By Ben Greenberger
Welcome to the Big West! An 11 team conference that is home to 10 teams from California and the University of Hawaii. The Michelob Light Arena in Paradise, Nevada will play host to this tournament, with no fans in attendance.
The Big West Tournament will begin on Tuesday, March 9th and run all the way through Saturday, March 13. It will feature 10 out of the 11 teams that currently reside in this conference. UC San Diego just got bumped up to NCAA Division 1 this season, and therefore will not be eligible for postseason play until 2024. The top two seeds, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine will each get a bye and begin play on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos enter this tournament as the top overall seed, winning the regular season title by two games. They finish with a conference record of 13-3, going 19-4 overall. The Gauchos played extremely well on their home court this season, going 11-0 at the UC Santa Barbara Event Center. This team hasn’t seen an NCAA Tournament berth since 2011, but find themselves with a good shot to return to the Big Dance this year.
The UC Riverside Highlanders find themselves in a good spot to challenge for the tournament title this season. They have never won the conference tournament in their history, so a Big West title would be historic. Riverside enters the tournament in 3rd place with a conference record of 8-4. They come into this week on a 3-game winning streak, including a 16-point victory over top seeded UC Santa Barbara. Riverside has been playing consistent ball all season long, and is a team to watch in this conference.
Player to Watch:
TJ Starks of the CSU Northridge Matadors is the premier scorer in this conference. Even though the Matadors have struggled this season, Starks has maintained a very high level of play. He’s averaging 21.6 points per game, the highest in the conference by over five points! He’s shooting over 37% from three-point range to go along with 45.9% from the floor and 77.9% from the line. He has cracked the 25-point mark in five out of his team’s last six games. Starks and the Matadors will face off in the opening game of the tournament against Long Beach State. They will have their work cut out for them from that point on, however, as the 8th seeded Northridge team will have to pull off a big upset to play deep into the week.
Edited by Emma Moloney