Louisville will play UC Irvine on Friday

The University of Louisville will open the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in Seattle against Big West Conference tournament champion UC-Irvine. Cardinal Authority takes a closer look at UC-Irvine as the Cardinals prepare for the Anteaters.

The University of Louisville will play 13-seeded UC-Irvine, the winners of the Big West Conference Tournament title, on Friday in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

The Cardinals (24-8) are the No. 4 seed in the East Region and the first two games for the ACC fourth-place finishers will be held in Seattle.

UC-Irvine (20-12) is in the Big Dance for the first time. The Anteaters were the No. 3 seed in the Big West tournament and beat No. 5 seed Hawaii for the automatic bid. Luke Nelson, a British point guard, led the Anteaters with 18 points.While they finished with 12 losses, Irvine was the preseason favorite by most to win the league but they have had some injuries. The Anteaters 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye missed all but 13 games with a foot injury, Irvine has won 8 of its past 10 games.

Under coach Russell Turner, Irvine has had three consecutive 20-win seasons and that's a feat that had been accomplished at the school only three times total since 1969.

In the Big West Tournament, Irvine beat UC-Riverside, UC-Santa Barbara and Hawaii during a three-day run. The Anteaters lost to Arizona by 17 points earlier this season.

The Anteaters rank 22nd in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 38.8 percent and are ranked No. 95 by the Ken Pom rankings and No. 99 in the RPI.

On offense, Irvine has two playmakers in Nelson (10.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Alex Young (9.6 ppg, 3.6 apg) with forward Will Davis the leading scorer at 12.9 points a game. The Anteaters have 11 players who have attempted at least 93 shots this season.

And perhaps the biggest trouble this team can cause is with its size. Ndiaye is not the only 7-footer on the team as Ioannis Dimakopoulos is 7-foot-2 and 6-10 Mike Best is another capable big man on the bench.

The note on the Anteaters is they don't turn teams over but they are 30th in field-goal percentage defense and they force a lot of challenged shots.

U of L coach Rick Pitino has said that's one of his team's biggest weaknesses.

IRVINE NUGGET: The Anteaters have two players in Ndiaye (2014) and Davis (2013) who have won Big West Defensive Player of the Year during their careers.

IRVINE KEY STAT: Irvine opponents are shooting just 39.3 percent on the season with those teams hitting just 42.3 percent of their two-point field goals.

KEY PLAYER: The Anteaters have some good players but Ndiaye has to be the biggest key. He's just so enormous and it takes a while for opponents to adjust to his size. He's always in the middle of the 2-3 zone when he's in the game.

IRVINE IN THE TOURNAMENT: First appearance in the tournament.

BEST WIN? The best win of the season has to be the late December contest in Las Vegas against Wisconsin-Green Bay.

A CLOSE CALL: The Anteaters almost pulled off an upset of an Oregon team that made it to the PAC-12 Tournament title game. Oregon won by two in overtime.

A BAD LOSS? The Anteaters lost in mid-December to a Morgan State team that at the time was 1-8 and ended up 7-24 on the season. Morgan State won 63-62.

ABOUT THE SCHOOL: Irvine is a public institution that was founded in 1965. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 23,530. The campus is just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

IRVINE FAMOUS ALUMS: Famous UC-Irvine alumni include former "Saturday Night Live" actor Jon Lovitz, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks, Greg Louganis, four-time Olympic gold medalist in diving, and author Alice Sebold, who wrote "The Lovely Bones."

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