- The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (4-1) begin conference play against the UC Irvine Anteaters (3-4) on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10:00 pm EST
- The Gauchos are coming off a solid 75-63 victory over the WCC’s Pepperdine in their last outing, while the Anteaters are coming off an 85-53 blowout of San Diego from the West Coast Conference
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
Big West Conference play begins Sunday, Dec. 27 for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (4-1) and the UC Irvine Anteaters (3-4). Tip off is set for 10:00 pm EST inside the Bren Events Center.
While UCI was the preseason conference favorite, it’s UCSB that is currently the highest-rated Big West squad by KenPom. A 12-point victory last Saturday over Pepperdine has Joe Pasternack’s program rated No. 115. Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin scored a season-high 23 points against the Waves, enough to earn him Big West Player of the Week honors.
Meantime, Russ Turner’s ‘Eaters are rated No. 143 by KenPom (good for second-best in the conference). The team is coming off a victory over another West Coast Conference program last Saturday as UCI knocked off San Diego by 32 points. Collin Welp had 16 points and eight rebounds in the blowout win. Now, Irvine is a slight favorite in the first of a two-game series Sunday as it tries to defend its conference championship.
UC Santa Barbara vs UC Irvine Odds
|UC Santa Barbara||-1.5 (-115)||OFF||Over 134.5 (-105)|
|UC Irvine||+1.5 (-105)||OFF||Under 134.5 (-115)|
Odds taken Dec. 26.
The McLaughlin Group
A big factor in UCSB’s conference-best 4-1 start is surely the early-season play of McLaughlin.
The 6-foot-4 Tacoma, Washington product is averaging team-highs in points per game (18) and assists per game (6) through five games. A starter in all 66 career games played with the Gauchos, the former University of Washington commit has been the squad’s leading scorer in three straight outings and the leading assist man in four straight. He tied his career-high with eight dimes and now has a team-leading 24 on the season.
JaQuori McLaughlin put up 23 points and 8 rebounds in UCSB’s win over Pepperdine, and looked like the best player on the floor in a game with Colbey Ross and Kessler Edwards.
Dude is a machine.
— Connor Hope (@CondorianFM) December 20, 2020
Pasternack’s club is more than just one player though, Sophomore guard Ajari Sanne had 16 points against the Waves, while the Gauchos got 12 rebounds from Amdou Sow in the road win.
If UCSB is going to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since reaching the Big Dance in back-to-back seasons a decade ago, a win over the Anteaters will go a long way in achieving that goal.
Weight of Expectations?
UCI’s 3-4 record through its first seven games may be a little misleading. The Anteaters’ strength of schedule is significantly higher than UCSB’s (83rd vs. 143rd out of 330 Division I teams). That said, Irvine has already lost to Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, a pair of WCC teams the Gauchos have beaten.
For a team that’s won 52 games over the previous two seasons (a win total that includes an NCAA Tournament victory), the Anteaters have yet to meet expectations for the 2020-21 campaign.
1️⃣ WEEK until Big West play starts.
New season. New faces. Same Goal. #StillHungry
A 3rd straight Big West Title ? in our sights ? pic.twitter.com/2k0YHHCnaQ
— UCI Men’s Basketball (@UCImbb) December 20, 2020
Turner’s club features three players that average in double-digits, led by freshman guard Dawson Baker’s 12 points per game. Welp, a junior forward from Seattle, was part of the program’s upset over Kansas State in March Madness nearly two years ago.
For the ‘Eaters to get back to the Big Dance, Welp needs to fulfill the potential he showed during March Madness against the Wildcats. Otherwise, UCI’s season could head south in a hurry.
I mentioned strength of schedule earlier. Irvine’s other two losses this season — in addition to the pair against WCC competition — came against San Diego State and USC.
Those non-conference opponents are far superior to Santa Barbara’s non-Big West foes, which include programs like St. Katherine and Bethesda University (CA).
Turner, a former Stanford assistant, knows all about scheduling up. I’m not going to question a four-time Big West Coach of the Year. And while those defeats to the Aztecs and Trojans were ugly (a 19-point loss to San Diego State and a 35-point loss to USC), there’s no doubt Turner learned things about his squad and will deploy those strategies as conference play begins.
Based on recent history (UCI has defeated UCSB in five of its last six) and experience (both from a roster and coaching standpoint), I’m leaning to the home-team Anteaters in this spot.
The pick: UC Irvine +1.5 (-105)