UC Irvine Anteaters
2013-2014 Overall Rank: #124
Conference Rank: #1 Big West
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Coach Russell Turner had a very talented team last season, yet they only finished with an 11-7 record in the Big West play. It could have been so much better. However, the Anteaters did make a run in the conference tournament, losing in the finals to Pacific and they won a game in the CIT against High Point. Now there is a bit of rebuilding to do, but that does not mean UC Irvine will take a step back. In fact, they could take a big step up if everything goes right.
2012-13 Record: 21-16, 11-7
2012-13 Postseason: CIT
Coach: Russell Turner
Coach Record: 46-55 at UC Irvine, 46-55 overall
Daman Starring, Michael Wilder and Adam Folker were all regular starters during their senior seasons. Starring, a 6-3 guard, led the Anteaters in scoring with 12.9 points per game. It was Wilder and Starring who provided most of the outside shooting for Coach Turner’s team. That is one place where Irvine may find it difficult to find replacements. Folker, a 6-9 center, averaged 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Losing a big man can sometimes hurt teams like the Anteaters, but that is not the case this year. There is plenty of size waiting in the wings to help replace Folker. Derick Flowers averaged just 12.5 minutes per game, but he played an important role in the backcourt off of the bench.
Coach Turner has brought in a very interesting group of newcomers. Luke Nelson was recently named the Player of the Year for the top division in England. He was also named the English U18 Player of the Year. The 6-3 guard represented his country this summer at the U18 European Championships and has played some very good competition. He should be ready to come in and make an immediate impact for the Anteaters. Dominique Dunning will add even more quality depth to the backcourt. The transfer from New Mexico saw limited action with the Lobos two years ago as a freshman, but he is a versatile guard who can fill in wherever Coach Turner needs him. Dunning could emerge as a big surprise for this team if the Anteaters can tap into his potential. The frontcourt is even more intriguing. Ege Mala spent last year on the sidelines as a redshirt and the story could be the same for 7-2 center Giannis Dimakopoulos this year. Incoming freshman Mamadou Ndiaye is ready to compete for quality minutes right now. The 7-5 center will not be able to get up and down the floor in a hurry and adjusting to the speed of the game could be the one thing keeping him out of serious playing time as a freshman. But he is 7-5. He can rebound and alter shots at any level. With a little offensive tuning, Ndiaye could be a dominating presence on both ends of the floor as a freshman.
Who to Watch:
Bringing in two guys over seven-feet tall is just making an already big team even bigger. Will Davis II, a 6-8 center, is the little guy in the frontcourt. Davis had a superb sophomore season, averaging 9.7 points and leading the Anteaters with 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Conor Clifford and John Ryan have been biding their time. Neither made much of an impact last season, but both have loads of potential. Clifford is another seven-footer, while Ryan comes in at 6-10. Ryan has a bit more experience and tends to be more efficient when it comes to scoring, but there is high hope for Clifford to have a big man burst heading into his sophomore season like Davis did last year. Mike Best played in ten games last season before applying for a medical redshirt. Best is a good scorer who can stretch out the defense when his long ball is falling. At 6-10 he could provide a nice offensive spark off of the bench. He could also spend some time at the small forward position as long as the defensive matchup happens to work out or Coach Turner runs a zone in those situations. Meanwhile, Travis Souza, a 6-4 small forward, should see plenty of time at the three spot…if he can hold off the newcomers. Souza did not take many shots last season, but he proved to be a very good three-point shooter. Again it will depend on the newcomers, but Souza could be the shooter this team needs in the starting five. If he does not crack the starting five, he will still be a quality shooter off of the bench.
Heading into the 2011-2012 campaign the hopes were very high for Aaron Wright. He began his freshman year as the starting point guard before suffering a season ending knee injury. Healthy again for last season, Wright was supposed to run the show. But then Alex Young showed up and took over the team. As a freshman Young averaged 9.2 points and 3.9 assists and earned a variety of All-Freshman accolades. He even set a UCI record for assists by a freshman in a single season with 144 and ranked 16th in the country with a 2.62 assist-to-turnover ratio. If Wright can even come close to reaching the potential he showed during his nine games as a freshman, the Anteaters will have a very talented point guard duo. Chris McNealy has been a bit up and down during his time at UCI, but he still had a good year overall. The 6-4 senior averaged 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds and he should be able to put up similar numbers. More importantly, he is the only senior on the roster and he may be asked to turn into a leader on the floor. For a young team, finding a leader is important. It may take some time, but somebody will emerge as the Anteaters heart and soul. It will also take some time for the newcomers to step into their roles. Although by the time Big West play comes around, this should be a good team with the most talented roster in the conference.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Alex Young, Sophomore, Guard, 9.2 points per game
Chris McNealy, Senior, Guard, 9.2 points per game
Travis Souza, Junior, Forward, 3.5 points per game
Will Davis II, Junior, Center, 6.8 points per game
Conor Clifford, Sophomore, Center, 2.5 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 69.1 (127th in nation, 6th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 65.4 (136, 3)
Field-Goal Percentage: 43.3 (175, 7)
Field-Goal Defense: 38.7 (15, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.7 (109, 6)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.4 (201, 9)
Free-Throw Percentage: 66.5 (263, 8)
Rebound Margin: 1.8 (119, 4)
Assists Per Game: 15.7 (20, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.5 (110, 3)
Madness 2013 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#64 Mamadou Ndiaye