins, Cal State Northridge
F- Tremaine Townsend, Cal State Northridge
F- Chris Devine, UC Santa Barbara
G- Deon Tresvant, Cal State Northridge
G- Mark Payne, UC-Davis
G- James Powell, UC Santa Barbara
G- Chad Troyer, Pacific
F- Anthony Brown, Pacific
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