The Big East Conference Tournament has a ton of fanfare. The Big West Conference Tournament does not. This is one of the weaker conferences in college basketball, as Bart Torvik rates the BWC 20th out of the 32 conferences. Things would be much worse if there weren’t some solid offensive teams here because this is a conference driven by scoring points.
The Big West ranked third in 3P% on offense and 32nd in 3P% on defense, which is worth noting because the Honda Center in Anaheim is the home of this conference tournament and it has been very good for unders historically. Teams that don’t have to rely as much on long-distance shooting should have a leg up in this conference tournament that starts on Thursday March 12.
Furthermore, we have an under arena that will now be absent of fans, as coronavirus concerns in California have led officials to play this tournament in an empty venue.
Only the top eight teams qualify, so Cal Poly fell short and their season is over. UC Irvine is clearly the best team in this league, but the best team doesn’t always win. Irvine has been to the title game in four of the last five years and is 2-2. They lost to #4 seed Cal State Fullerton in 2018 and #2 seed UC Davis in 2017.
We’ve seen teams come from off the pace before, so the seed lines sometimes don’t even matter, but here are the teams, seeds, standings, and odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook for the 2020 Big West Tournament:
- UC Irvine 21-11 (13-3) -110
- Cal State Northridge 15-17 (10-6) (H2H tiebreaker) +900
- UC Santa Barbara 21-10 (10-6) +345
- Hawaii 17-13 (8-8) (H2H tiebreaker) +950
- UC Davis 14-18 (8-8) +1200
- UC Riverside 17-15 (7-9) +1000
- Cal State Fullerton 11-20 (6-10) (H2H tiebreaker) +1450
- Long Beach State 11-21 (6-10) +5000
This is one of those conference tournaments that features re-seeding after the first round. So the higher seed can get a big break in the event of an upset and we have definitely seen those before.
Northridge brings the best offense to Anaheim, as the Matadors were second in both 2P% and 3P% on offense and also had far and away the lowest turnover rate in the conference. It should have been only a matter of time with a major conference head coach like Mark Gottfried. UC Davis is the best team from distance and actually shot 39.1% to rank third nationally behind BYU and Oregon. UC Davis was even better from 3 in conference play at 42.4%. The problem is that UC Davis ranks 315th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.
That means we’ve got a battle of offense vs. defense in the Big West, right?
Here is the schedule for the 2020 Big West Tournament:
Thursday March 12
12 p.m. PT: 7 Cal State Fullerton vs. 2 Cal State Northridge
2:30 p.m. PT: 6 UC Riverside vs. 3 UC Santa Barbara
6 p.m. PT: 8 Long Beach State vs. 1 UC Irvine
8:30 p.m. PT: 5 UC Davis vs. 4 Hawaii
Friday March 13
6:30 p.m. PT: Second highest remaining seed vs. Second lowest remaining seed
9 p.m. PT: Highest remaining seed vs. Lowest remaining seed
Saturday March 14
8:30 p.m. PT: Championship Game
Maybe we don’t. UC Irvine ranked second in defense, but also second in offense. The Anteaters were second to UC Davis in eFG%, first in 2P%, and held their own shooting 37.6% from 3, which ranked third. Irvine did have some turnover issues and didn’t force enough takeaways, but did go 13-3 in conference action. The Anteaters actually lost to quarterfinals opponent Long Beach State on the road by seven earlier this season. That game featured .807 points per possession and was the worst offensive performance by far in conference. In fact, it was the only game in which UC Irvine had less than 1 PPP in Big West play.
It took a significant outlier performance for UC Irvine to lose that game. They did lose two others, falling short against UCSB on the road by 3 and Cal State Northridge by 2 in the regular season finale. That was also an outlier performance, as UC Irvine allowed 1.167 PPP, their worst defensive effort of the conference play part of the season.
In other words, it can be done to knock off Irvine, but it takes a real outlier type of performance. In the UCSB loss, Irvine was outscored by 14 points at the free throw line. Something out of the ordinary could certainly happen here and keep UC Irvine from winning the Big West. That is the problem with a one-and-done format vs. the regular season.
UC Davis had an excellent offense at times, but also had a bad offense at times. The Aggies had a four-game stretch with 1.274, 1.254, 1.461, and 1.184 points per possession, but also got held under 1 PPP on six occasions out of 16 conference games. In a tough offensive environment like the Honda Center, it seems scary to back a team with extreme highs, but some pretty low lows.
I wish I had something more interesting and exciting for you in this conference. The fact of the matter is that the two defensive teams on par with UC Irvine, Hawaii and UC Riverside, are just so bad offensively that it is hard to give them the time of day in this tournament. The two other good offensive teams are really poor defensively.
Irvine should hold serve as the favorite. Perhaps somebody shoots the lights out for three days and gets past the Anteaters. If you want to gamble, that team is probably UC Davis, but a semifinal round date with UC Irvine would make that hedge tricky.
UC Irvine was only an underdog at UCSB of +1 as far as conference play goes. That means that the Anteaters will be favored in every game that they play here. They were -11 against the #2 seed Northridge at home in the finale. They lost, but they’d still be -6 or -7 against them if they met here. In that respect, maybe UCSB gets merit as the second-best team here. They would evade UC Irvine until the finals, so maybe that is your gamble, but UC Irvine should hold up here.
Pick: UC Irvine -110