As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 21-12 (11-5 Big West)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 103.9 (123rd)/98.3 (92nd)
Seed: East No. 13
Impact player: Will Davis II, forward, senior. 12.9 ppg, 7 rpg, 111.8
The Case For: UC Irvine won’t waste this opportunity in the NCAA tournament. On March 14, the program beat Hawaii 67-58 to win the Big West tournament, snapping a four-game losing streak in league title games. In turn, the Anteaters earned their first-ever bid in the NCAA tournament. They used a strong defense to finally reach the Big Dance, finishing 23rd nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense (44.7), per kenpom.com. UC Irvine’s opponents shoot a mere 42.3% on two-point shots, 16th-worst in the country.
The Anteaters’ offense, led by the 6'8" forward Davis, is also balanced. Davis is the team’s leading scorer (12.9 points per game) and enters the NCAA tournament coming off three straight double-doubles in his team’s Big West run. UC Irvine can hit from the perimeter (38.3% on three-pointers, per kenpom.com) and is not prone to turnovers. It shot 45% from the field in its Big West title-game win over Hawaii and only turned the ball over nine times.
The Case Against: The 13-seed Anteaters open the NCAA tournament against 4-seed Louisville, a tough draw for a roster that didn’t show much potential against top programs this year. UC Irvine managed only one top-100 win this season, and that came on Dec. 22 in a tight 72-70 victory over Green Bay. Since then the Anteaters dropped games against Oregon, New Mexico State and UC Davis (twice).
UC Irvine also is very unreliable at the free throw line. The roster shoots just 68.3% from the charity stripe, 215th nationally per kenpom.com. The Anteaters won the Big West in spite of their free-throw shooting, as they hit just 14 of their 21 free throws against Hawaii in the championship game. UC Irvine must make a team like Louisville pay for fouls if it hopes to stage an upset in tournament play.
SI prediction: Lose to Louisville in the Round of 64