One of my Twitter followers is Jason Weingarten, one of the founders of Spreadapedia, a muy bueno website that helps out people looking to place sports bet. He's also a writer, and early last year, he pitched me a story on UC Irvine men's basketball phenom Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7'6" badass. I rejected the story, though, because Ndiaye's story has been covered ad naseum in the local press–hell, I still remember the first pieces on him when he had just entered Brethren Christian High in Huntington Beach.
Weingarten didn't take it too kindly, saying that Ndiaye would take the Anteaters to their first-ever NCAA men's basketball tournament, and that the Weekly should be ahead of the curve and cover the team. I said that would not happen that year, just like it had never happened–hell, I remember the days of Rod Baker, and how it seemed every year UCI was going to make it…and didn't.
Long story short: UCI lost last year in the Big West semifinals, I sent Weingarten a conciliatory tweet. This year, UCI was successful going into the Big West tourney, Weingarten asked if we'd publish his prognostication about UCI's betting chances if they advanced to the NCAA tournament, and I agreed. And here you are! Take it away, Jason!
By Jason Weingarten, Spreadapedia
UC Irvine-Louisville Betting Preview
(4) Louisville Cardinals vs. (13) UC Irvine Anteaters (+8.5) Over/Under: 125
Friday 1:10 PM Pacific Rotation: 851
UC Irvine: C Mamadou Ndiaye (10.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg), F Will Davis II (12.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg), G Luke Nelson (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.0 apg), G Alex Young (9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.6 apg), G Travis Souza (7.4 ppg, .464 3P%)
Louisville: C Chinanu Onuaku (3.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg), F Montrezl Harrell (15.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg), F Wayne Blackshear (10.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg), G Quentin Snider (3.2 ppg, 1.3 rpg), G Terry Rozier (17.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.8 apg)
With a 17-11-2 against the spread record versus lined opponents this season, including a 5-2 ATS record in their final 7 games and three straight wins and covers in the Big West Tournament the UC Irvine Anteaters men's basketball team enters their first NCAA tournament in school history as the 13th seed in the East Region to face off against a very beatable, overrated, poor shooting, 4th-seeded Louisville Cardinals team that has been on the decline both offensively and defensively since head coach Rick Pitino dismissed senior starting point guard Chris Jones from the program in late February.
Though Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell might be the best and most athletic player the Anteaters have faced all season, Louisville overall isn't a good jump shooting team, is a worse three-point shooting team and the Anteaters are comfortable playing a 2-3 zone defense anchored by 6'9 forward Will Davis II and 7'6 center Mamadou Ndiaye, both former Big West Defensive Players of the Year. The Anteaters also have extensive frontcourt depth, backing up Mamadou Ndiaye at center are 7'2 sophomore Ioannis Dimakopoulos and 6'10 senior John Ryan who returns after missing the previous 9 games with a foot injury.
Irvine's zone defense combined with their frontcourt size and depth will present matchup problems for Louisville as the Anteaters' interior defense (16th in Division-I in 2-point defense) will force the Cardinals to take more 3-point shots than they would like. This works significantly in Irvine's favor as Louisville shoots a near Division-I worst 30.4% (313th out of 351) from beyond the arc and only 66% (281st out of 351) from the free throw line (though Irvine is only slightly better at free throws making only 68.3% as a team). Led by senior Travis Souza (46.4%) and sophomore Jaron Martin (48.4%) the Anteaters shoot a very respectable 38.3% (32nd best in Division-I) from three point range.
Historically Big West teams have not fared particularly well in the NCAA tournament. Since Pacific won a first round game in both 2004 and 2005 Big West teams are 0-8 straight up and 2-6 ATS in the NCAA tournament. Although since 2009 in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament 13th seeds are 11-12-1 ATS and 5-19 straight up vs. 4th-seeded opponents and one 14 seed has won outright every year except for 2014.
Teams are shooting just 39.3% against the Anteaters this season and Irvine's defense has shown that they can keep games close against good opponents as they led at Arizona with 8 minutes left to play (before losing by 17) and took Oregon to overtime before losing by 2. While still a long shot, Irvine's interior defense, superior three-point shooting and poor Louisville shooting overall give the Anteaters a chance at pulling off a historic first-round upset. I'll take UC Irvine for 1.5x units at +8 or more, and 0.5x units on the moneyline at +345 or better.
Jason Weingarten is a professional bettor and sports analyst who attended UC Irvine. Upon graduation, while living in Newport Beach he co-founded Steinman-Weingarten with fellow UCI graduate Steven Steinman. Steinman-Weingarten is a sports analytics company that built Spreadapedia, an online point spread database and premier handicapping tool. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, ESPN.com, The Washington Post, ProFootballTalk/NBCSports, Sporting News and the National Football Post. Follow Spreadapedia on Twitter @spreadapedia