UC Irvine Anteaters
Big West Conference
Head Coach: Russell Turner (6th Season)
Record: 16-5, 5-0 conf.
Best Wins: 61-60(OT) @ UCF, 54-52 vs New Mexico State, 58-54 @ Long Beach State
Bad Losses: 71-64 vs Boise State (neurtal court)
C Mamadou Ndiaye (12.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 64.7% FG)
G Luke Nelson (12.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 94.9% FT)
It will be fun to see who comes out on top of the Big West Conference, and earns that league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and one of the top contenders for that bid is the defending Big West Champions, the UC Irvine Anteaters. This team is led by their defense, which is ranked 10th in the country in efficiency by KenPom.
One of the biggest reasons their so good defensively is the brick wall they have in front of the basket, and his name is Mamadou Ndiaye. Ndiaye, a 7’6″ junior from Senegal, is one of the most lethal shot blockers in the country, which is no surprise given his massive height. Ndiaye was a big prospect when he made his intentions to play college basketball clear, and UC Irvine has reaped the benefits.
The Anteaters won the Big West last season with a 21-12 record, and went into the tournament at a 13-seed, taking on the Louisville Cardinals in the Round of 64. UC Irvine gave Louisville quite the challenge, but the Cardinals survived with a 2-point victory. This year’s team is looking for another crack at knocking off a big team in the big dance.
This is a veteran team that has tested itself in a big way this season. They lost two games in a holiday tournament to Boise State and Evansville (two fellow Giant Killers), and then lost in road games against Saint Mary’s, Oregon and Kansas. This team won’t be intimidated by anybody if they make it to the tournament.
The one problem with the Anteaters is that they haven’t beaten any great teams this season. A lot of times, a “Giant Killer” will pull off a big upset during the season, proving that they can get it done, but the closest UC Irvine has come is a 15-point loss to Oregon.
But they possess “Giant Killer” qualities for sure. Ndiaye is a complete difference maker in the middle. Depending on the match-up, he could create all sorts of problems. You know defense wins championships, but it also makes a “Giant Killer.” The Anteaters have one of the best defenses in the country, as according to KenPom, they are in the Top-10 in the country in effective defensive FG% and defensive 2PT%.
Another thing that UC Irvine does that makes them a “Giant Killer” is their ability to slow down a game. They are among the slowest playing teams in the nation, and in many cases, if you can slow down a game, you increase your chances at pulling off a big upset.
We got a glimpse of what this team is capable of last year in a near major upset of Louisville. If UC Irvine is able to win the Big West, they are not a team that you’ll want to see in the Round of 64.