By Nash Walker
The Big West is often confused with the Mountain West Conference, or even the West Coast Conference, but make no mistake- it’s its own brand of basketball. No. 1 California-Irvine is the clear favorite ahead of tipoff.
Irvine has used their magnificent ball movement and teamwork to sit atop the Big West, with a lone loss to Long Beach State on the road. They also topped Southeastern Conference school Texas A&M on the road in November. The Anteaters avenged the loss by edging out their conference foe 82-80 at home on Feb. 2. The question of the Big West is… can anyone stop Irvine, and in doing so, steal a bid in the 2019 NCAA men’s Tournament?
The 5-seed Long Beach State 49ers are a clear sleeper. the only Big West squad that has been able to solve UC-Irvine, winning 80-70 on January 16th. They took the Anteaters to the brink in late February, losing 82-80. The 49ers have been wildly inconsistent, but Sophomore Guard Deishuan Booker hasn’t been- scoring in double digits in every game since Dec. 22. If you’re looking for a dark horse, look no further.
The 2-seed California-Santa Barbara Gauchos are another team to watch. The 2010-11 conference champions hold the second seed, as they have strung together a solid season under head coach Joe Pasternack. They have the most efficient shooter in the conference- Amadou Sow. He stands 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, and hails from Bamako, Mali.
Fouls have been a concern for the big man, but his size and production speak for themselves. The first task in game-planning against UCSB will be shutting down Sow. In the backcourt, transfers Jaquori McLaughlin and Devearl Ramsey lead the charge. A well balanced group with a talented big, do not underestimate The Gaucho gods.
Dishaun Booker is the player to watch in this tournament. The Long Beach State via Las Vegas product has flashed an incredible ability to fire the basketball, shooting at a 45.4 percent clip on the season. Booker is a bulldog and is a lock from the line, shooting above 90 percent. If Booker can improve his three point shooting, he will be a monster headache for not only Hawaii, but for the rest of the conference in this tournament.
Edited by Garrett Jones | @firstname.lastname@example.org