Big West Tournament Betting Preview: Futures Value in a Wide Open League

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UC Davis Aggies guard Arell Hennings

The Big West tournament tips off this afternoon in Anaheim. It is by far the most wide open conference tourney in the entire country. Seeds 1-6 all have a legitimate shot, which should provide opportunity in the future market. Pull a name out of a hat. Flip a coin. Throw a dart. It’s that wide open.

Let’s dive into the bracket to look for some potential futures and finish up with predictions for each of the four first round games today.

2018 Big West Tournament Overview

Dates: Mar. 8-Mar. 10

Location: Honda Center – Anaheim, CA

Defending Champion: UC Davis

The top eight teams in the nine team Big West conference qualified for the conference tournament, which meant last place Cal State Northridge will not participate. The tourney follows a standard eight team format with zero byes.

Who Should Win

My Dart Landed on UC Davis +315

In a wiiiiiiide open field, defending champion and top seed UC Davis offers the best balance. Head coach Jim Les’ squad ranks third in the league in offensive efficiency rating, and second defensively.

The Aggies also have the only player in the history of the Big West to win Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season in point guard TJ Shorts, who is appropriately named, as he stands at a generous 5’9. Despite his diminutive stature, he’s one of the best rim finishers in the country. We’re talking about a guard who only made seven total threes in Big West play, yet still finished with the league’s fifth highest offensive rating. He did this thanks to the league’s highest assist rate, a low turnover rate, and an absurdly impressive 56.5% conversion rate on two point attempts. Shorts has completely taken over as the Aggies’ go to scoring option in the wake of center Chima Moneke’s suspension. The offense is ultimately better because of the shift in focus.

While the Aggies’ offense has improved without Moneke, the defense and rebounding have dropped off. Those are areas most of the Big West can exploit.

To illustrate the true wide open nature of this conference, top seed UC Davis could realistically go down in the first round against No. 8 seed UC Riverside. The Highlanders have played reasonably well for interim head coach Justin Bell since he replaced Dennis Cutts. Just a week and a half ago, Shorts had to do his best Tyus Edney impersonation to beat UCR.

UCR’s freshman guard Dikymbe Martin had a fair amount of success in limiting Shorts’ penetration. Junior guard Chance Murray also exploited the poor perimeter defense of UCD junior guard Siler Schneider. UCD’s first round game is far from a gimme.

If Not UC Davis, Then…

I picked UCSB +223 out of a hat

Again, I could really go with any team here, but the Gauchos are the league’s most efficient offensive team, especially since big man Jalen Canty has returned from suspension. With Leland King alongside Canty in the frontcourt, head coach Joe Pasternack has two paint options that require double teams in this league. That opens up the floor for sharp shooting guard Max Heidegger on the perimeter. It’s no coincidence that Heidegger struggled against the league’s two best defenses in UC Irvine and UC Davis when Canty didn’t play. When the Gauchos are clicking, they work inside out beautifully.

Defensively, UCSB has struggled in Pasternack’s first season trying to install his Arizona inspired pack line defense. Canty and King both struggle in post defense at times, and the Gauchos lack a perimeter defender that can apply the necessary ball pressure.

The Gauchos will face No. 7 seed Cal Poly in the first round. (This is the fourth straight year Poly has earned the 7 seed). Despite the speed of Poly’s backcourt duo of Donovan Fields and Vic Joseph, this is a good matchup for UCSB. The Mustangs have won only one game in the past month, which came at home against a CSUN team that didn’t even qualify for the tournament and subsequently fired head coach Reggie Theus and then its AD. Even then, Cal Poly needed double OT to pull out the victory after blowing a 15-point second half lead. UCSB just dominated the Mustangs in the last game of the regular season, even with Cal Poly shooting 12-30 from deep.

Genuine Threat

UC Irvine +347

Head coach Russell Turner’s defense is once again elite and UCI has unparalleled depth in the frontcourt. Turner is a master at mixing up defenses between man-to-man and a tricky matchup zone. The Eaters’ defense finished the season 8 points better (per 100 possessions) better than the second best defense (UCD) in the league.

Offensively however, UCI certainly has issues. The Eaters lack shooters on the perimeter (league low 31.8% from deep). That deficiency is magnified by the fact that their guards can’t penetrate off the dribble (league low free throw rate as well).

UCI drew No. 6 seed Hawaii in the first round. The Bows were the epitome of mediocre this year. Hawaii finished 8-8 in league play and it was remarkably the only team in the country to split the season series with every team in its respective league. (Although not every conference plays a round robin format like the Big West). UCI effectively shut down Hawaii’s pick and roll action, which focuses heavily on feeding the screener (think St. Mary’s lite). The Bows routinely ran their offense into the teeth of the Eater defense.

Potential Sleeper

Cal State Fullerton +680 or  Long Beach State +1050

The winner of this 4/5 matchup can make a deep run. No. 5 seed LBSU is always a threat to win the league simply because of the talent head coach Dan Monson assembles every year. The Niners seemingly righted the ship with two wins to end the regular season, including a victory at UCSB. Gabe Levin is a matchup problem for every team in the Big West with his ball skills at the 4. Look out if Beach can get more consistent point guard play (league’s highest offensive turnover rate) and improve just slightly on the defensive end (seventh in defensive efficiency rating in the Big West).

Fullerton split the season series with LBSU. Its offense has a nice advantage over that aforementioned vulnerable Beach defense. With veteran guards who penetrate relentlessly and a floor stretching 5 in Jackson Rowe, CSUF can beat any of the top teams on any given night. To wit, the Titans went 3-1 against UC Davis and UC Irvine. CSUF did get swept by UCSB, as it was one of the few teams not to bust the Gaucho’s pack line defense. (The ball screen defense against Heidegger was also a major issue). The good news is that the Titans wouldn’t see the Gauchos before the title game.

Thursday ATS Picks

UC Davis -7

CSUF -1.5 (top ATS prediction)

Hawaii +4

UCSB -10.5

Big West Tournament Final Prediction

CSUF over UC Davis

 

Photo credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports