Five Big West games down, and it’s still so far so good. The biggest worry is again Luke Nelson’s ability to stay healthy — it would be foolish at this point to put any stock in Coach Turner’s official estimates on when he “hopes” to have Luke back.
But let’s focus on the good. With the exception of a lethargic effort against UCSB on the road, our Anteaters have won their other four conference games convincingly: 15 points over Long Beach, 28 points over Hawaii, 20 points over Fullerton, and 22 points over Cal Poly.
Northridge has the potential to put up UCI’s biggest challenge tonight, but don’t forget that this is the same Matador team that embarrassingly lost to non-DI Bethesda. This loss is hard to contextualize. The Flames of Bethesda, which is a tiny Christian college in Anaheim, is a member school of the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA) and plays in the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference (PCAC). The PCAC is a community college conference. No team from that conference has ever beaten a D-I team. So clearly CSUN is capable of losing to anyone.
Despite this unsightly blemish on their resume, ESPN’s bracketology as recently as a week ago inexplicably had CSUN as Big West’s representative.
Luckily, Joe Lunardi saw the folly of his prediction quickly enough, and UCI has re-taken our rightful place on the bracket as the Big West’s most likely representative.
For a while, UCI was slotted as one of the free and clear 16 seeds, but the Big West has been performing so poorly that UCI is back in one of the play-in games. This is an unlikely outcome because it would mean that every mid-major conference favorite win their respective automatic bid. Every year, there are some upsets and teams with worse RPIs than UCI steal bids. In this case, UCI would at least move up to a guaranteed 16 seed, and possibly even a 15. Unfortunately, the ‘Eaters didn’t capitalize on any of their non-conference opportunities to notch a resume boosting win, and every single one of their Big West conference mates has an RPI south of 150. So, the prospect of moving up in Bracketology before the conference tournaments is slim. It would however, be a cool feat to notch a perfect 16-0 conference slate.
A discussion for a different day is whether people would actually prefer a 16 seed play-in-game…