Kansas State and UC Irvine have only met once in history, that came early last season as the Wildcats rolled to a 71-49 home victory, forcing 17 turnovers and holding the Anteaters to 29.6-percent shooting. I don’t see history repeating itself and look for UC Irvine to get some revenge on last years disappointing performance.
UC IRVINE (30-5): The Anteaters have set a single-season school record for victories under ninth-year head coach Russ Turner and enter the Big Dance with a 16-game win streak. Their latest victory came late Saturday night as they routed Cal State Fullerton 92-64 in the Big West title game, setting a conference record for the largest winning margin in a title tilt. Junior guard Max Hazzard scored a game-high 23 points in the championship en route to tourney MVP honors and leads the team in scoring (12.5 per game) while backcourt mate Evan Leonard (11.1 points) also averages double figures and forward Jonathan Galloway paces the squad in rebounding (8.0).
KANSAS STATE (25-8): The Wildcats averaged a Big 12-worst 65.8 points per outing but own the conference’s top defense, allowing only 59.2 points (third-lowest nationally) and ranking fourth in guru Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings. Offensively, Kansas State features a balanced attack with guard Barry Brown Jr. (14.9 points), forward Dean Wade (12.9), guard Kamau Stokes (10.8) and forward Xavier Sneed (10.6) all averaging double figures. Wade, the team’s top rebounder (6.2) and a first-team All-Big-12 selection, missed the conference tourney with a foot injury, and Weber said the senior’s status remains uncertain heading into the Big Dance.
UC Irvine joins Houston (31-3), Buffalo (31-3), Gonzaga (30-3) and New Mexico State (30-4) as Division I’s only 30-win teams as of Sunday. Through games Saturday, the Anteaters ranked 19th nationally in allowing 63.3 points per game and ranked fifth in opponent field-goal percentage (38.0). They enter this matchup on a 16 game winning streak averaging 76.7 points per game and although Kansas possess a great defense I don’t see them stopping the Anteaters scoring threats.
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