raphiellej

Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
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2019 NCAA Tournament: Six possible Cinderellas

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For those who are looking to win their NCAA tournament bracket pools, identifying the teams most capable of pulling off an upset can be the difference between a decent bracket and winning the the pool. The 2019 NCAA tournament field has some solid options to choose from, with the formula for those teams over the years generally being the same.

Good guard play is paramount, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a high-level talent capable of putting the team on his back for stretches of time. Here’s a look at six teams capable of not only winning their first game doing even more beyond that point.

REGIONS: East | South | Midwest | West

TEMPLE (11-seed, East)

In every year of the First Four, which was established ahead of the 2011 NCAA tournament, at least one at-large winner in Dayton has gone on to win a game in the main bracket. Of course Temple, Belmont, Arizona State and St. John’s will all be aware of this fact, but the better choice for a win in the main bracket may come from the Temple/Belmont matchup.

Why? Because the 6-seed in the East, Maryland, did not finish its regular season in good form and has a habit of both getting off to slow starts and turning the ball over. The pick here is Temple due to a rotation led by guards Shizz Alston Jr. (19.7 ppg, 5.0 apg), Quinton Rose (16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Nate Pierre-Louis (13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and the motivation that comes from wanting to send retiring head coach Fran Dunphy out on a positive note should give the Owls a boost as well.

NEW MEXICO STATE (12-seed, Midwest)

The New Mexico State program is one that’s used to taking part in the NCAA tournament. This will be NMSU’s 25th appearance and seventh in the last eight seasons. Chris Jans has a team that has won 30 games this season, and they’ve gotten the job done by committee on the offensive end of the floor. Junior guard Terrell Brown (11.3 ppg) is the lone double-digit scorer, but the Aggies have six players averaging at least 7.5 points per game.

The Aggies don’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter, shooting 33.5% from three on the season, but they’ve made up for this by being one of the best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball (36.8% offensive rebound percentage). And New Mexico State’s opponent, Auburn, has a defensive rebounding percentage of just 69.8%. If Auburn struggles to keep the Aggies off the offensive glass things could get interesting Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City.

OREGON (12-seed, South)

Dana Altman’s Ducks had to win the Pac-12 tournament in order to reach the NCAA tournament, and they did so by winning four games in as many days. Oregon’s run to the tournament actually began with one of the team’s lowest points of the season, a 90-83 loss at UCLA February 23 in which the Ducks gave up a staggering 62 points in the second half.

From that point forward the Ducks have been downright stingy defensively, as they’ve allowed 61 points or more in just two of the eight games they’ve won since. There’s no shortage of talent on this roster even with Bol Bol suffering a season-ending foot injury during non-conference play, with junior guard Payton Pritchard running the show and forwards Louis King and Paul White also being double-digit scorers. And with Kenny Wooten and Francis Okoro inside, Oregon has the players needed to match up with a Wisconsin team led by senior forward Ethan Happ.

MURRAY STATE (12-seed, West)

High-level guard play is a must in March, and Murray State has a player in sophomore Ja Morant who’s projected to be a lottery pick this June should be forego his remaining eligibility. The sophomore is averaging 24.6 points, 10.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, and he’s an explosive athlete who can score at all three levels.

However, for all the attention Morant receives head coach Matt McMahon isn’t leading a one-man outfit. Three other Racers average double figures, including senior guard Leroy Buchanan, and the team is ranked eighth nationally in field goal percentage. The issue for Murray State is that their first-round opponent, Marquette, has an elite guard of its own (Markus Howard) and the Golden Eagles are deep on the perimeter as well. This sets up to be one of the most entertaining first-round matches.

UC IRVINE (13-seed, South)

With Kansas State senior forward Dean Wade’s status for this game yet to be determined, as he missed the Big 12 tournament with a foot injury, this sets up to be a dangerous game for the Big 12 regular season co-champions. Russell Turner’s Anteaters enter the tournament with a 30-5 record, and they’ve hung their hat on the defensive end for quite some time now.

Opponents are shooting just 38.0% from the field overall, 40.4% from two and 33.2% from three (defensive eFG% of 43.7%). Offensively the Anteaters are led by junior guards Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard, and nine players are averaging between 5.7 (Elston Jones) and 12.5 (Hazzard) points per game. Collin Welp (23 points in the Big West title game) is an effective option off the bench for UC Irvine, which gave Louisville all it wanted back in 2015 before losing by two. This matchup could be just as tight.

OLD DOMINION (14-seed, South)

ODU won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, doing so by controlling tempo on offense and limiting their opponents’ quality scoring opportunities on the other end. Guards B.J. Stith, Ahmad Caver and Xavier Green average a combined 43.1 points per game for a team that scores just 66.1 points per on the season.

The Monarchs drew a team in Purdue that’s been considerably better offensively — against tougher competition — and the Boilermakers are comfortable playing a half-court game as well. This may be the longest shot of the six listed here but funny things can happen this time of year, especially in lower-possession games.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Six teams that can win it all

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Now that the 68-team NCAA tournament bracket has been announced, the next step is to attempt to figure out who will cut down the nets April 8 in Minneapolis. While there have been some surprises in the “one and done” era, more often than not the national champion has high-level guard play, at least one NBA-caliber talent and credible experience.

There can be outliers, especially when it comes to the experience factor, but after Duke’s freshman-led team won it all in 2015 the last three champions have been considerably older. Below are six teams that can win the NCAA tournament, a high-seed you should fade and a team seeded fourth or lower that can go on a run.

REGIONS: East | South | Midwest | West

DUKE

The top overall seed, the Blue Devils are back to full strength as elite freshman forward Zion Williamson made his return for the ACC tournament. Williamson and classmate R.J. Barrett are in the eyes of more than a few the top two NBA draft-eligible prospects in college basketball. Add in fellow freshmen Tre Jones and Cam Reddish, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team has the high-end talent needed to win six straight over the next three weeks.

As for the supporting cast, the Blue Devils received quality contributions from the likes of Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire and even Antonio Vrankovic during the ACC tournament. Forward Jack White and guard Alex O’Connell are also part of the rotation, so the bodies are there even with Marques Bolden (knee) out of the lineup. The youth of this team may be a concern for some, but when you have a Hall of Fame head coach like Coach K on the sideline that helps matters.

NORTH CAROLINA

The Tar Heels won 27 games and finished tied atop the ACC standings with Virginia, ranking in the top ten in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency. There’s a good combination of youth and experience, with seniors Luke Maye, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams working with talented freshman point guard Coby White and sophomore center Garrison Brooks.

The depth is provided by another freshman in Nassir Little, with juniors Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods part of the rotation as well. In addition to the talent and guard play, North Carolina also has a Hall of Fame head coach on its sideline in Roy Williams. Williams has led his alma mater to three national titles, and North Carolina was a one-seed in all three. They’re on the top seed line this time around as well.

GONZAGA

Mark Few’s Bulldogs are questioned by some on a consistent basis, thanks in large part to the fact that they ply their trade in the WCC. But to state that Gonzaga doesn’t have a shot at winning a national title solely because of its conference affiliation would be a mistake; this is a deep, talented roster that still has contributors who two years ago reached the championship game.

Junior forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke have been outstanding, with the former winning WCC Player of the Year honors and the latter being one of college basketball’s best defenders. And if Killian Tillie, who’s had to deal with injuries for much of this season, is able to contribute Gonzaga will have a front court that can match up with any team. The perimeter attack is headlined by senior point guard Josh Perkins and redshirt sophomore Zach Norvell, with guard Geno Crandall and wing Corey Kispert providing additional depth. The Zags have the nation’s most efficient offense by a decent margin, and they’re solid defensively as well.

KENTUCKY

Kentucky is ranked just outside of the top 10 in both adjusted offensive (13th) and adjusted defensive (12th) efficiency, and they go eight deep with talent both on the perimeter and in the paint. Sophomore forward P.J. Washington (14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) leads four double-digit scorers, with guards Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson and forward Reid Travis next in line. Ashton Hagans can apply pressure defensively at the point while also being the team’s best distributor on the other end.

Kentucky is young, as it has been most seasons during Calipari’s tenure, but like his best teams there’s some experience mixed in. There’s certainly value in experience this time of year, but talent is key as well. The Midwest bracket projects to be very difficult to navigate, but like top-seed North Carolina the Wildcats are capable of making the run to Minneapolis.

TENNESSEE

Rick Barnes’ Volunteers have wins over two of the teams on this list, as they beat Gonzaga in Phoenix in early December and also won two of their three meetings with Kentucky. Tennessee has depth, talent and experience, with two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and senior forward Admiral Schofield leading the way. Tennessee is deep in the front court, and on the perimeter Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner are the headliners.

Tennessee enters the tournament ranked third in adjusted offensive efficiency, and while this group isn’t elite defensively it’s solid on that end of the floor. Winners of 29 games, the Volunteers should be motivated by the way in which their 2018 season ended (a second-round loss to Loyola University Chicago). At minimum, Tennessee has enough to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010.

MICHIGAN

With Michigan State having beaten Michigan three times this season, and the Spartans being one of four teams ranked in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency (Virginia, Duke and North Carolina being the others), some may wonder how the Wolverines are the team listed here. Well it’s all about the path to the Final Four, and Michigan’s road to Minneapolis may be smoother than Michigan State’s.

One year after reaching the national title game Michigan has the pieces needed to duplicate that feat, beginning with point guard Zavier Simpson. Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews provide scoring on the wings, and in the front court Iggy Brazdeikis and Jon Teske have combined to average 24.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. John Beilein’s team is ranked second in adjusted defensive efficiency, with the offense currently ranked 18th with regards to efficiency.

THE FAVORITE TO FADE: Virginia

Given Virginia’s lack of a Final Four appearance during this current run of success, this may be a case of grabbing the low-hanging fruit. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers are healthy, which wasn’t the case last season (De’Andre Hunter’s thumb), and with the additions of Kihei Clark and Braxton Key this group is deeper with Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome leading the way. But until Virginia gets over the hump they’re going to be questioned. Maybe Virginia will do what Villanova did in 2016, escaping the first weekend demons and then going on to win the national title.

THE FOUR-SEED OR LOWER THAT CAN WIN IT ALL: Auburn

Bruce Pearl’s Tigers dodged a bullet in Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinals, beating Florida by three in what was a controversial finish. Auburn left no doubt Sunday however, as it blew out Tennessee and was then given a 5-seed in the Midwest Region. The perimeter tandem of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown is averaging 31.1 points per game, and sophomore forward Chuma Okeke is the leading scorer for a front court that doesn’t lack for depth or athleticism.

Auburn has a tough first round matchup (New Mexico State), but this is a team that can go on a run after being bounced in the second round by Clemson last season.

2019 NCAA tournament: Bid breakdown by conference

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The Big Ten and the ACC were among the conferences at the head of the class when the 2019 NCAA tournament bracket was revealed Sunday evening. The Big Ten leads the way with eight teams in the field, with two-seeds Michigan and Michigan State highest on the seed list.

The ACC, one of two conferences with seven teams in the field, claimed three of the four one-seeds (Duke, Virginia and North Carolina). The SEC also received seven bids, with Kentucky and Tennessee both being given two-seeds by the selection committee.

The Big 12 has six teams in the field with three-seed Texas Tech receiving the best seed. Next in line are the American (four bids), Big East (four) and Pac-12 (three), with the latter seeing its total boosted by Oregon winning the league’s automatic bid. In total 11 conferences have at least two teams in the field, with the West Coast Conference claiming the fourth one-seed (Gonzaga).

Below is a list of the NCAA participants by conference, with the automatic bid recipient in caps.

Big Ten: 8 (Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, MICHIGAN STATE, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin)
ACC: 7 (DUKE, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech)
SEC: 7 (AUBURN, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee)
Big 12: 6 (Baylor, IOWA STATE, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech)
American: 4 (CINCINNATI, Houston, Temple, UCF)
Big East: 4 (Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, VILLANOVA)
Pac-12: 3 (Arizona State, OREGON, Washington)
Atlantic 10: 2 (VCU, SAINT LOUIS)
Mountain West: 2 (Nevada, UTAH STATE)
OVC: 2 (Belmont, MURRAY STATE)
WCC: 2 (Gonzaga, SAINT MARY’S)

ONE-BID LEAGUES

America East: 1 (VERMONT)
Atlantic Sun: 1 (LIBERTY)
Big Sky: 1 (MONTANA)
Big South: 1 (GARDNER-WEBB)
Big West: 1 (UC IRVINE)
Colonial: 1 (NORTHEASTERN)
Conference USA: 1 (OLD DOMINION)
Horizon: 1 (NORTHERN KENTUCKY)
Ivy: 1 (YALE)
Metro Atlantic: 1 (IONA)
Mid-American: 1 (BUFFALO)
MEAC: 1 (NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL)
Missouri Valley: 1 (BRADLEY)
Northeast: 1 (FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON)
Patriot: 1 (COLGATE)
Southern: 1 (WOFFORD)
Southland: 1 (ABILENE CHRISTIAN)
SWAC: 1 (PRAIRIE VIEW A&M)
Summit: 1 (NORTH DAKOTA STATE)
Sun Belt: 1 (GEORGIA STATE)
WAC: 1 (NEW MEXICO STATE)

2019 NCAA tournament: Did the committee pick the right bubble teams?

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It’s an argument that takes place every Selection Sunday: did the selection committee pick the right bubble teams? Every year it’s stated that the bubble is the worst that it’s ever been, and figuring out which teams should be in the field and which should be relegated to the NIT is an exhausting task.

The last four teams into the 2019 NCAA tournament field were (in order of their place on the seed list) Belmont, Temple, Arizona State and St. John’s. All four programs are headed to Dayton, with the Bruins facing the Owls in one First Four matchup and the Sun Devils and Red Storm playing in the other.

Belmont went 25-5 against Division I opponents, and Rick Byrd’s team finished with a NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking of 47 and a Ken Pomeroy ranking of 54. In Quadrant 1/2 games Belmont posted a record of 5-3, with their best wins being road wins over Murray State, UCLA and Austin Peay, and two wins over Lipscomb.

For programs in lower-profile conferences scheduling enough quality non-conference games can be difficult, especially when the competition for at-large bids hail from power conferences. In the case of Belmont the selection committee splitting the difference; not enough high-level wins to justify placing them directly into the main bracket, but understanding the difficulty that a program like Belmont can have in finding those non-conference games.

Temple, 43rd on the seed list, broke even in Quadrant 1/2 games (8-8) with six of the wins being of the Quadrant 2 variety. Home wins over Houston and UCF were the highlights for Fran Dunphy’s team, which was also a combined 15-1 (Penn being the loss) against Quadrant 3/4 opponents. Temple’s non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 223 wasn’t great, but its overall strength of schedule (84th) and strength of record (47th) numbers were helped by the strength at the top of the American.

Arizona State can claim three Quadrant 1 wins (11-6 vs. Quadrant 1/2) over non-conference opponents that are in the NCAA tournament field, as the Sun Devils picked up neutral site wins over Mississippi State and Utah State and beat Kansas at home. The issue for Arizona State was the perceived weakness of the Pac-12, which to the surprise of some ended up with three teams in the field.

Bobby Hurley’s team was a combined 2-1 against Washington and Oregon, with the loss coming at the hands of the Ducks in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils also had a total of four losses in Quadrant 3/4 games, including home losses to Princeton and Washington State.

While Arizona State can claim a couple high-profile non-conference wins, the same cannot be said for St. John’s. The Red Storm, who did pick up home wins over Villanova, Marquette (who they also beat in Milwaukee) and Seton Hall, had just one Quadrant 1 non-conference victory (VCU). St. John’s was a combined 10-10 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with eight of the wins being picked up in Big East play. The Red Storm’s non-conference slate wasn’t particularly impressive, but it was ranked higher than Temple’s (219).

So which of the first four teams left out, UNCG, Alabama, TCU and Indiana, has the best argument for inclusion into the field? UNCG, ranked 60th in the NET, was 26-6 against Division I opponents but won just two of its eight Quadrant 1 games. Add in Quadrant 2 results and the Spartans were 4-6 in those games with the best wins coming at the expense of Furman and ETSU (two apiece).

UNCG’s non-conference schedule was ranked (127th) significantly higher than those of Temple and St. John’s with regards to strength, so Wes Miller’s program can’t be blamed for feeling hard done by. Could the lack of “variety” in those quality wins be what kept UNCG out of the field? It’s certainly worth considering.

TCU also had a good argument for inclusion, but the lack of variety may have been an issue for Jamie Dixon’s team as well. All 12 of the Horned Frogs’ Quadrant 1 games were played in conference, with its Quadrant 2 win over Florida being the best non-conference result. TCU didn’t have any “bad” losses, going 11-0 in Quadrant 3/4 games, and the non-conference slate was ranked 117th with regards to strength.

Indiana, which at one point this season lost 12 of 13 games, had some really good wins on its profile including a sweep of Big Ten champion Michigan State. The Hoosiers were 8-15 against Quadrant 1/2 opponents, but the combination of that mid-season slump and a non-conference slate that was ranked 209th may have been too much to overcome despite it including wins over Louisville and Marquette.

Alabama was a combined 10-13 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with its best non-conference wins coming against Murray State, Penn State and Liberty. Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide had a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 40, which in most cases would be enough to get a team into the field. But it wasn’t meant to be for Alabama, which will now be a one-seed in the Postseason NIT.

And if Alabama couldn’t get into the field with its non-conference strength of schedule, NC State may have been a non-starter (352nd NCSOS) despite having other numbers in its favor. The Wolfpack had an overall strength of schedule of 49 and the 31st-ranked strength of record, and going 9-9 in a conference that produced three one-seeds is nothing to scoff at either. But the non-conference numbers, despite having beaten Auburn, were too much to overcome.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Did the committee get the No. 1 seeds right?

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The Atlantic Coast Conference accomplished a rare feat Sunday, as Duke (East), Virginia (South) and North Carolina (Midwest) received one-seeds in the NCAA tournament. The last time one conference received three one-seeds was in 2009, when three Big East teams (Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh) were on the top line.

Rounding out the quartet on the top line is West Coast Conference regular season champion Gonzaga (West), which received a one despite losing to Saint Mary’s in the conference tournament final.

So did the committee get these picks correct? In the case of the three ACC teams it’s difficult to argue against any of the three teams.

While Duke finished a game behind Virginia and North Carolina in the regular season standings, the Blue Devils winning the ACC tournament with a healthy Zion Williamson obviously made a impression on the selection committee. Mike Krzyzewski’s team is ranked third in both the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) and Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and it can be argued that the team’s loss to Gonzaga in the title game of the Maui Invitational was its only defeat with a complete roster.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

Duke was 11-4 in Quadrant 1 games and 6-1 in Quadrant 2 games, with the 17 combined wins being one more than Virginia and North Carolina. Once Williamson showed no ill-effects from the time missed due to his knee sprain — and Duke won the ACC’s automatic bid — there was no justification for the Blue Devils to at the very least be a one-seed. And they’re the top overall seed in this year’s field, which comes as no surprise.

With regards to Virginia and North Carolina, as noted above both picked up 16 wins in Quadrant 1/2 games and they shared the ACC regular season crown. All three of Virginia’s losses, a regular season sweep at the hands of Duke and an ACC semifinal loss to Florida State, came in Quadrant 1 games.

Tony Bennett’s team is ranked first in both the NET and KenPom, and those numbers combined with an eight-point win over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill likely placed the Cavaliers right behind Duke in the pecking order.

North Carolina’s case for a one-seed may call into question how much the emphasis the selection committee placed on the NET. The Tar Heels are seventh in the NET, four spots behind Duke and five behind Gonzaga. North Carolina is also sixth in KenPom, but ultimately the 16 wins against Quadrant 1/2 opponents and finishing atop the ACC proved to be too much to overlook. Also, North Carolina beat Gonzaga by 13 in mid-December.

Gonzaga, as has been the case in prior years in which the Bulldogs received a one-seed, are the most-debated choice. Mark Few’s team was dominant in the WCC until the conference tournament title game, and the Bulldogs did beat Duke without Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall. Gonzaga went 10-3 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with all three losses (Tennessee, North Carolina and Saint Mary’s) being Quadrant 1 defeats. And the computers favor Gonzaga, as the team was ranked second in both the NET and KenPom.

Based upon the committee’s ranking of the 68 teams Tennessee (South) was the biggest threat to Gonzaga for the final one-seed. The Volunteers, who were blown out by Auburn in the SEC title game Sunday afternoon, were ranked fifth in the NET and went 15-5 in Quadrant 1/2 games. While the impact of Sunday’s conference tournament finals on the bracket is debatable, it’s fair to wonder if Tennessee’s 20-point loss to Auburn gave the committee all the evidence it needed to keep Rick Barnes’ team off the top line.

Michigan State (East), ranked sixth on the committee’s seed list, was 19-6 in Quadrant 1/2 games (13 in Quadrant 1) and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The bigger problem for Michigan State than the seeding was the Spartans’ placement, as they’ve been paired with the tournament’s top overall seed in Duke. Rounding out the two seeds in order of their placement on the seed list were Kentucky (Midwest) and Michigan (West), with the Wolverines being paired with Gonzaga.

Bracketing principles may have been an issue, but the two-seeds (and where they’re headed) may be the bigger issue than which teams landed on the top line.

Introducing Cinderella: UC Irvine rolls to Big West title

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One year after losing to Cal State Fullerton in the championship game of the Big West tournament, UC Irvine avenged the defeat in dominant fashion Saturday night in Anaheim. Max Hazzard and Collin Welp scored 23 points apiece to lead the Anteaters to the 92-64 victory, with UC Irvine shooting nearly 62% from the field and 10-for-14 from beyond the arc.

Russell Turner’s team, which earned the program’s second-ever NCAA tournament bid, was the class of the Big West all season long and the Anteaters backed that up this weekend. After beating UC Riverside in the quarterfinals UC Irvine avenged its lone conference loss, beating Long Beach State by eight to advance to the title game.

The last time UC Irvine gave Louisville all it wanted before losing by two in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament. While the 2018-19 version doesn’t have a 7-foot-7 center patrolling the paint, UC Irvine still defends at a high level and is a bit better offensively as well. Whichever team draws the Anteaters better be ready; this is a team that’s more than capable of advancing next week.

CONFERENCE: Big West

COACH: Russell Turner

RECORD: 30-5 (15-1 Big West)

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 81
  • NET: 73

PROJECTED SEED: The Anteaters will most likely be a 13-seed, although with their profile a 12-seed may be possible depending on which teams the selection committee tabs for the final at-large spots.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: 6-foot-10 senior forward Jonathan Galloway (8.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg in conference games) was not only a first team All-Big West selection, but the conference’s best defender as well. And three other Anteaters received all-conference honors, with junior guard Max Hazzard (12.2 ppg, 2.5 apg) named second team All-Big West and junior guard Evan Leonard (11.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg) and junior forward Tommy Rutherford (7.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) receiving honorable mention nods. And Collin Welp is an effective option off the bench, as he averaged 9.1 points per game in Big West play.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: UC Irvine went 2-3 in Quadrant 1/2 games with the wins coming on the road against Saint Mary’s (Quadrant 1) and Texas A&M (Quadrant 2). Saint Mary’s is one of two automatic qualifiers that the Anteaters picked up wins over, with the other being Big West champion Montana. UC Irvine went 17-1 in Quadrant 4 games, with the lone blemish being an 80-70 home loss to Long Beach State on January 16.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: As noted above this is one of the better defensive teams in the country, as they rank fourth in field goal percentage defense (37.9%), first in two-point percentage defense (40.2%) and 50th in adjusted defensive efficiency (96.5, per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers). Offensively, the Anteaters are averaging 72.3 points per game while shooting 45.5% from the field and 35.3% from three. Those aren’t numbers that jump off the page, but they’ve been good enough for a team that’s won 30 games.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: As noted above four years ago UC Irvine nearly upset Louisville, and that team had four players listed at 6-foot-10 or taller including 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye. Also, the Anteaters have been a fixture in the Big West title game in recent years. UC Irvine has appeared in five of the last seven finals, winning two.