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NCAA Tournament Bracket Research: Looking at the Big West Conference

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It’s Santa Barbara’s bid to lose, but UC Davis and UC Irvine are in the hunt.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 17 UC Santa Barbara at USC
UCSB sophomore Max Heidegger is one of the conference’s most dangerous players.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Barring a remarkable run in the final month of the season, the Gophers will not be participating in the NCAA Tournament this March. But the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best weekend of the calendar year (this is fact, not an opinion). Dozens of college basketball games with teams and players trying to make themselves a household name, even if for just the weekend. Small schools from smaller conferences get their shot at knocking off schools with more established basketball pedigrees. This is going to be a series where we take a look at 24 conferences and the schools most likely to represent them in the NCAA Tournament. Consider this early bracket research to find that Cinderella team that busts everyone’s bracket...except yours.

Big West Conference

Last Year’s NCAA Participant: (16) UC Davis Aggies
Upset Team in Prior Years: Irvine has been in a postseason tournament for five straight seasons, and nearly took down Louisville as a 13-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, so they’ve got the pedigree to make some noise down the stretch.

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

KenPom Rank: 99
Off Efficiency: 115.4 (37)
Def Efficiency: 108.3 (227)
eFG%: 53.7% (72)

Why are they dangerous: The surprising Gauchos are probably the conference’s most dangerous team and have an offense that is inside the nation’s top 40, which is saying something. They have two of the conferences top players, Max Heidegger and Leland King. The former is averaging 21 ppg as a sophomore while the latter is averaging a double double. It’s coach Joe Pasternack’s first year and, after bottoming out in an uncharacteristically bad year last year, UCSB was picked to finish near the conference basement this year. The team had other ideas and are undefeated at home this year. That’s big for conference tournament purposes.

UC Davis Aggies

KenPom Rank: 142
Off Efficiency: 104.9 (185)
Def Efficiency: 102.5 (104)
eFG%: 51.7% (143)

Why are they dangerous: The Aggies know what it takes to succeed in this conference. Two years ago they won the regular season title and last year were the representative in the conference tournament. They have the Big West’s best player in Chima Moneke, who is averaging a cool 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. They lost four starters from last year’s tournament team, however, so that could be a factor as things tighten up.

UC Irvine Anteaters

KenPom Rank: 141
Off Efficiency: 100.7 (257)
Def Efficiency: 98.3 (43)
eFG%: 48.4% (283)

Why are they dangerous: The Anteaters have been one of the Big West’s most consistent teams over the past few years and nearly upset Louisville in their lone NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. They have a fantastic defense, which will help down the stretch, and they’ve righted the ship after a mid-season meltdown. Still, they’ve had trouble beating the best teams in the conference, and without a true scorer they may be hard pressed to find long-term success.


NCAA Tournament Outlook

The conference looks destined to produce another 15 or 16 seed, depending on how things shake out. The Gauchos are an interesting case with their high-flying offense and multiple contributors. They’re the conference’s best chance at producing an upset should they make the tournament.