Russell Turner, UC Irvine, Big West Tournament Preview

CBB Review prepares you for every conference tournament leading up to Selection Sunday. Up next: The Big West Tournament.

This conference was a gauntlet at the top, with UCSB and UC Irvine tying for the conference championship at 15-5, but UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton were right on their tails. This Big West Tournament is one of the most wide-open in conference champ week, so if you’re willing to stay up, it’ll be worth the watch.

2023 Big West Conference Awards

Player of the Year: Zyon Pullin, UC Riverside

Freshman of the Year: Lachlan Ulbrich, UC Riverside

Transfer of the Year: Lassina Traore, Long Beach State

Coach of the Year: Mike Magpayo, UC Riverside

First Team:

  • G: Latrell Wrightsell Jr., Cal State Fullerton (16.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 39.9 3P%)
  • G: Ajay Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara (15.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG)
  • G: Zyon Pullin, UC Riverside (18.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 41.0 3P%)
  • G: Bryce Pope, UC San Diego  (18.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG)
  • G: Elijah Pepper, UC Davis (22.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.6 SPG)

Second Team:

  • G: DJ Davis, UC Irvine (15.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 38.9 3P%)
  • G: Joel Murray, Long Beach State (15.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • G: Dawson Baker, UC Irvine (15.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 APG)
  • F: Miles Norris, UC Santa Barabara (14.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 39.1 3P%)
  • F: Lassina Traore, Long Beach State (12.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 54.2 FG%)

Big Sky Tournament Simulation

First Round – Tuesday, Mar. 7

8. CSU Bakersfield (10-21, 6-14) vs. 9. CSUN (7-24, 4-16) – 9 p.m on ESPN+

There are two ice-cold teams in the Big West. Cal Poly, who we’ll get to in a second, and CSU Bakersfield, who have lost five in a row. Atin Wright averaged 17.5 PPG and 6 RPG for CSUN in their two matchups this season, so expect the same in this one.

Ariel’s Pick: 9. CSUN

7. Long Beach State (17-15, 11-9) vs. 10. Cal Poly (7-24, 1-18) – 11:30 p.m on ESPN+

Long Beach State could really use Joel Murray, who barely played in 2023, but luckily they are playing a Cal Poly team on an 18-game losing streak. You read that right, 18-game losing streak. Don’t expect that streak to snap in this one.

Ariel’s Pick: 7. Long Beach State

Quarterfinals – Thursday, Mar. 9

1. UC Irvine (22-10, 15-5) vs. 9. CSUN – 3 p.m on ESPN+

UC Irvine has to feel great that they got matched up with CSUN instead of Long Beach State when they earned the tiebreaker for the one seed. CSUN actually beat the Anteaters this season, but asking them to win twice could be too much to ask.

Ariel’s Pick: 1. UC Irvine

4. Cal State Fullerton (18-12, 12-6) vs. 5. Hawaii (22-10, 13-7) – 5:30 p.m on ESPN+

Cal State comes into the tournament as the hottest team in the Big West, winning six in a row, including a one-point win against Hawaii. This will be a great game, with the other head-to-head this season going into overtime. This one could come down to the buzzer, but it’s hard to bet against the hot team, and Cal State Fullerton holds that edge.

Ariel’s Pick: 4. Cal State Fullerton

2. UC Santa Barbara (24-7, 15-5) vs. 7. Long Beach State – 9 p.m on ESPN+

Both games were decided by exactly five points in the regular season, and the way conference tournaments have been going so far, this feels like an upset spot. However, Ajay Mitchell will do just enough to put them into the next round.

Ariel’s Pick: 2. UCSB

3. UC Riverside (21-11, 14-6) vs. 6. UC Davis (18-13, 11-8) – 11:30 p.m on ESPN+

This should be a terrific matchup between Zyon Pullin and Elijah Pepper. The last time the two played, Pepper scored 32 points and UC Riverside still won by seven. Unless he scores 40, the supporting cast might not be enough to take down UCR.

Ariel’s Pick: 3. UC Riverside 

Semifinals – Friday, Mar. 10

1. UC Irvine vs. 4. Cal State Fullerton – 9 p.m on ESPNU

As I mentioned, don’t bet against the hot team in March. Cal State Fullerton beat UC Irvine to go 11-11 early in the year, and are 7-1 since. We’ve seen a trend of one seeds not making the conference final so far in mid-major tournaments, and that’ll continue here.

Ariel’s Pick: 4. Cal State Fullerton

2. UC Santa Barbara vs. 3. UC Riverside – 11:30 p.m on ESPNU

UC Riverside has the best coach, freshman, and player in the conference this year, but they won’t have the best team. The combo of Ajay Mitchell and Miles Norris will prove to be too much and propel the Gauchos to the finals.

Ariel’s Pick: 2. UC Santa Barbara

Finals – Saturday, Mar. 11

2. UC Santa Barabra vs 4. Cal State Fullerton – 9:30 p.m on ESPN2

The last two conference champions face off for a chance to dance. Cal State Fullerton is looking to become the first team to win back-to-back championships in over a decade, while UCSB looks for its second tournament bid in ten years. As I mentioned at the start of the article, this could be the most balanced conference tournament, meaning two balanced teams in the finals. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends similarly to last year’s result when Cal State Fullerton won by just one point.

The only difference? Cal State Fullerton will be on the losing end, and the Gauchos will advance to the tournament for the second time in three years.

Ariel’s Pick: 2. UC Santa Barbara

One thought on “2023 Big West Tournament Preview & Conference Awards”

Comments are closed.