Ajay Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, CBB Rank

2023 Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell returns for his junior year with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.
Last year, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos came in strong to become regular-season co-champions with UC Irvine. This team won the Big West Tournament to make it to the NCAA Tournament. The Gauchos lost only five conference games and three non-conference games. The two regular season losses were to Northern Arizona and Duquesne. The other non-conference loss was in the NCAA Tournament’s first round against Baylor, 74-56.
With the returning Big West player of the year, Ajay Mitchell and the Gauchos are looking to be the outright champions in the Big West, win the conference tournament again, and make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.
While this team lost Miles Norris to a potential professional career in the NBA and a definite one overseas, Andre Kelly also graduated. Outside of that, the Gauchos have most of their team back. Head coach Joe Pasternack brought in younger transfers from big-name schools. UC Santa Barbara grabbed a Creighton guard and Auburn center to add to their roster.

Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Head coach:  Joe Pasternack (6th season at UC Santa Barbara)

2022-23 record: 27-8 (15-5)

2023 postseason finish: Lost in NCAA Tournament Round of 64 to Baylor

Notable departures: Miles Norris (Professional), Andre Kelly (Graduated), Calvin Wishart (Professional), Ajare Sanni (Graduated)

Notable nonconference games: N/A

Projected Rotation

PG: Ajay Mitchell (6-4, 190, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 16.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG

SG: Josh Pierre-Louis (6-4, 190, Gr.-Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 9.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.5 APG

SF: Ben Shtolzberg (6-4, 200, So.)

2022-23 stats: 1.7 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.7 APG, 54.5 FG% (Transfer from Creighton)

PF: Jakov Kukic (6-10, 230, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 2.2 PPG, 0.2 APG, 1.9 RPG

C: Yohan Traore (6-10, 225, So.)

2022-23 stats: 2.2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.1 BPG, 40.0 FG% (Transfer from Auburn)

6: Cole Anderson (6-4, 185, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 7.4 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.6 APG, 41.5 3P%

7: Henry Hartwell (6-5, 180, Rs.-So.)

2022-23 stats: 2 games played

8: Koat Keat Tong (6-10, 210, So.)

2022-23 stats: 1.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.3 APG

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos MVP: Ajay Mitchell

Ajay Mitchell has continued to shine in the Big West. During his first year, he was Big West Freshman of the Year. He was Big West Player of the Year after becoming a full-time starter this past year. Mitchell lit up the stat sheet in the Big West and, clearly, for the Gauchos.

Mitchell led the Big West in assists per game with 5.1. He added being second in total assists and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3). Mitchell was third in the Big West in field goal percentage (49.4%) and fourth in free throw percentage and steals. Finally, he was sixth in the league in scoring with 15.7 points. Mitchell is a Swiss army knife and has already grown into an impressive leader for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. He had three games in that he got a double-double with points and assists.

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos make-or-break player: Ben Shtolzberg

Losing Miles Norris to graduation and professional career, he was the other half of the one-two punch. With his length and ability, the easy replacement would likely be Yohan Traore. However, looking at the shooting ability, Ben Shtolzberg is the player that will step into that second punch for the Gauchos. He was expected to be a part of the Creighton team.

However, the transfer portal changed that. Last year, Shtolzberg was behind Ryan Nembhard, Baylor Scheierman, and Trey Alexander. The portal brought in Steven Ashworth and would have likely left Ben relegated to the bench.

Shtolzberg only saw six minutes a game in the 15 games that he played. Being the tenth person off Creighton’s bench, he will bring some playing time at a slightly advanced level. In his best game with Creighton, he scored 13 points in 14 minutes of play. Having the ability to earn and play consistently will be a massive benefit to him and the Gauchos.

The expectation for him would be an almost immediate starter alongside Mitchell. Shtolzberg is a solid scorer and continues to develop his game. At the end of the year, no one would be surprised to see that he is the Newcomer of the year in the Big West.

Key analytic: Effective field goal percentage

This team was not great at shooting 3-pointers, but it was a top team in creating and making field goals. UC Santa Barbara began great shots within the arc. The Gauchos shot an impressive 54.8% from 2-point range.

UC Santa Barbara ranked 29th with Clemson at Effective Field Goal Percentage and 22nd in 2-point percentage. The Gauchos created and made smart shots within the arc. Coach Pasternack has brought in some bigs that will only increase these numbers. Yohan Traore has probably one of the best 2-point shooting percentages, over 60%. Having him as the big, these numbers could quickly increase and make this team more dominant.

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 2023-24 projections

Projected conference finish: 1st in Big West

Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 32

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