On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the Big West Conference, UC San Diego’s new home in their first season in Division I, announced their men’s and women’s basketball schedules. Both teams will play their inaugural Big West matches against California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo on New Year’s Day. While UCSD’s non-conference schedule is still to be determined, the basketball season will not start until at least Nov. 25 per recent NCAA guidelines, and spectators will not be allowed to attend for the foreseeable future.
Both the Triton men and women had their seasons cut short prematurely with the cancellation of the 2020 Division II national tournament. The men’s team had their best season in school history, earned a Number 1 seed in the tournament, and was ranked fourth nationally by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, racking up a blistering 30–1 record that included a 22-game win streak on their way to a fourth straight California Collegiate Athletic Association title; coach Eric Olen was honored as NABC West Region Coach of the Year as well as CCAA Coach of the Year.
The men’s team has had notable offseason losses in Christian Oshita, Scott Everman, and Chris Hansen, among others, but they will still have last year’s leading scorer in redshirt junior guard Tyrell Roberts, who notably put up 45 points and a game winner in the CCAA semifinals in March. Roberts’ 45 points was the second-highest-scoring game in Triton history, and his 111 three-pointers on the season set a new UCSD record. Other returning Tritons include senior guard Gabe Hadley, who often provided a spark off the bench with his long-range shooting, redshirt senior Mikey Howell, who broke the UCSD record for assists last season, and senior forward Marek Sullivan, who had a viral dunk against California State University, East Bay last year to go alongside an excellent rebounding season.
Meanwhile, Heidi VanDerveer’s women’s squad had themselves a stellar season as well, winning a share of the CCAA regular-season title for the fifth year in a row and the conference tournament title for the fourth year in a row. The team was set to take on Northwest Nazarene University on March 13 as a third seed in the NCAA tournament, until it was cancelled just one day before, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
VanDerveer’s team will have five of its six leading scorers return to the court this season, led by junior guard Julia Macabuhay, who was a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American and CCAA Player of the Year last season. Macabuhay, who also led the Tritons in assists and steals, had a game-high 27 points in the CCAA title game. The Tritons will also have Tyla Turner, who was second on the team in scoring and had a double-double in the CCAA title game, their co-captain and minutes leader in junior guard Brianna Claros, and junior guard Sydney Brown, who led the Tritons in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and blocks.
In the Big West, UCSD enters a conference that features four other University of California campuses — Irvine, Santa Barbara, Davis, and Riverside — in addition to five California State University campuses and the University of Hawaii. While the Big West is only ranked 24th in the nation according to RPI, it has seen some success, notably with 13th-seeded UC Irvine’s upset over 4th seed Kansas State in the 2019 NCAA tournament, and it opens a new chapter with the introduction of commissioner Dan Butterly taking over for Dennis Farrell, who led the conference for 27 years.
Both the men’s and women’s teams from UCSD will play the same teams in the same order, beginning with Jan. 1 contests against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. To reduce travel, teams will play consecutive games on the same court, usually on a Friday and Saturday, instead of the usual home-and-home round-robin format. Consequently, the Triton men open their season on the road at Cal Poly, while the women will do so at home. There will be no spectators for the opening games of the season, according to the Big West; the conference has also announced that if cases of COVID-19 force a team to quarantine, the games they miss will not be rescheduled.
Basketball is the first UCSD sport to have an announced schedule — understandably, since upwards of 90 percent of NCAA revenue comes from men’s basketball alone. When the non-conference portion of the basketball season begins is up to UCSD, as these matches are scheduled mutually by individual schools as opposed to by conferences. While the Tritons have been at or near the top of the CCAA for most of the last half-decade, they will be entering a new conference and a new division of play, making this one of the most important but also most uncertain seasons in the program’s history.
Photo courtesy Steven Calista / UC San Diego Athletics