By: Josh Neighbors
A changing of the guard is in order in Big West basketball this coming 2016-2017 season. Let’s take a gander at what this year’s Big West will look like compared to last year’s conference.
Lost at Sea: Champion Hawaii put together a 27-5 season in which the Rainbow Warriors won not only the Big West title, they also knocked out sleeper Cal in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last Spring. Sadly for them, and for the conference, it is likely Hawaii will be stuck in paradise next March as a 2017 postseason ban(which is currently under appeal) is in place. That combined, with the slew of transfers which the Rainbow Warriors makes it virtually impossible for coach Eran Ganot’s squad to continue their success.
What about the Anteaters? UC Irvine finished second in the conference last year, and posted a 28-10 record but they also seemed to be poised for a drop off much Hawaii. Their best player and minutes leader, senior guard Luke Nelson will have to carry the load this year for the Anteaters offense. This team is very inexperienced though and have some serious depth concerns and much of that con be attributed to the loss of 5 of their seniors, three of whom were starters.
Who’s it gonna be then? The odds on favorite, and media pick to take the conference, the Long Beach State 49ers. Yes they lost their leading scorer Nick Faust, but this team has plenty of talent and they plan on putting it to the test early with a challenging non-conference schedule. In a stretch of ten days the 49ers will play Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, and Washington all on the road. Not to mention a couple other road trips to Lawrence, Kansas to play the Jayhawks and Austin, Texas to take on the Longhorns.
Coach Dan Monson’s team also has two preseason all Big West selections in Justin Bibbins and Gabe Levins. The Beach has a chance to run the conference and make it look easy.