Big West Top 10 Countdown: No. 1

We're still a few months away before the games actually begin but Big West fan J. Kline gives us his early predictions of what's in store for the 2003-04 basketball season.

#1 UC Santa Barbara
Predicted Record: 14-4

Of the top teams from last season, UCSB is the most likely to improve. The league's best backcourt should be even better. They must compensate for the loss of Mark Hull (all-BWC 1st team) but the frontcourt will be deeper. And, entering his 6th year, Bob Williams is running the most effective system in the BWC.

Senior wing Branduinn Fullove (BW POY) is an aggressive slasher, equally adept at perimeter shooting and attacking the hoop. He's the league's most well rounded scorer, making him difficult to defend (for opponents) and dependable (for USCB). I've written that there were better-deserving candidates for POY, but Fullove certainly deserved 1st-team (I think he won POY because he was the best player on the BW champion). Conversely, senior SG Nick Jones (all-BWC h.m) was underrated. He was the best defender at his position and UCSB's #2 rebounder. No slouch on offense: 50% FG and 41% 3-pt en route to 12 ppg. Overall, he and Ralphy Holmes were the standouts at SG; 2nd team would've been appropriate.

2003-04 Big West Projections
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara
No. 2 Utah State
No. 3 UC Irvine
No. 4 Cal State Fullerton
No. 5 Pacific
No. 6 Cal Poly SLO
No. 7 Idaho
No. 8 UC Riverside
No. 9 Cal State Northridge
No. 10 Long Beach State

Senior PG Jacoby Atako (BW Defensive POY) is probably pound-for-pound the league's strongest player. His role is mainly to defend and not turn the ball over, which he does well. Oregon State transfer soph Joe See adds another dimension. See has some Pac-10 experience at PG and is a good perimeter shooter. He redshirted with UCSB last year; expect him to have an immediate impact. RS-soph guard Cecil Brown could be an up-and-comer and should have increased p.t. Junior PG Chrismen Oliver, who's been an offensive sparkplug, may be used sparingly if this group plays to their potential. Likewise, true-soph wing Josh Davis may RS in anticipation of Fullove and Jones leaving.

Mark Hull played 34 mpg at 4 last season; this season it may be PF by committee. JC soph Cameron Goettsche (RS at Utah) has been compared skill-wise to Hull, but is a bigger and better athlete. Junior PF Casey Cook was pressed into playing 5 last season and (like so many other BW PF's) should benefit from a position change. Don't expect UCSB to replace Hull's scoring entirely from the 4, but rebounding will certainly improve.

Senior PF/C Bryan Whitehead is the incumbent 5. After some adjustment, he settled into his role as rebounder and post-defender. Whitehead's a caveman type and UCSB succeeded last season, more in-spite-of, than because-of, their post play. They welcome back senior PF/C Bray Skultety, lost last season to knee injury (similar to Spencer Nelson's situation at USU a year prior). Skultety may be the most undersized "big" but he's not overmatched defensively. He snatched an eye-popping 114 rebs in 283 min in '01-02. Skultety's an inspiring player whose energy should lift UCSB. Also, UCSB debuts RS-frosh PF/C Glen Turner, an athletic shot-blocker.

Bob Williams hasn't kept secret that he attacks the opponent's one or two best players with double-teams. It's remarkably effective considering everyone knows it's coming. UCSB held opponents to a league-low 40.9% FG and nearly matched USU in ppg allowed. With greater athleticism and frontcourt depth, the Gauchos should be the top defensive team in the BWC. UCSB had the most efficient offense in the BWC (1.31 pps as a team) that was driven by shooting a high number of 3's at a high success rate (38% tied for league-best). Hull was their most prolific 3-pt shooter and his loss will be felt because he was a very successful option. But, adding See and Goettsche will reduce the sting. And with senior leaders Fullove, Jones, and Atako, the motion offense should run smoothly.

The fact that they won 14 games last season although short-handed in the frontcourt bodes well for them this season. I think they'll be the class of the conference.