#3 UC Irvine
Predicted Record: 11-7
UCI loses two all-BWC players, SF Jordan Harris (1st team) and SG Mike Hood (h.m.), but returns all others from a 13-5 team. So, the question is simple: can UCI replace Jordan Harris and Mike Hood? The answer is yes...and no. The points, rebs, assists, FG%, and 3-pt% are replaceable. The main problem is FT shooting, particularly clutch FT shooting. It will cost UCI some close games, although this team will be equal or better than last season in most respects.
Senior C Adam Parada (2nd team all-BWC) is UCI's first option. He led the league in FG%; double-teamed more often than not. As a low-post threat in the BWC, Parada's second only to Pape Sow. Not a major shot-blocker, Parada uses his 7'0" frame effectively as an interior defender, figuring heavily in UCI opp.'s 41.7% FG. Not a great rebounder, he still nearly led the league during BWC play. He has a knack for quickly racking up PF's, leading to long stretches on the bench. Save that, he'd be the league's best all-around C (although watch out for Vili Morton). Parada's back-up is junior PF/C Greg Ethington, who jumped from his LDS mission straight into UCI's rotation. He's very strong and should have better legs this year.
Senior F Stan Zuzak is a good all-around offensive player. At 6'11" he passes well, shoots from distance, and can post-up shorter players. Zuzak's not a good rebounder, but has enough strength and length to force his man outside. Academic all-BWC, his bball focus has been inconsistent. At times, he's been UCI's best player, at other times, the worst. This is his final season, so he'll probably give it his best shot. Senior F Matt Okoro is a good role-player. Very quick and athletic, he brings defensive energy, and an efficient, though limited offensive attack. These 4 comprise the biggest and most experienced frontcourt in the BWC.
Soph PG Jeff Gloger was a big surprise last season. He led the conference in steals, the only player to have more steals than to's (not counting Amir Bar-Netzer). He probably deserved Defensive POY, considering UCIs a half-court team that doesn't press and his steals typically led to breakaway lay-ups. Gloger shot a remarkable 52% FG and converted 14 of 27 3-pters. His 1.55 pps average was, by far, the best among PG's. Frankly, he was more valuable than Hood, who was all-BWC, while Gloger wasn't. He could have scored more, by shooting more, but his shot selection was flawless as it was. Gloger rebounds like a forward, averaging 4.3 rpg. However, he's a mediocre ball-handler, and his jump shot is accurate, but the release is slow. He won the starting PG after the 2nd game, and could be improved this season with a year of D-1 experience at the helm.
Senior PG Aras Baskauskas is the incumbent back-up, a one-dimensional defensive guard. Last year Mike Hood handled the ball quite a bit at SG, and this year it may be necessary for newcomer Aussie frosh G Aaron Bruce to do the same. With a full compliment of shooters, passers, and post-up players, UCI's offense is less dependent on guard creation than most. Still, theres a distinctive lack of ball-handlers, so Bruce is unlikely to redshirt.
Soph wings Ross Schraeder and Mike Efevberha will absorb a lot of the minutes vacated by Harris and Hood. Schraeder is probably the best perimeter shooter in the league. He tied Ted Bell for top 3-pt%, but sporadic p.t. drove his numbers down toward season's end. He showed high bball IQ and a fine passing touch. Schraeder's release is quick and at 6'5" he'll get his shots off. He's slow-footed and questionable defensively. Efevberha, also 6'5", has an effortless outside stroke with good range. Standing still he's dangerous, but showed inexperience as true-frosh when he put the ball on the floor. Efevberha's very quick and should be a better defender this year. UCI led the BWC in 3-pt% last season, and despite losing Hood, there won't be a drop-off. Hood and Harris combined for 38% 3-pters (team average). Schraeder, Efeveberha, Zuzak, and Gloger are all good perimeter shooters. Schraeder will probably improve with more p.t. and Zuzak is a career 39% 3-pter, who shot 34% last season.
UCI led the BWC in FT attempts/game; Harris and Hood took 33% of the FT's. They converted a combined 83%; the rest of the team shot 69%. Seven different times, either Harris or Hood (or both) made clutch FTs in close BWC games that UCI won. If not for those shots, UCI would not have swept USU, swept Pacific, nor cleared CSUN in the BWT first round. Now clutch FT's will be made by....Parada? Zuzak? Gloger? Not a sure thing. Also, Jordan Harris was adept at drawing contact, creating FT opportunities when the offense bogged down. Harris managed 1.38 pps, mostly because of that. Who will pick up the offense this year? There is no clear answer.
Finally, I have to mention that I'm a UCI fan, therefore this opinion's biased. I've attempted to be objective, for what that's worth. Jordan Harris injured his knee and made a quick comeback. He was not 100% last year. Mike Hood will be remembered for a couple game-winning shots and a sizzling 7-game stretch when he made 72% 3-pters (UCI went 4-3). He shot an ordinary 33% the rest of the season. He also tended to over-dribble. I think UCI will be strong, despite their departure.