#97 UC Irvine Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

UC Irvine Anteaters
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #97
Conference Rank: #2 Big West
UC Irvine failed to reach another NCAA Tournament, but it was still a landmark year. For the fourth straight season Coach Russell Turner has taken his team to the postseason. The Anteaters won a program record 28 games and reached the finals of the CIT. That was not the NCAA Tournament, but it was still a nice postseason run. This time around, Coach Turner has some rebuilding to do, but he has some talent returning and a very good recruiting class. The lone returning starter is Luke Nelson. The 6-3 senior averaged 13.7 points and 3.9 assists and connected on a team high 83 three-pointers. Nelson will be the team leader and will take all of the big shots for the Anteaters.
2015-16 Record: 28-10, 13-3
2015-16 Postseason: CIT
Coach: Russell Turner
Coach Record: 118-90 at UC Irvine, 118-90 overall
Who’s Out:
Other than Nelson, UC Irvine lost their other four regular starters. Big man Mamadou Ndiaye left early for the professional ranks after averaging 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. The 7-6 center was a massive presence in the paint and the Anteaters will have more flexibility without him. Regardless, Ndiaye’s presence will be missed. Forward Mike Best averaged 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds during his senior season. The starters beside Nelson on the perimeter were Alex Young and Dominique Dunning. Young averaged 10.5 points and 4.4 assists per game while Dunning added 2.9 points per game. Aaron Wright was part of the regular rotation too and the 6-3 guard averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 assists during his senior season. Shawn Ray is also gone after seeing limited action during his senior season.
Who’s In:
The future is bright for the Anteaters, but this class is so good that most expect many of them to contribute in a major way right away. Eyassu Worku was a great pickup for the Anteaters. He could be running the point from day one. Evan Leonard is a big-time scorer who can put up a lot of points. He will likely find his role as a scorer off of the bench. Justin Wertner is yet another highly regarded shooting guard who will make an impact sooner or later. Redshirt freshmen Max Hazzard and Darrian Traylor are both talented perimeter players who should benefit from a year in the system. Even walk-on small forward John Edgar is a very good shooter who can knock down three-pointers. The frontcourt adds Tommy Rutherford and Brad Greene. With limited options in the paint, both Rutherford and Greene will likely have to play a pretty big role off of the bench right away.
Who to Watch:
The starters in the frontcourt will likely be Jonathan Galloway and Ioannis Dimapoulos. Galloway did not see much action as a freshman, averaging 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds. He is a very good shot blocker and defender though and even if he does not score too much, Galloway will make a difference on the defensive end. Dimapoulos is a slightly more consistent scoring option. The 7-2 senior averaged 5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds last season and continues the tradition of big centers at UC Irvine. Brandon Smith, a 6-5 sophomore, will add some size to the perimeter. The other returning player on the perimeter besides Nelson is senior Jaron Martin. Martin is undersized at 5-10, but he can shoot. Martin was used as the team’s sixth man last season and averaged 8.3 points and knocked down 39.4 percent of his 155 three-point attempts. Between Nelson and Martin, UC Irvine will be very good in the outside shooting department. Pending on the development of the freshmen, Martin could be the sixth man again this year.
Final Projection:
Nelson is a great piece to build around, but other seniors like Martin and Dimakopoulos need to be ready to step up too. But the key to this season will be the play of the underclassmen. The Anteaters only have those three seniors on the roster and everybody else is an inexperienced underclassman. They are talented though and the hope is by the time Big West comes around, this team will be playing cohesive basketball and competing for another Big West title.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI / CIT / V16
Projected Starting Five:
Eyassu Worku, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Luke Nelson, Senior, Guard, 13.7 points per game
Brandon Smith, Sophomore, Forward, 1.8 points per game
Jonathan Galloway, Sophomore, Forward, 2.7 points per game
Ioannis Dimaopoulos, Senior, Center, 5.2 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 71.2 (219th in nation, 5th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 66.1 (43, 2)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.9 (70, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 38.3 (3, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.3 (236, 7)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 37.0 (65, 1)
Free-Throw Percentage: 68.0 (249, 7)
Rebound Margin: 2.3 (104, 2)
Assists Per Game: 14.9 (72, 4)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.4 (145, 3)