In the modern age of college basketball, conferences are structured with more common sense attached to them. The Big East is now a collection of Catholic basketball schools (and Butler), while the Big West is an amalgam of universities in the California (and Hawaiian) public school system.
With UNLV long gone, and Utah State and Idaho fleeing in the middle of the last decade, the Big West has a small but defined identity. Each school can boast a having just a day's drive to the Pacific Ocean, with Hawaii claiming to be surrounded by it. All are publicly-funded with no prestige programs in the major sports. No members of the current conference have won an NCAA Tournament game since UC Santa Barbara in 1990, and at-large bids are miracles at best. But, you know, the ocean.
The Best Team: Two UCs have arguments for being the best squad in the Big West. Irvine is tied for the best record, 7-2, having beat third-place Long Beach State twice. But, also at 7-2, UC Santa Barbara has a 20-point win over Irvine. Statistically, they are the more prolific team. The Gauchos are ranked No. 66 by Ken Pomeroy, 26 spots higher than the Anteaters. The two teams will play one final time, Feb. 27 in Irvine. The first seed in the Big West Tournament could be on the line.
The Contenders: After UCs Irvine and Santa Barbara, Long Beach has an outside shot at the regular-season title. The 49ers have no bad losses, only losing to the only two teams ahead of them in the standings. If LBSU can keep cleaning up against the lesser Big West teams, the 49ers could make a run.
The Best Players: UC Santa Barbara's Alan Williams is a shoe-in for conference player of the year. The 6'8 forward averages a double-double, with 23.1 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. His scoring is so prolific that his average point total is nearly five more than any other player in the Big West. Add in 2.4 blocks per game and Williams can be dominant on both ends of the floor.
Santa Barbara also has the best three-point shooter in the conference, Kyle Boswell, who has hit 57 of his 125 attempts (45.6%). The leading assister in the Big West? Yep, another Gaucho. Zalmico Harmon averages 5.1 assists per contest.
The Best Upcoming Games:
2/27: UC Santa Barbara at UC Irvine
2/27: Hawaii at Long Beach State
Feb. 27 poses matchups between the Top 4 teams in the Big West. Conference tournament seeding could be heavily influenced by what happens in Irvine and Long Beach that day.
The Mascots: What fun is analyzing a non-BCS conference without power-ranking their mascots?
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors: Colorful, highly visual and even a bit oxymoronic. Plus, the only school off-continent.
CSU Northridge Matadors: Just 171 miles from Mexico, Northridge is probably rife with these career-oriented men. No bull.
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos: More Latin-American working stiffs. A Gaucho is a South American cattle-herder.
Cal Poly Mustangs: Residing in San Luis Obispo, known colloquially as "SLO", the Mustangs are your average, everyday wild horse.
Cal State Fullerton Titans: Industry Titans, for sure. Fullerton is home to a branch of defense contractor Raytheon. And 800 Albertsons employees.
Long Beach State 49ers: Not your typical 49ers. The school was founded in 1949, a hundred years after this man's golden age.
UC Davis Aggies: The nickname references the "agricultural" significance of the school. Their on-field mascot is a horse, whose shirt matches his eyes matches his skin color.
How have Big West teams fared in the NCAA Tournament?
In the current millennium, the Big West has averaged one bid to the NCAA Tournament per season. The last win by a Big West school was Utah State's overtime defeat of Ohio State in 2001, when the Aggies (ugh!) prevailed in a classic "12 over 5" upset. The last win by a current conference team was Santa Barbara's win over Houston in the 1990 Big Dance.
The conference hangs its hat upon having a national championship in its history, mentioning it in its official web page. But it should be careful associating with UNLV, winners of the 1990 NCAA title. Suspicions abound about what violations must have occurred to get coach Jerry Tarkanian forced out of the program as early as 1992.
Current NBA players from the Big West:
Orlando Johnson, Indiana Pacers via Fort Wayne Mad Ants
After winning Big West Player of the Year Award in 2010 as a redshirt sophomore, Johnson railed off two more All-Big West seasons. The Monterey, CA native was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 36th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft and immediately traded to Indiana. The 6'5 shooting guard currently plays in the D-League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Wonder if anyone on the Mad Ants was an Anteater at UC Irvine...