The Long Beach State 49ers and the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos met last year in the Big West Final, and now, they are going to meet again on Saturday night for the right to get into the NCAA Tournament.
The 49ers were clearly the best team in this conference this year. Save for a loss to the Cal State Fullerton Titans in the regular season finale, there wasn’t a game lost in conference play for the rest of the year. LBSU might be in the NCAA Tournament with or without this win, though it is going to want to leave nothing to chance after seeing teams like the Iona Gaels, Nevada Wolf Pack, Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, and the likes falling out of their conference tournaments and likely ending in the NIT. The starting five for this team is remarkable and is clearly the best in the conference. Casper Ware is leading the team at 16.9 points per game. Larry Anderson and TJ Robinson are both double digit point scorers, while James Ennis and Eugene Phelps are just short at 9.8 and 9.6 points per game. Robinson is a double-double man at 12.2 points and 10.2 boards per game. If there is problem, there are some depth issues, but the teams in the Big West just don’t have the depth either to take advantage of it for the most part.
Santa Barbara has a dangerous team with a lot of veterans. Orlando Johnson is averaging 19.8 points per game, and he is going to be the man that has to make the difference for the Gauchos in this one. Santa Barbara also gets great contributions from James Nunnally, who is averaging 15.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. These two led to the upset of LBSU last year in the Big West Final, and they could do it again this year. Because of how fast this team runs, the defense doesn’t always look the greatest on paper, as this is a team that is allowing 65.4 points per game. However, opponents are only shooting 39.9 percent from the field, making this a very sneaky squad. The Gauchos can obviously run and run quite a bit, but it didn’t need to show in wins over Cal Poly and the University of the Pacific over the last two days. The Gauchos have now won four in a row and have covered all four, though it has to be a bit ominous that their last loss came by a dozen to this Long Beach State outfit.
The Final Word: It seems as though the Gauchos just have some knack for taking care of the 49ers here in this tournament. Johnson and Nunnally are the real deal, and a UC Santa Barbara team that knows that it isn’t going to be in the postseason without this game feels like it is going to get the job done. Hopefully for the Big West, this conference is going to end up with two bids to the dance when it is said and done with.
Long Beach State 49ers @ UC Santa Barbara Gauchos Pick: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.