#113 UC Irvine Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview


UC Irvine Anteaters


2017-2018 Overall Rank: #113

Conference Rank: #1 Big West

 UC Irvine Logo
For the fifth straight season UC Irvine won at least 20 games and reached a postseason tournament. Unfortunately for the Anteaters they had to settle for a trip to the NIT. The Anteaters won the Big West with a 12-4 record, but fell to UC Davis in the Big West tournament. In a wide open Big West, this is a UC Irvine program that has proven that they can win, at least during the regular season. Jonathan Galloway is one of many players who need to step up their scoring this season. The 6-10 junior is the reigning Big West Best Defensive Player after tallying 7.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Galloway only averaged 4.4 points per game though.
2016-17 Record: 21-15, 12-4
2016-17 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Russell Turner
Coach Record: 139-105 at UC Irvine, 139-105 overall
Who’s Out:
The Anteaters lost their top three scorers from last year. Luke Nelson missed half the season, but he averaged 16.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals during yet another very productive season for UC Irvine. It will look very different without Nelson on the floor, who averaged double digits in the scoring department during all four seasons with the Anteaters. Fellow guard Jaron Martin also earned All-Big West First-Team accolades last year and averaged 14.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. He knocked down a team high 80 three-pointers. Ioannis Dimakopoulos, a 7-2 center, ranked third on the team with 10.9 points per game. Dimakopoulos could knock down some long balls too, but of course his presence was felt in the paint as well.
Who’s In:
Coach Russell Turner brings in five newcomers, including Utah State transfer Elston Jones. The 6-9 forward sat out last season and averaged 4.2 points and 5.0 rebounds with the Aggies two years ago. He may not put up huge numbers, but he will provide quality depth, especially on the offensive end. The frontcourt also adds 7-1 freshman Solomon Ruddell, 6-9 freshman Collin Welp and redshirt freshman Adam Liberman. Coach Turner has done a great job developing big men over the years and expect more of the same from this trio, although none of them need to do much right away. The lone newcomer on the perimeter is redshirt freshman Justin Wertner.
Who to Watch:
The backcourt has plenty of rebuilding to do with Nelson and Martin gone. Eyassu Worku averaged 7.2 points and 1.9 assists per game as a freshman. He will need to grow up very quickly and step into a starring role this year. Worku can shoot and he can score, but he needs to set up his teammates and get others involved as well. Keeping the turnovers down would be helpful too. Max Hazzard and Brandon Smith need to emerge as a couple of those scorers that Worku gets the ball to. Hazzard started when Nelson was out last year, but did not do much scoring. He averaged just 4.9 points per game and shot 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. Smith was a regular starter as a sophomore, but he too was not a scoring threat. The 6-5 wing averaged just 3.1 points per game and also struggled with his shooting. Those two will have to knock down shots or the Anteaters will struggle to score on the perimeter. Sophomore Evan Leonard showed potential during his freshman campaign. He could develop into a consistent scorer off the bench, but not if he keeps shooting 28.1 percent from beyond the arc. This may not be the most efficient or experienced backcourt UC Irvine has had recently, but there is talent. There are lots of shots to go around now and Worku, Hazzard, Smith and Leonard will take plenty of them.
Final Projection:
Tommy Rutherford could be in for a big season after a very promising season in which he averaged 6.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 17.8 minutes per game. The 6-8 sophomore may appear undersized for a UC Irvine forward, but he can score in the paint, hit the glass effectively and block a few shots here and there as well. Rutherford is just one of many sophomores who will be asked to do a lot this season. If they are ready to be consistent and productive, this will be the team to beat in the Big West. If not, it could be a disappointing season for the Anteaters. However, with no seniors on the roster, they will get another go at it in 2018-2019.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Eyassu Worku, Sophomore, Guard, 7.2 points per game
Max Hazzard, Sophomore, Guard, 4.9 points per game
Brandon Smith, Junior, Forward, 3.1 points per game
Tommy Rutherford, Sophomore, Forward, 6.2 points per game
Jonathan Galloway, Junior, Forward, 4.4 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 69.8 (251st in nation, 5th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 64.8 (29, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 44.4 (169, 3)
Field-Goal Defense: 38.3 (6, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.4 (172, 2)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.1 (122, 1)
Free-Throw Percentage: 68.6 (231, 7)
Rebound Margin: 6.7 (17, 1)
Assists Per Game: 12.8 (226, 5)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.4 (213, 4)