Introducing Cinderella: Meet the UC Irvine Anteaters

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The Anteaters are making their NCAA tournament debut (AP Photo)

Conference: Big West

Coach: Russell Turner

Record: 21-12 (11-5)

Ratings and rankings:

Kenpom: 95
RPI: 99
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: In our most recent bracket the Anteaters are projected to be a 14-seed.

Names you need to know: F Will Davis II (12.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg), C Mamadou Ndiaye (10.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), G Luke Nelson (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.0 apg), G Alex Young (9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.6 apg)

Stats you need to know: The Anteaters have been good defensively, as teams are shooting just 39.3 percent on the season, UC Irvine does its best work inside of the arc with teams shooting 42.3 percent on two-pointers, and that shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the Anteaters have two players in the 7-foot-6 Ndiaye (2014) and Davis II (2013) who have won Big West Defensive Player of the Year during their respective careers. As for the offense, UC Irvine is shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc and they also take care of the basketball with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.23.

Tendencies: Offensively the Anteaters have two capable playmakers in Nelson and Young, although Nelson is the one expected to do more scoring, and both value the basketball. Davis, who has the ability to step out and hit mid-range shots, leads the team in field goal attempts but the Anteaters have 11 players who have attempted at least 93 shots on the season. Defensively they’re going to play zone, which is to be expected of a team that has two 7-footers (Ndiaye and 7-foot-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos) and another big man who is 6-foot-10 in Mike Best (6-foot-10 John Ryan is out with a foot injury). They don’t turn teams over, but they do force them to take challenged shots.

Big wins, bad losses: UC Irvine’s best non-conference win came on a neutral floor, as they beat Green Bay December 22 in Las Vegas. One week later the Anteaters lost by two in overtime at Oregon, and they were also competitive with No. 5 Arizona for most of their meeting in Tucson in mid-November. As for losses, UC Irvine lost by a point at Morgan State in mid-December, and outside of a loss at UC Riverside none of their conference defeats were particularly bad.

How’d they get here?: After losing two of their final three regular seasons games (to UCSB and UC Davis) the Anteaters won three straight in Anaheim, avenging regular season losses to UC Riverside and UCSB in the first two round before beating Hawaii 67-58 in the title game. The Rainbow Warriors did Irvine a favor in their semifinal, beating a UC Davis team that swept UC Irvine during the regular season.

Outlook: This team has the potential to fluster an opponent, due to their zone defense and the size they have on the inside. Ndiaye is a matchup teams don’t encounter much in college basketball, and the guards are good enough to make the plays needed to win games.

How do I know you?: You’ve likely heard about Ndiaye given the fact that he’s the tallest player in college basketball. But he’s developed into a player Irvine can throw the ball to in the post and count on him to score at a solid clip. This program has never been to the NCAA tournament, and among their famous alumni are actor Jon Lovitz and Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.