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Last season, then New University editor-in-chief, David Gao, created a column focused on UC Irvine’s men’s basketball program, referring to it as Antourage Insider. Striving to bring a fresh approach, insight and entertaining analysis to the sports section, he did just that. This year I am carrying on the tradition and hope to do him justice.

UCI 66, CBU 54

The Anteaters opened their season up on Nov. 2 with an exhibition game at home in the Bren Events Center against Cal Baptist University. UC Irvine experimented with several lineups and kept CBU in the game until there was six minutes remaining. Led by freshman point guard Aaron Wright, UCI finished the game on a 15-3 run. Wright had 7 points in the final 3:17.

C – Mike Best – 5 points, and 2 rebounds. He fouled out after just nine minutes.

PF – Will Davis II – 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 32 minutes. It was his first collegiate game.

SF – Mike Wilder – 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 34 minutes.

SG Chris McNealy – 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists in 31 minutes.

PG Daman Starring – 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in 19 minutes. Starring fouled out.

Notable bench performances: Wright had 9 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes; forward Reed McConnell (3 points) played for just one minute and nailed his only shot from beyond the arc; forward Marcus Bradley had 6 points, and 2 rebounds in 14 minutes; and forward Travis Souza had 6 points and was 2-3 from three-point range in 11 minutes.

UCI 84, SDC 63

In the final preseason tune-up before the season’s start, the Anteaters smoked San Diego Christian, as expected, by 21 points. UCI outrebounded SDC, 50-29. Led by the freshman trio of Will Davis II, Collin Woods and Aaron Wright, UCI lit up the scoreboard, but they committed 17 turnovers.

C – Mike Best – 3 points, 4 rebounds, in 20 minutes.

PF – Will Davis II – 13 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 22 minutes.

SF – Mike Wilder – 6 points, 1 rebound, in 18 minutes.

SG Chris McNealy – 8 points, 5 rebounds, in 20 minutes.

PG Daman Starring – 8 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists in 21 minutes.

Notable Bench Performances: Woods had 16 points, 12 in the second half. The freshman made seven of eight free throws and threw down a show-stopping alley-oop dunk that was lofted up by Derick Flowers.

Wright scored 10 points, giving him 19 points in two games. Redshirt freshman Kevin Mulloy had five points and seven rebounds.

Folker Update: Junior center Adam Folker returned to action after suffering a season-ending broken hand last season and undergoing hip surgery over the offseason. Folker will surely “remember, remember the 5th of November.” One year to the date of playing his last game, Folker had eight points and five rebounds in nine minutes, and was a perfect 4-4 from the field.

Potential nicknames: So far I have Derick “April showers, May” Flowers, Reed “A Book” McConnell, Aaron “The Price is” Wright, Adam “Mother” Folker, Kevin “Home Alone” Mulloy (Have you seen him? He’s practically Macaulay Culkin’s twin), Mike “Wild Card” Wilder (He can play every position), Daman “Shooting” Starring, Will “Not the First” Davis II, and John “Ricky Bobby” Ryan (“He’s got two first names!”).

I’m open to suggestions, so feel free to email newusports@newuniversity.org. If you have any nickname suggestions for Collin Woods, Marcus Bradley and Travis Souza. I just might publish your suggestions if they’re awesome … or terrible.

Lineup lookout: Mike Best was a disappointment as the starting center in the team’s exhibitions. Out of 80 possible minutes, he played in just 29. Best had 7 points and 6 rebounds combined. Against CBU, he played just nine minutes. Best fouled out early and had virtually no presence in the game.

At 6 feet 10 inches and 200 pounds, he’s a twig. Best needs to pack on at least 25 pounds if he wants to be considered a center. His ball-handling skills are fit for a small forward, but the team needs him at center. It will be interesting to see how Coach Russell Turner manages to implement him.

McNealy’s eight boards were surprising against CBU, considering his 2.2 rebounds per game last season. He had a combined 14 points and 13 rebounds combined against CBU and SDC. The sophomore has bulked up, finally filling out his Anteater uniform. If McNealy can continue to rebound as a guard, he could be a Mike Wilder clone and allow Turner to call upon an undersized starting five.

Best might not be the best solution at center. Wright and Woods both emerged from the bench in the preseason and could make a case for the Anteaters’ starting lineup in the season opener at California on Nov. 11 (11/11/11 — Make a wish, Anteaters! They need it). Wright’s late surge against CBU broke the game wide open. His composure with the ball was surprising for a freshman. If Wright were to start at point guard, Turner could push Starring to shooting guard, which would be more fitting for the junior, because he struggled to gain composure in half-court situations against decent opponents last season.

With Wright starting, McNealy — with his newfound strength — could slide to small forward, Wilder could switch to power forward, and Davis could play as an undersized center. The lineup would get thrashed by California, Louisiana State University and UCLA, but would stand a good chance in a majority of the team’s Big West matchups.

Forecast: UCI starts their regular season against No. 24 California on Friday, Nov. 11 before travelling to San Jose State on Monday, Nov. 14. Irvine performed well against stiff competition last season, considering that they lost by 57 points at No. 3 Texas in 2009. Last year the Anteaters lost by 14 points at No. 13 Illinois to start their season and nearly defeated the UCLA Bruins, leaving Los Angeles with a one-point loss.

Cal, on the other hand, defeated the Big West’s Cal State Northridge 80-63 last November, and Cal Poly 51-41 last December, but they lost 86-84 to UCLA. If the Anteaters played Cal 10 times, they might beat them once, but that’s why they play the game. We’ll see what happens on Friday, but don’t hold your breath, Antourage.

Prediction: UCI 59, CAL 76

Irvine fell 85-70 at home against San Jose State last season. SJSU is a true test for UCI. A victory would speak volumes of the team’s potential, but considering that the ’Eaters were 4-13 on the road last season, the edge goes to SJSU.

Prediction: UCI 77, SJSU 82

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