Gauchos picked second in Big West media poll

The two-time defending Big West Tournament champion UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team received four first-place votes and was picked second in the annual preseason media poll released by the conference on Thursday.

The Gauchos, who won the regular season title in 2010 and the league tournament each of the last two years, finished with 196 points in the poll.  Long Beach State, which won the regular season championship in 2011 but, for the second straight year, lost to UCSB in the tournament final, received 20 first-place votes and totaled 212 points.

“I think the league is as strong as it has been in several years,” said head coach Bob Williams.  “It’s going to be a dogfight between four or five schools and I definitely think we are one of them.”

The Gauchos have three starters return, led by a John R. Wooden Award candidate in senior Orlando Johnson. The 6-foot-5 guard rep­resented the United States during the World University Games this past summer and earned Big West Player of the Year recognition as a sophomore in 2009-10. Johnson has led the Big West in scoring for two straight seasons, including a 21.1 points per game in 2010-11. He has scored 1,214 career points in just two seasons at UCSB, including a Gaucho single-season record of 674 points as a junior.

Johnson is surrounded by several other outstanding players, including senior James Nunnally . The 6-foot-6 guard paired with Johnson to form the Big West’s most lethal one-two scoring punch in 2010-11. Nunnally ranked fifth in the Big West with 16.3 points per game and 12th in rebounds (5.7). Johnson and Nunnally combined for 1,194 points and 128 three-pointers as two of the conference’s top marksmen. UCSB’s drive for a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament will also depend on contributions from senior Jaimé Serna (7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg), an All-Big West Tournament pick in 2011, and 7-foot-3 Greg Somogyi who enters his senior season as the Big West career active leader in blocked shots (136).

“O.J. (Johnson), Nunn, Jaimé and Greg have all raised their levels,” Williams said.  “They are in great shape and very confident in themselves and each other.”

Joining the numerous returnees will be a pair of redshirt transfers – point guard Nate Garth (New Mexico) and forward Keegan Hornbuckle (Colorado) – as well five talented freshmen.

“Our depth is a real positive,” Williams said.  “We’ve had deep teams in the past, but never a team that had so many players who can score.  Right now, we have 10 guys we can put out on the court who can score.  I can’t remember having that before.”

In addition to Long Beach State and UCSB, Cal Poly (196 points) was picked third, Cal State Fullerton (131 points) was fourth and UC Riverside (114 points) was chosen fifth.  Pacific (91 points) was selected sixth and the only other team within shouting distance of the top-five.

Two of the Gauchos’ top returnees, Johnson and Nunnally, were named to the Big West’s Preseason Media All-Conference Team.  The UCSB duo was joined by a trio of Long Beach players (Casper Ware, T.J. Robinson and Larry Anderson) and David Hanson of Cal Poly.

UCSB opens the 2011-12 season on Nov. 5 with an exhibition game against San Francisco State.  The regular season opens on Nov. 11 against Chapman University.  The non-conference home schedule is highlighted by games against UNLV (Nov. 30), San Diego State (Nov. 26), Portland (Nov. 22), Santa Clara (Nov. 15) and Westmont (Nov. 18).  The non-conference road schedule includes games at Washington, Cal, BYU and San Diego, all on the same trip.

Media Poll Results
1.    Long Beach State (20)     212
2.    UC Santa Barbara (4)       196
3.    Cal Poly                           158
4.    Cal State Fullerton         131
5.    UC Riverside                    114
6.    Pacific                                91
7.    UC Davis                            62
8.    Cal State Northridge       61
9.    UC Irvine                           55


  1. Can’t wait for this season to begin!