One week of league play down, eight weeks to go.
After beating this year’s contender Long Beach and embarrassing last year’s champ Hawaii, the prospect of UCI making a return to the Big Dance in 2017 has never looked brighter. The freshmen are progressing nicely, and Luke Nelson’s return has added the offensive firepower necessary to take pressure off the rest of the team.
Thursday’s game on paper looks like a continuation of the same. The Gauchos have by far their worst team in the last decade (if not longer). But if Anteater fans should have learned anything over the last few years, it’s that you never know what to expect in the Big West.
Academic Woes: Gaucho big men Jalen Canty, Felix White and Ami Lakoju were all declared ineligible at the end of fall quarter, leaving UCSB barren in the front court. It’s uncharacteristic of a Bob Williams squad, and possibly a harbinger of a program that’s becoming desperate to hang on to past glory. Academic performance has become something we UCI fans have taken for granted during the Turner era. I could be mistaken, but I believe you have to go back to the 2007-2008 season, when Trey Harris and Chuma Awaji had to sit out games in favor of hitting the books. Let’s all be grateful that our Anteaters have done enough to maintain their student-athlete standing.
Who’s Left: To make matters worst, Santa Barbara lost another big man since their last game in sophomore Jarriesse Blackmon, who is out 4-6 weeks with an elbow injury. By necessity, look for UCSB to go very small at times, led by junior guard Gabe Vincent. I’m expecting Ioannis and his fellow big men to dominate against Santa Barbara stiffs Alex Hart and JD Slajchert, much like they did against Hawaii.
Lakers v. Clippers: As seen on Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Doc Rivers was in attendance on Saturday against Hawaii watching his son Spencer suit up for the Anteaters. Santa Barbara has its own player with a famous basketball dad. Sophomore Maxwell Kupchak is the son of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. The younger Kupchak hasn’t been great this season, but he’s been thrust into the starting lineup with the aforementioned front court woes in Goleta. I wonder if Doc and Mitch have talked about their sons matching up in the Big West not only this year but in the next two years to come.
Even if UCI under performs, I still see the Anteaters pulling this one out at the end. While it’d be nice to notch back-to-back 29 point wins, I’d be happy with a solid win and everyone on the team staying injury-free as the ‘Eaters continue their run through the gamut of conference opponents.