Monday, November 7, 2022

UCSB season preview, by GauchoFreg

Unlike dakyne or the professionals, I am not directly interviewing the coaches but I am a voracious reader and compiler and this overview is a result of that.   

2022-23 UCSB Preview
Head Coach & Staff
Joe Pasternack begins his sixth season at the helm of the Gauchos.  Pasternack has recruited extremely well, especially in the transfer market with at least one transfer making a major impact each season.  In year one, he led UCSB to its greatest turnaround season ever with 23 wins versus just 6 the year previous. In 2021 he led the Gauchos to their first NCAA tournament since 2011 where they narrowly lost to #5 seed Creighton 63-62 in the first round.  UCSB has won at least 20 games in all but last season, albeit always with soft OOC schedules.  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.
One of the hardest working individuals in the sport at any level, Pasternack goes way beyond the standard coaching responsibilities, he is a program builder.  The improvements to the Thunderdome alone would be worthy accomplishments for an entirely separate job position; new chair back seats, practice court, video board, etc.  UCSB is very lucky to have him.
Pasternack has had to manage some staff changes as two of his coaches have taken advantages of new opportunities.  The toughest being replacing long-time Associate HC John Rillie, an Australian who played at Gonzaga in the 1990s who has returned to his native country to coach Perth of the NBL.   More recently, Director of Operations John Seavey has moved on to the lead assistant coach role at CSU Monterrey Bay.
Long time assistants Ben Tucker, Larry Lewis and Andrew Payne provide experience & stability while former Arizona State great Derek Glasser comes over from Rice.
2021-22 Season Recap
To put it bluntly, UCSB was a mediocre team in the early part of the 2021-22 season.  Having to replace a very talented backcourt that had started three seasons together was bound to create a transition period.  They also lost three consecutive games to Covid at the start of conference play then played the two top teams in conference after not playing for two weeks.  This was followed by two more covid cancellations resulting in a very disjointed start of the year.
There were talented backcourt players to take the place of the graduating backcourt but chemistry & execution didn’t happen overnight.  Things finally started to click for the team in February and they went on a nice run into the BW tournament.  After losing Josh Pierre-Louis to injury in their first round win over CSUN, they lost on a buzzer beater to regular season champion Long Beach St in the semi-finals.  In addition to some bad luck dealing with injuries & covid, KenPom rated UCSB as just the 336th luckiest team in the country on the court. 
The Gauchos were solid on offense, averaging 73.8 ppg and a KP rating of 133 in the country.  The Gauchos haven’t always rated well defensively but they improved on that end significantly over the course of the season and ended up with a respectable KP rating of 159, allowing 65.8 ppg.   They outrebounded their opponents by 4.1 pg and led the BW in ATO. 
The Roster
The Gauchos are experienced, returning four starters and are especially deep in the backcourt.  They are tasked with replacing one of their best centers in school history in four year starter Amadou Sow.   This year's team will be led by BWC Freshman of the Year Ajay Mitchell, a 6’4” PG out of Belgium and Center Andre Kelly who transferred to UCSB after earning HM All PAC 12 in his last year at Cal.  They are solid through the rest of the line-up with All BW level players in guard Ajare Sanni, stretch four Miles Norris and the uber athletic guard Josh Pierre Louis. 
UCSB returns every key backcourt player from last year plus adds RS Sophomore SG/Wing Zach Harvey who sat out last year with injury after transferring from Cincinnati. Harvey was a 4* recruit out of high school and shot the ball very well from deep in his freshman campaign with the Bearcats.  He’s still working his way back into full health but could have a breakout year if he gets there.
The Gauchos have the best starting frontcourt in the Big West on paper with two all-conference level players in Miles Norris and Kelly.  They do lack experienced production behind them though as returning players Jakov Kukich and Ariel Bland saw limited minutes.  UCSB also brings in JC transfer Evans Kipruto and 3* freshman Koat Keat who are both getting positive reviews for their defense & rebounding in preseason practices.
To start the season, if everyone is healthy, the starting lineup will likely be the same as last year with just Andre Kelly substituting for the graduating Sow.  But, it appears that both Pierre-Louis & Harvey may not be 100% so we may see a smaller guard line-up earlier with Wishart filling in to start the season.
Probable Starters (if all are healthy)
Ajay Mitchel  #13 PG, Freshman  6’4”, 185  lb, 11.6 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.7 FT/G, 2.1 ATO
Earned the starting point guard position a few games into the season last year on his way to winning the BWC FOY award.  He led the team with assists with 3.7 per game and was second in scoring, 11.6 ppg.  He is a decent three-point shooter (33%) but does most of his damage in the paint, leading the team in FT attempts and making them at a 75% clip.  According to Coach Pasternack he worked hard in the off season and has added considerable muscle mass and several inches to his vertical.
Ajare Sanni #3  Guard, RS Senior, 6’3”, 170 lb   
The Big West 6th Man of the Year two years ago, and a player that can be deadly from deep, Sanni dealt with injury last year and never seemed to get in a good extended rhythm last season and his shooting suffered.   But there were positive gains too.  He seemed to see the court a bit better and did a better job in facilitating with his assists jumping to 2.9 per game from 1.7.  With a year of shared experience with the rest of the guards, expect Sanni’s shooting to return to form.
Josh Pierre-Louis  #1  Guard, Senior  6’4”, 190 lb,
One of the best athletes to ever put on a Gaucho uniform, his speed and initials give him the nickname of JPL. He plays phenomenal defense, brings high energy, and can absolutely ignite the fans and his teammates with his thunderous finishes at the rim.  He became a much better facilitator last season, with his assists per game increasing to 3.1 from 1.9 the year before leaving him second on the team in that category. His shot selection & shooting % improved slightly last year as well. Reports are that he worked hard on his perimeter shot over the summer.  An option to play PG when needed. Started his college career at Temple before transferring after his freshman year.  Got a bit dinged up in the preseason so may not start early on and will probably be gradually ramped up in terms of PT.
Miles Norris  #5  Forward, Senior, 6’10”  220lb 
All Big West HM for the second consecutive year, Norris is one of the best stretch fours on the west coast.  Averaged 10.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg while shooting 36% from deep. His weakness is a lack of consistency.  Could work to improve on his post moves as well, especially vs. a physical defender. Can carry the team at times but disappears for long stretches as well. His focus this summer has been on rebounding, especially hitting the glass on offense. Started his career at Oregon, he is a terrific athlete, can elevate and provide show-stopping dunks. Pasternack has raved about his effort this offseason and Miles could do great things this year.

Andre Kelly  #2  Center, GT, 6’9”  255 lb 
All Pac 12 Honorable Mention last year at Cal where he averaged 13.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg although his season was cut short by injury.  Has good hands and touch around the rim.  Reminds many Gaucho fans of former UCSB great Alan Williams with his similar build and game.  While there is depth at the 4 & 5 in Kukic, Keat and Kipruto (apparently your last name must start with K to be a Gaucho big), none of those players have produced significantly or at all at the D1 level so there will be a high demand on Kelly’s minutes, especially early on while his teammates get up to speed.  While his talent is known and appreciated, Kelly is adjusting to a new system so his full potential to impact the game, especially on defense, may take a little while.

Reserves (in order of projected PT, again when all healthy)

Calvin Wishart #10  PG/SG Senior, 6’2” 180lb  7 ppg, 2.8 apg and 2.9 rpg
Wishart started 17 games last year and will likely start the season opener vs. SF State with both JPL and Harvey dealing with some minor injuries.  After Mitchell took over the starting PG role after 5 games last year Wishart both started at the two guard spot and came off the bench.  Showed improvement on defense through the season, was second on the team in steals and he has a football players toughness (was all state as a WR).  No stats kept for it but I would guess he or JPL led the team in charges taken. He is an excellent three-point shooter; was second on the team in 3pt % and third in 3pt makes, he provides crucial experience and production.  Reports are that he had a terrific preseason and will have a major role on this year’s team.

 Zach Harvey #11 Guard/Wing, Senior  6’6”, 195 lb
Missed last year due to injury. Transfer from Cincinnati.  A terrific 3pt shooter for the Bearcats but he did not contribute much in terms of rebounding or assists. Will have to prove himself on the defensive side plus show do more in these areas to crack the starting line-up.  The injury he had surgical correction for likely hampered him at Cincinnati so we could see a real break out season for Harvey now that he is healthy.  Could end up starting some games.  Reports are he is a bit dinged up going into the season so may see limited PT early on. 
Jakov Kukic  #14 F/C,  RS Sophomore  6’10” 230 lb
Limited minutes his first two years.  With Sow, Idehen and Nagle having graduated, he has his best opportunity yet to contribute in a meaningful way.  Knows the system, competes well in practice and the need is there.   
Matija Belic  #32  Wing, Freshman  6’7”, 205 lb
From Serbia, not as much was known about him coming into the preseason but Belic has been a revelation on offense, showing a lot of skill beyond an excellent 3pt shot.  Has work to do to improve on defense but with JPL & Harvey playing limited minutes early, he may get a shot to contribute more sooner than initially planned.
From his highlight videos (which can obviously be misleading) he appears to be physically strong and likes to drive into the paint and finish through contact.   Shot 41% from deep in his last season so he can keep the defense honest. He likes to use a shot fake from outside the 3pt line to then drive past the defender.   Also averaged 5.4 rebounds per game in his last season in the Serbian league.  
Cole Anderson #4 Guard, Sophomore 6’4”, 185 lb, 4 ppg
Anderson is UCSB’s best pure shooter, leading the team in 3pt % last year.  He earned more minutes as the season progressed.  Continued improvement on defense key to more time on the court.  According to Coach Pasternack, no player puts in more time in the gym. 

Evans Kipruto  #12 Forward, Junior  6’8”, 245 lb
JC transfer.  Adds size & depth to the frontcourt.  Defense & rebounding big who has been getting positive reviews for this from his coaches. Is probably the toughest defender among the forward reserves.  Averaged 10.3 ppg and 6.4 rpg at Barton Community College.  With his long arms may remind some old timers of the Freeze.  Athletic but raw, his highlights are mostly him dunking.  Will play the five.
Koat Keat Tong  #0  Forward, Freshman  6’9”, 205 lb.
Highly rated recruit, held offers from UCLA & USC as well. Averaged 17 ppg, 12 rpg and 4 apg on his way to winning the Orange County POY award.  Will play the four.  Could push for solid reserve minutes, especially later in the year or if Kukic doesn’t step up into the lead reserve big role.
Ariel Bland  #23  Forward, Sophomore  6’7”, 215 lb.
Played limited minutes last season.  Good athleticism and has demonstrated improvement.  Will compete with Kukic for minutes at the four, possibly get some run in at the 3.   Not a perimeter threat last year. 
Gage Gomez #50 Guard, Junior 6’3”, 190 lb 
Gage has seen the most floor time amongst the Walk-ons and has looked like he belongs each time.  Has yet to play meaningful minutes vs. a D1 opponent. 
David Pickles #40 Forward, Sophomore 6’10”, 230 lb 
Played two games last year and scored one basket.  His brother Andrew also was a walk-on for the Gauchos.
Max Sheldon #53 Guard, Sophomore 5’11”, 180 lb  Played in two games last year.
Henry Hartwell #51 Guard, RS Freshman 6’5”, 180 lb 
DNP last year.
The Out of Conference Schedule
The out of conference slate, while always soft under Coach Pasternack, takes the cushiness to new levels. The average NET of their opponents is 260 and the average Quadrant # is 3.7
The Gauchos play two teams in the top half of last year’s NET with Appalachian State squeezing in at 167 plus late schedule add Fresno St at 73.  Both of these teams will be played on neutral courts.  Duquesne, Pepperdine and NAU do bring back a lot of experience so could improve measurably over their respective 2022 results. 
With the exception of Fresno St, UCSB will likely be favored in every game currently on their OOC schedule. Right now I am projecting two OOC losses, one to Fresno, the other to Duquesne given the cross country travel (can’t help but think of UCLA/USC to the B10 every time I write about long road trips.)  However, the Gauchos should very competitive in both of those games

Rank of the schedule from toughest to weakest; taking into account NET, Baartovik and location.  Non-D1 opponents ignored:

Opponent RankDateHome/AwayTeam2022 NETBaart-ovik Proj. 
111/11/2022NFresno St7368L
312/21/2022NAppalachian St.167164W
612/17/2022APortland St.270297W
8Nov MTEHN. Alabama317254W
9Nov MTEHHampton322340W

The Big West
Defending regular season champ Long Beach, Hawaii, UCR and UCI should be in the top half. Unfortunately for Hawaii, their starting PG was injured in their last exhibition game and is gone for the year.  The Beach will probably be the toughest competition for the Gauchos but nearly all of the writers, the computers, and the BW coaches have picked the Gauchos to win the BW.
Keys to the season, as per Coach Pasternack:
1. Leadership
2. Chemistry
3. Defense
The second and third keys are entirely reliant on #1.  Pasternack has frequently recounted the leadership provided by the backcourt of his 2020-2021 team that made it to the tournament.  How Jaquori McLaughlin, Devearl Ramsey and Brandon Cyrus held the rest of the team accountable every day, especially on defense.  He has also referenced the current iteration of the Lakers, all the talent in the world doesn’t mean a thing without chemistry and accountability.  We’ll see what this iteration of the Gauchos delivers.
Preseason Predictions:
Non-conference: 9-2 (7-2 vs. D1)
BWC:  15-3, split with UH and LB with the third loss likely to UCI, UCR or Davis.
Overall:  24-5

Go Gauchos!

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