Among the many beautiful things about March Madness is the notion that any team can make it. Every conference gets one automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. Most automatic bids are awarded to the winner of each respective conference tournament. Each article will preview a different conference tournament with a full bracket breakdown.
8 Long Beach State def. 9 Cal State Northridge
7 Cal State Fullerton def. 10 Cal Poly
1 UC Santa Barbara def. 8 Long Beach State
4 UC Davis def. 5 Cal State Bakersfield
2 UC Irvine def. 7 Cal State Fullerton
3 UC Riverside def. 6 Hawaii
1 UC Santa Barbara def. 4 UC Davis
2 UC Irvine def. 3 UC Riverside
2 UC Irvine def. 1 UC Santa Barbara
For the better part of the last decade, UC Irvine has been the class of the Big West. They’ve finished no worse than second in the conference in each of the last seven seasons including two NCAA Tournament trips. They have again finished top two with Santa Barbara being the other main contender. When those two faced to open conference play, the Anteaters swept the Gauchos. Junior forward Collin Welp led the team in points, rebounds, and assists in their second matchup and has been their best player this season. He has six double-doubles and is third in the Big West in points per game. The Anteaters are ultimately a defensive team ranking inside the Top 20 in field goal percentage allowed and effective field goal percentage allowed. On paper, they are competitive with Santa Barbara so Head Coach Russell Turner needs to dig back to late December and recapture their head-to-head success to earn another March Madness berth.
The Rainbow Warriors had a surprisingly smooth season as the only Big West team to play all of their scheduled conference matchups. They notched one win against Irvine and one against Riverside showing that they can compete with top conference opponents. The Big West seems like a two-horse race so a steady team is the best shot to play spoiler. Hawaii rates modestly in most statistical categories but has the consistency of a full schedule.
Matchup to Watch
UC Riverside vs Hawaii
Unlike some other “matchups to watch,” this one doesn’t have tournament champion ramifications. It does, however, feature two teams who are similar in a number of categories. Hawaii and Riverside are the two highest volume three-point shooting teams in the Big West and each average over eight made triples per game. These two teams faced off twice at the beginning of January and split the series. In those two games, the teams combined for 71 free throw attempts and 85 three-point attempts. Expect the third matchup to go down to the wire just as the first two did.
Featured Image courtesy of ucirvinesports.com
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