2023 Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell returns for his junior year with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
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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
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.
Time to begin highlighting prospects for 2024
Starting with UCSB's Ajay Mitchell: Efficient ISO scorer (1.2PPP). Effective "dancer" with change of direction, gets his man to lean. Uses 6-5 size for finishing + 46% on runners. High-IQ passer. Limited 3PT range and off-ball skill. pic.twitter.com/xWnLmEBQRS
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) July 25, 2023
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.
Creighton transfer Ben Shtolzberg will be a straight bucket getter in the Big West. The kind of dude that falls out of bed and gets 10-12 points.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 13, 2023
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.
Creighton opened up their 2022 recruiting class with a huge commitment from sharpshooting guard Ben Shtolzberg 🎯🏀 @BenShtolzberg @BluejayMBB #GoJays@PaulBiancardi @Soldiers_Salute pic.twitter.com/yqyhZ34bAh
— NIBC (@NIBCOfficial) August 20, 2021
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