The UC Irvine Anteaters have never experienced the world of the NCAA tournament before. In their maiden voyage to this special occasion, how will they hold up against Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals, who are going into this game without one of their more important players?
The UC Irvine Anteaters Can Win Because…
Their opponent will not have a highly talented and productive point guard. Chris Jones was an important member of the Louisville roster until he was kicked off the team for multiple reasons, including off-court conduct that put him in trouble with the law. Jones averaged 13.7 points and four rebounds with nearly four assists per game. He was essential to giving Louisville a dribble-drive component to its offense. Jones could break down defenders on the dribble and could get to the basket. If defenders tried to stop him, he could give off the ball to teammate Montrezl Harrell for a layup or a dunk. Without Jones, a lot more of the Louisville offense has to run through Terry Rozier, and if defenses can stop him, Louisville isn’t going to do much of anything on offense, so keep this in mind when checking out the NCAA Tournament odds.
The other big reason UC Irvine can win this game is that it has a defensive stopper in the middle of the paint who can frustrate anyone and everyone on the Louisville roster. Mamadou Ndiaye is a 7-foot-6 center from Senegal, and while he’s not a high-volume scorer, averaging only a modest 10-points-per-game total, he is somewhat muscular. He’s not quite a string bean – he is not easily moved around in the lane. He averages only 1.7 blocked shots per game, which might seem like a low total, but that’s because defenses in the Big West Conference have known that they can’t get away with challenging him. They simply have very little chance of shooting over him, so they don’t come within five or six feet of the basket. Teams shoot 10-foot jump shots if not threes or at least 17-foot shots so that they won’t have to worry about Ndiaye blocking them. Louisville might think it can challenge Ndiaye, but if it does, it might be in for a surprise. Since Louisville has struggled shooting jump shots all season, this could be a thorny matchup for the Cardinals.
The Louisville Cardinals Can Win Because…
Their defense is going to be way too good for UC Irvine and they will advance into the second round to face the winner of Northern Iowa vs. Wyoming. Playing in a very strong Atlantic Coast Conference, Louisville has finished 22nd in points allowed per game at 59.5. The Cardinals are 11th in blocked shots per game with 5.5. The team is 17th in steals per game with 8.3. Louisville is so active on defense, playing all 94 feet of the court’s length and all 50 feet of the court’s width, that Irvine – coming from the Big West Conference – is likely to be overwhelmed by the Cardinals’ quickness and court coverage.
The other thing Irvine should be overwhelmed by is the simple fact that it has never before played in the NCAA tournament. It cannot be an easy thing for the Irvine players to handle the environment they’re about to step into. It’s going to be intimidating for the Anteaters to be in this game, and since Rick Pitino is one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Tournament history, UC Irvine probably drew the wrong opponent.
The Cardinals are too quick on defense for Irvine, and the Anteaters are probably not going to handle the pressure of the situation. This feels like a blowout for Louisville, so take them as your NCAA tournament pick.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Louisville -8.5 at The Greek