Wednesday, October 16, 2019

UCSB Men's Basketball 2019-20 Season Preview, by Gaucho Freg

UCSB Basketball to Hold Walk-On Tryout
.2019-20 Season Preview, UCSB

The Gauchos are coming off a 22-10 season and a second place finish in the Big West Conference.  They return four of their top five scorers, add two impact transfers and, unlike last year, former First Team All Big West Max Heidegger and do-everything guard Jaquori McLaughlin are healthy coming into the season.  Knock on wood, the entire roster is healthy at the time of this posting.  Common to the first two seasons under Coach Joe Pasternack have been 20+ wins, impact transfers and a soft schedule. This season projects to be more of the same.

Head Coach
Joe Pasternack enters his third season at the helm of the Gauchos.  Pasternack has recruited extremely well, especially in the transfer market.  Each year he has added at least one graduate transfer that has played a key role on the team with two earning all-conference honors.  In year one, he led UCSB to its greatest turnaround season ever with 23 wins versus just 6 the year previous. Prior to UCSB he was the associate head coach under Sean Miller at Arizona.  He was also the head coach for the University of New Orleans in the post Katrina years.

The Roster
The Gauchos are experienced and deep but still youthful with three sophomores having played key roles in their freshmen campaigns last year.  This is highlighted by 2nd Team All Big West Center Amadou Sow.  The team returns four starters plus add DePaul transfer wing Brandon Cyrus who started most games in his two seasons as a Blue Demon.  They also add graduate transfer Matt Freeman, who was used as a stretch four off the bench while at Oklahoma.  There is a bevy of talent at the off-guard/wing positions so UCSB may often end up going with a small line-up on the floor.
All of the Gaucho guards are capable of penetrating the defense and all are perimeter threats too. The offense is typically guard oriented, moving the ball around the perimeter until one of the guards finds an opening or works the ball to Sow inside who is difficult to stop one-on-one.  Every Gaucho non-center position player can shoot the three so they will be able to stretch the floor.  Possibly add Sow to that category if summer practice reports on his perimeter shooting are true.
The roster has an international flavor with six players originally from outside the U.S.; Walk-on Max Cheylov-Canada, Matt Freeman-New Zealand, Robinson Idehen-Spain, RS Jakov Kukic-Croatia, Amadou Sow-Mali and Seko Toure-Guinea

Key Losses:  Armond Davis (F), 13.1ppg, 5.9 rpg; Jarriese Blackmon (F), 4.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg. 
Probable Starters (2018/19 stats)
Devearl Ramsey #4 PG, RS Junior.  6’0”, 185 lb  10.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 31 mpg, 43% from the field, 41% from three and 79% from the FT line.   A quick and exciting point guard that can both penetrate and hit from deep, Ramsey played his freshman season at Nevada.  A highly recruited 3-4* player out of high school, his defense is a strength   He shoots over 40% from deep, second on the team for accuracy last year.  A vocal leader, he was team captain last year.  His aggressive play and ability to penetrate defenses creates opportunities.  His aggressiveness sometimes leads to him forcing the issue and make poor passes, he had a 1.5 A/TO ratio as a sophomore.  Ramsey staying healthy all year is key to Gaucho success.

Max Heidegger:  #21 Guard, Senior. 6‘3”, 180 lb, 10.8, ppg, 85% FTs, 23% from deep, 2.9 apg, 2.5 rpg, 29 mpg.  Max regained his role as a starter after sitting out much of the first half of last season with a concussion then minor leg injury.  He struggled with his shot his junior year and his numbers took a big step back from his All Big West First Team Sophomore year.  In some respects, dealing with the injury was a benefit as he was more of a facilitator than in his sophomore year so his game is more well rounded.  With injury issues in the rear view mirror, a return to sophomore form is expected (and hoped for). When healthy and on, Heidegger is a do-it-all shooting guard with amazing range, deft moves and ball handling skills.  He may not end up with the same scoring average he had as a sophomore given there are more scoring threats around him to share the ball with compared to two years ago.  2019-20 Preseason All Big West Pick

JaQuori McLaughlin:  #3  Guard, RS Junior  6’4, 190 lb  10.7  ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.8 rpg, 34% from three, 32 mpg.  Another transfer, McLaughlin came to UCSB from Oregon State where he set the freshman record for three pointers made.  He can play either guard position and is one of four Gauchos to average in double figures returning this year.  He led the team in three point makes but gets most praise from Coach Pasternack for his defense.  As a starting shooting guard and a back-up point, he led the team in minutes played. After a bit of a slow shooting start while recovering from the off-season injury, he really improved and provided clutch offense in some close games.  With a full off season of normal practices this year, he could have a big step forward in 2019/20.

Matt Freeman:  #2  Forward, GT (Oklahoma) 6‘10”, 220 lb  3.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 36% from three (Oklahoma) Was primarily a spot-up, floor stretching, four for the Sooners.  Will have an expanded role at UCSB, being counted on to get points and boards in the paint.  He is the third consecutive Grad Transfer to play the four spot for UCSB with his predecessors both making all league.  If he can do the same, it will make for a lineup without any holes in it.

Amadou Sow#12  Forward/Center, Sophomore, 6’9”, 235 lb  11.6 ppg on 58% shooting, 6.3 rbg. 23 mpg.  Was 2nd Team All Big West in his freshman campaign while leading the team in rebounding.  He improved greatly over the course of the year and is reportedly expanding his range to beyond the arc.  Is the team’s leading returning scorer and is the best bet to lead the team in scoring and rebounding again.  UCSB can go big by having Sow shift to the four and Robinson Idehen come in at the five.   2019-20 Preseason All Big West Pick

Main Reserves (in order of projected minutes played)
Brandon Cyrus:  #11 Guard/Wing, RS Junior, 6’5”, 190lb. Sat out last season after transferring from DePaul.  Averaged 7.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg while a two year starter for the Big East school.  Lauded by Pasternack as a physical defender.  Will be the main guy off the bench will probably play starter level minutes.  Received rave reviews for his play in the pre-season intra-squad scrimmage.

Robinson Idehen:  #35  Center, Junior, 6’10”, 230 lb  3.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg. 10 mpg   Shot 70% from the field, leading the team. A JC transfer and considered the strongest, most physical athlete on the team, Idehen improved over the season and is expected to take a step up in 2019-20.  If UCSB wants to go big, we’ll see him on the floor with Sow who will shift over to the four.

Jay Nagle#5  Forward, Sophomore.  6’9”, 210 lb 3.6 ppg, 2 rpg, 44% from three, 13 mpg.  Has grown an inch since his freshman campaign.  An excellent 3 point shooter, has been working to get stronger and to expand his game into the paint. An ankle injury kept him out of summer practices for a while but is healthy now.  Will push Freeman for minutes at the four. 

Sekou Toure:  #0  Guard, Sophomore, 6’5”, 185 lb  3.5 ppg, 2.6 rbg  8 mpg  Lightly recruited, UCSB may have got a steal in him. Solid skills in slashing through the defense and finishing. His defense is good but, like many freshmen, his decision making last year wasn’t always the best.  Worked on his outside shot over the summer. A player with excellent potential; with Heidegger, McLaughlin and Cyrus playing the same position, he is battling a numbers game to get minutes. 

Roberto Gittens:  #1 Wing, JC Transfer Junior, 6’5”, 220lb.  Gittens comes to UCSB after averaging 13.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg at the College of S. Idaho.  He shot 33% from deep.  Highly skilled and rated 4 stars out of high school but needs to improve his fitness to earn minutes with this group.  A wild card, there may be games he doesn’t play at all and others where he could lead the team in scoring.
The Out of Conference Schedule
No way to sugarcoat it, the Gaucho OOC schedule this year, like last year, is soft. A closer look reveals a few compelling match-ups that will likely be competitive games.

Lets get the worst out of the way first and talk about the SWAC, consistently one of the bottom two or three leagues in the country.  UCSB has hosted a SWAC team each of the past two seasons and Pasternack liked it so much he’s going with three this year.  The reasoning is it is difficult to get teams to travel to SB and these represent the cheapest buy games. Jackson State, with the recent addition of a transfer wing Roland Griffin from Iona paired with possible SWAC POY forward Jayveous McKinnis, is expected to be competitive. Grambling State returns nearly everyone from last year’s team and is picked to finish 3rd in the SWAC.

UCSB again takes on multiple teams from the Big Sky with one of those teams a candidate to contend for the conference title in Southern Utah.  The Gauchos travel to the Beehive State in December to take on the Red Birds.  Like Grambling, SUU returns nearly everyone from last year plus add some high-level transfers.  They should make a big jump from where they finished last season. Portland State had a lot of turnover but has some good transfer talent while Idaho State is picked to finish near the bottom.

UCSB’s likely four toughest opponents are all on the road with the first two of these are early in the season vs. Pac 12 schools, UCLA and Oregon State (games 2 & 4, respectively).  One of the highlights of the schedule is one of the better mid-majors in the country in UT Arlington which returns much of their talent from last year’s second place team and should compete for the Sunbelt Conference crown again (they were second last year).  On the road in Arlington, this will be a very tough opponent. 
My rank of the schedule from toughest to weakest match-ups with consideration given to if home or away:
Opponent Rank Date Home/Away Team
1 11/10/2019 A UCLA
2 11/20/2019 A Oregon St.
3 12/7/2019 A UT Arlington
4 12/14/2019 A Southern Utah
5 12/29/2019 A Louisiana
6 11/29/2019 H Grambling St
7 12/3/2019 A Bakersfield
8 11/16/2019 H Rice
9 11/27/2019 H Portland St.
10 12/22/2019 H Merrimack
11 11/6/2019 H Jackson St.
12 12/16/2019 A Idaho St
13 12/20/2019 H Southern
14 1/2/2020 H Westmont
15 11/23/2019 H Menlo College

The Big West 
The Big West will have three distinct groups in 2019-20 with an upper echelon of UCSB, UCI & CSUN,  pretty much everyone else except Cal Poly in the mix for 3-8  with Davis most likely drift down to the 8th spot and Poly in the cellar the second year in a row.  Prognosticators so far are picking either Irvine or UCSB to win the conference and it is very likely that this will be the case.  Irvine probably has the best front court in the league with Senior Tommy Rutherford, Sophomore Collin Welp and RS Junior Brad Greene and play the best defense in the Big West, by a long shot.  The Gauchos have the best back court in the league and the most depth & balance.  CSUN has the most top-end talent in returning POY Lamine Diane & BW 1st Teamer Terrell Gomez. A wild card for them is a mysterious Ukrainian 7 footer who showed up after school started.  Has been playing in a pro league in Ukraine the last few years and comes in as a senior.

Big West & UCSB Previews: ... gauchos/3/ ... 20-preview ... t-preview/

Hoops history. UCSB has been an above-average mid-major the past 25 years but has not been able to break through with a type of season that would garner national attention. Its hey-day was in the late 80s/early 90s when the Big West conference rivaled the then Pac 10 for hoops superiority in the West. At that time, UNLV was a power and UCSB had a couple major upsets of the Rebels when they were ranked in the top 5 of the country. The Gauchos were the last team to beat UNLV before the Rebels went on to win the National Championship in 1990. Those Rebels would not lose again until to Duke in the Final Four the following year. Also in 1990, the Gauchos won their only NCAA tournament game ever, defeating Houston in the first found before losing to top seed Michigan State by 3. During this time the crowds were among the best in the country and the Campus Events Center earned the nick-name of “The Thunderdome.” Sadly, present-day crowds make a mockery of that name.  Coach Pasternack has been leading efforts to improve things off the court as well as on so hopefully the home court can be deserving of its nickname once again. Under previous coach Bob Williams, who led the program for 19 years, the Gauchos got to the NCAA tournament three times and the NIT twice, never winning a game. Our most famous basketball alum is Brian Shaw who won three NBA championships with the Lakers in the early 2000s and is back with the Lakers as Associate HC.  UCSB has turned down the CBI/CIT tournament bids the past two season under Pasternack.

Gauchos in the NBA
No current players in the NBA.  Last year we had two:
James Nunnally, 2012, a deep bench reserve forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves
Alan Williams, 2015, school’s all-time rebounding leader, Brooklyn Nets

The School: Once more known as a party school (and it certainly was when I was there way back when!), it has grown to become one of the best universities in the country, consistently in the top 40 of the school ratings. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful campus location, surrounded on two sides by the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains behind. It is more sedate now but still has the surf and bikinis in January. The soccer team has had a lot of success, winning the National Championship in 2006 and created a fantastic following as the school led the country in attendance for more than 10 consecutive years. The school responded by investing into their stadium and UCSB hosted their second College Cup (Final 4) last December. They are currently in the top 20 in the country.

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