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Big West and WCC schools get set to start basketball season

Big West and WCC schools get set to start basketball season
Justin Bibbins, getting tied up by Arizona guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (top) during a game last season, is part of a formidable backcourt for Long Beach State. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Los Angeles-area Big West and West Coast Conference basketball teams at a glance (Note: openers and home openers listed are first game against Division I teams):

BIG WEST

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Cal State Fullerton

Coach: Dedrique Taylor

2015-16 record: 10-20, 3-13 in conference (ninth place)

The Titans have finished in last place in the Big West in each of the last two seasons, but guard Khalil Ahmad was the conference's freshman of the year last season. Ahmad is academically ineligible for the fall semester. Their roster includes five internationals — including two from Toronto, as many as the Titans have from Orange County. The Titans imported height — five players standing at least 6 feet 9, including 7-foot Louisiana State transfer Darcy Malone (Australia) and 6-11 Albany transfer Richard Peters (Toronto). Guard Tre' Coggins, who arrived from Air Force last season, averaged 15 points per game.

Opener: Sunday vs. Portland State, 4 p.m.

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Long Beach State

Coach: Dan Monson

2015-16 record: 20-15, 12-4 in conference (third place)

There might be no bigger impact made by a small player this season than by Justin Bibbins, the 49ers' junior point guard, who stands 5-8 and made the all-conference second team last season. Bibbins and Loyola Marymount transfer Evan Payne should offer two prime three-point threats, with junior forward Gabe Levin anchoring the front line. Nick Faust, the Maryland transfer who won Big West newcomer of the year by averaging 17 points per game, is gone after one season. Long Beach is projected to win its first Big West title since winning three in a row from 2010-11 to 2012-13.

Opener: Sunday at Wichita State, 5 p.m.

Home opener: Dec. 7 vs. Pepperdine, 7:30 p.m.

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Cal State Northridge

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Coach: Reggie Theus

2015-16 record: 10-20, 5-11 in conference (tied for sixth place)

The Matadors haven't had a winning record in the Big West in six years, but they're picked to finish third in the conference this season, according to a media poll. Theus, in his fourth season, has pointed to this as the Matadors' breakout season. The top five scorers return, led by junior guard Kendall Smith, complemented by four transfers from major Division I programs: sophomore forward Rakim Lubin (Connecticut), junior guard Darin Johnson (Washington), center Dylan Johns (Texas A&M), and the coach's son, junior forward Reggie Theus Jr. (South Carolina).

Opener: Sunday at UCLA, 6 p.m.

Home opener: Nov. 19 vs. Northern Illinois, 8 p.m.

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UC Irvine

Coach: Russell Turner

2015-16 record: 28-10, 13-3 in conference (tied for first place)

For the first time in its half a century of basketball, Irvine has had four consecutive 20-win seasons, including a school-record 28-win campaign last season.  The Anteaters lost a lot of their wingspan when 7-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye opted to go pro rather than return for his senior season, but his understudy returns: 7-2 senior center Ioannis Dimakopoulos. So does senior guard Luke Nelson, the conference's active leader in points, assists and steals, and the only returning member of last season's all-conference team.

Opener: Friday vs. Utah State, 7 p.m.

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UC Riverside

Coach: Dennis Cutts

2015-16 record: 14-19, 5-11 in conference (tied for sixth place)

Riverside joined the Big West 16 years ago, hoping its jump to Division I would persuade the Inland Empire's best talent to stay home and play for the region's lone Division I program. That pitch largely had flopped until this year, when highly touted guard Dikymbe Martin joined the Highlanders from Riverside J.W. North High. Riverside set a school record with 252 three-pointers last season, but Jaylen Bland — who had 47% of them — exhausted his eligibility. Senior forward Secean Johnson is the top returnee. The Highlanders never have posted a winning record in Big West play.

Opener: Friday at Portland, 7 p.m.

Home opener: Dec. 17 vs. Montana, 5 p.m.

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UC Santa Barbara

Coach: Bob Williams

2015-16 record: 19-14, 11-5 in conference (fourth place)

Williams, in his 19th season at Santa Barbara, is the longest-tenured Division I men's basketball coach west of the Mississippi River. The Gauchos have had a winning record in 15 of those seasons, including 10 of the last 11. Big West scoring champion Michael Bryson is gone, but the guards are back: junior Gabe Vincent (14 points per game) and senior Eric Childress (45% on three-pointers). Newcomer Jalen Canty, a junior forward, was California's junior college player of the year last season.

Opener: Saturday vs. Nebraska Omaha, 2 p.m.

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WEST COAST

Loyola Marymount

Coach: Mike Dunlap

2015-16 record: 14-17, 6-12 in West Coast Conference (tied for seventh place)

The Lions finished seventh in the WCC last season, their highest finish in four years. Their best player, Adom Jacko, skipped his senior season and signed with an Israeli pro team. Senior guard Brandon Brown is the top returnee, but the Lions hope to look up and look abroad for improvement — in particular to 6-11 Serbian Stefan Jovanovic, a senior transfer from Hawaii, and 7-1 Swedish freshman Mattias Markusson. Dunlap played two seasons at Loyola Marymount and started his coaching career there; his last stop before coming back was as coach of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.

Opener: Monday at Nevada, 7 p.m.

Home opener: Nov. 17 vs. Connecticut, 7 p.m.

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Pepperdine

Coach: Marty Wilson

2015-16 record: 18-14, 10-8 in conference (fourth place)

After consecutive 18-win seasons, Pepperdine is shooting for its first 20-win season since 2001-02. The Waves lost Stacy Davis, their career scoring leader and a three-time all-conference pick, but they return senior swingman Lamond Murray Jr. (17 points per game) and senior guards Jeremy Major and Amadi Udenyi. Major is on pace to become the school's all-time assist leader; Udenyi led the team in assists while coming off the bench. Forward Kameron Edwards started last season on the bench and ended it on the WCC all-freshman team.

Opener: Friday vs. Cal Poly, 7 p.m.

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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