Despite a tough week on the road in Stockton and Reno (including the team bus getting bogged down in a snow storm for 15 hours on the way to Reno), all of UC Irvine’s proverbial marbles are on the line this week against UC Davis and Pacific at home.
In the battle for not becoming the only team in the conference not to make the Big West Tournament, UCD is currently in last place at 3-9, but only a half game behind UCI at 4-9. UC Riverside is a full game ahead of Davis at 4-8.
UCI has played both the Aggies and the Highlanders once this season, losing heartbreakers each time. This leaves one game against each opponent that the entire season more or less rides upon. No pressure guys.
Here’s a breakdown of possible playoff scenarios based on potential outcomes:
UCI goes 0-3, conference record of 4-12: UCI is automatically the last place team, as Davis will have beaten them, finishing with a record of 4-12, and that’s if they lose every other game besides UCI. Because Davis holds the tiebreaker of sweeping the season series between the two teams, the Anteaters would be the odd team out.
UCI goes 1-2, conference record of 5-11: If this win is against Davis, this will put Davis in a hole, but one that they can still climb out of by winning two games in their slate of UCR, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge.
UCI goes 2-1, conference record of 6-10: This scenario gets into the “safe zone” that UCI needs to get into postseason play. UCR and Davis would pretty much have to win out the rest of their games to contend UCI’s spot.
UCI goes 3-0, conference record of 7-9: If this happens, the ’Eaters are in, and potentially in play for a No. 6 seed, depending on how Cal State Fullerton does. This scenario would also mean that UCI would have a win against every team in the league except Cal State Northridge.
How the tiebreakers work: Head-to-head record is the first and key indicative. Past that, it gets into records versus other schools in the conference, which at this point is still too up in the air.
One big difference from years past: the tournament moves to Honda Center, where the format will change to. Before, the first two seeds received two byes, the third and fourth seeds received one bye, and the five through eight seeds had to win four games in four days to win the whole thing.
This year, there will be no byes. Every team will have to win three games in three days to make the NCAA Tournament.
Opponents to watch out for: UC Davis has talent, but is wildly inconsistent on the year. Senior guards Mark Payne and Joe Harden represent a double threat for the Aggies. Both guys bring good height at 6 feet 8 inches, and both average just under 15 points a game. In the game against Davis earlier this year, Payne poured in 32 points while Harden added 23. Streaky guard Eddie Miller also dropped 25 on the ’Eaters. Overall, however, Davis’ bench is not very deep. UCI should have won the first game, and they should win at home on Thursday.
For Pacific, Sam Willard is a potent threat down low, averaging 15.6 points a game. Pacific has an evenly distributed offense that struggles with consistency sometimes. However, their zone defense killed UCI in Stockton, and all five starters scored in double digits. Guard Allen Huddleston shined with 20 points, and second leading scorer Demetrece Young dished out eight assists. UCI will need to make a few more jump shots (they shot 31 percent first time around) or hopefully get Eric Wise back in time to match up against Willard to stand a chance.