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Rating Big West Hoops Teams

The Rainbow Warrior basketball team is making its debut in the Big West conference, and for most of the league they’ll be a mystery. Here’s my sense of the conference and where Hawaii will place.

1. Long Beach State. Despite losing four starters, the 49ers should win the league behind returnees James Ennis and Michael Caffey, and big-program transfers Keala King (Arizona State) , Dan Jennings (West Virginia) and Tony Freeland (De Paul). They also signed highly touted guard Branford Jones out of Houston. Dan Monson’s team won 25 games last year and won’t back off much this year.

2. Cal State Fullerton. Really strong in the backcourt with D.J. Seeley and Kwame Vaughn, who combine for 33 points per game. They’ll be small, with the tallest player at 6-ft.-9, and a bunch of 6-6 guys. Three transfers will help interim coach Andy Newman get the job full time.

3. UC-Irvine. Everybody’s back, they’re big and now they have experience. The Anteaters will be much improved from last year’s 12-20 team. They have some long-distance marksmen and should get Aaron Wright back at point after a knee injury last year

4. Hawaii. UH will have the best frontcourt in the league, but will have to figure out the point with three players who will vie for time, none of whom you’d call a natural point guard. The bigs have to stay healthy, especially Vander Joaquim, who will be the best post player in the conference. The depth is good, and maybe 10 players can contribute.

5. Pacific. After a down year in 2011, Bob Thomason will call it a career after this season and he’s got three returnees in Travis Fulton, Ross Rivera and Lorenzo McCloud, who provide 30 points a game.

And they will add three All-California juco players who will help right away.

6. UC-Santa Barbara. The Gauchos lost three veterans starters, but have Alan Williams back to crash the boards, T.J. Taylor to run the point and some highly touted high school recruits who need to be ready to play right away.

7. Cal Poly. This group will live and die with the three ball, and need Rise Morgan to recover quickly from knee surgery. As a group the Mustangs will be small but quick, and will struggle against size.

8. Cal State Northridge. Had problems with academics last year but have a nice nucleus back with conference freshman of the year Stephan Hicks, forward Stephen Maxwell and shooter Josh Greene. Need somebody to step up at point and in the post.

9. UC-Davis. Jim Les has a rebuilding job at Davis. They have some shooters including son Tyler and Corey Hawkins, a transfer from Arizona State and the son of NBA retiree Hersey Hawkins, who was Jim Les’ backcourt partner at Bradley. They put on a show at the Rainbow Classic back in the day, but desperately need the bigs to play better and everybody to defend to improve significantly on last year’s 5-26 record.

10. UC-Riverside The lone returning starter is Robert Smith, a nifty 5-ft.-11 guard, but the newcomers will have to excel if this team is to escape the cellar. Transfer Chris Harriel is expected to carry some of the scoring load, but this could be a long year for coach Jim Wooldridge.

This should be a fun season at the Stan Sheriff Center. Hawaii will compete extremely well at home, and we’ll see if the all California travel helps on the road.