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A Look Into This Year’s Men’s Basketball Season

ESPN virtually hosted the Big West Conference Men’s Preview Show for college basketball on Nov. 19. The preview focused on the upcoming 2020-21 men’s basketball season and held debates on which teams and players have the most potential this year. 

After winning the championship in the Big West Conference last season, UC Irvine was highly recognized as a favored team in this year’s media polls and preview show. Analyst Trent Rush predicted that by the end of the season, UCI will be the best team in the Big West since their record overall last season was 21-11, while going 13-3 in their respective conference.

“What is amazing is how young UC Irvine is. They were still picked No. 1,” Rush said about the polls. 

However, according to Rush, even though UCI was at the top of the list, UC Santa Barbara came in at a very close second and is looking to be a fierce rival. This is due to UCSB’s record last year going 21-10 overall with a 10-6 conference record. 

The last time these two teams played each other was on Feb. 29 when UCI secured a 69-58  win against UC Santa Barbara. However, UCSB beat UCI 64-61 on Feb. 8, which reveals how truly interchangeable these two teams can be.

“Is this the year [UCSB will] take that leap and are able to make it to the NCAA tournament?” analyst Rahshaun Haylock asked.

Haylock also included Long Beach State as a potential contender to win, but his argument was silenced after debates about individual players came into play.

According to analyst Richie Schueler, UCI has added a number of new additions to their team while also being the second youngest team in the NCAA. He specifically noted that the player to watch this season is UCI’s redshirt junior Collin Welp, who helped lead the team to victory last year as he averaged 13 points per game and shot 44.2% from the three-point line. 

“In my opinion, he is a team captain and he’s become more now of a match up nightmare than he already was. I expect to see him give opposing teams fist throughout the entire season,” Schueler said. 

According to host Courtney Sweet and Rush,UCI’s Head Coach Russell Turner is always getting a hold of the dominant bigs for the team every season. With a strong presence defensively and offensively, Rush pointed out how much pressure the rest of the league is facing due to them trying to match the same energy with the “big man talent.”

“It’s going to be hard for me to go against [UCI] because those years where we didn’t think they were going to win it, they went ahead and won anyways. Just terrific coaching [from] the Anteater program,” Schueler said.

In the Player of the Year discussion, the analysts predicted the player to come from UCI. However, each analyst had separate athletes in mind; Haylock predicted that UCI’s redshirt senior Brad Greene would earn the title while Schueler and Rush predicted that Welp would earn the title. 

“I think [Greene] takes a tremendous leap, he’s a tremendous rebounder, he’s going to block a couple more shots than he did a season ago, but I just think that the leap that he took from going into last season, I think he’s going to take an even bigger leap going into this season,” Haylock said. 

Both Schueler and Rush agreed that Welp will become the best player in the league. They did touch upon Haylock’s pick, stating that Greene can be the x-factor and if UCI is going to win a championship this year, it is going to be thanks to him for making that “leap” Haylock previously mentioned. 

The UCI Men’s Basketball team starts their season against Pepperdine on Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 3:30 p.m., after having their previous season cut short. Fans of the Anteaters will see if these predictions and polls come true with the team expected to be once again on top.

Malia Nazario is a Sports Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at mnazario@uci.edu.