If you’re craving a little college sports action right around midnight on the East Coast, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors always have you covered. Hawaii’s distance from the mainland has helped keep insomniacs entertained in the middle of the night, and this year’s Rainbow Warriors have a decent chance at making it to the NCAA Tournament. One of the teams in the Big West standing in their way are the UC Irvine Anteaters. UC Irvine and Hawaii are the only two teams other than UC Santa Barbara with a record over .500 in the conference, so its likely one of these three teams grabs the conference’s automatic bid.
Neither one of these two teams has any injuries or suspensions listed on their injury report prior to tonight’s game.
Although they are a long way from home, the Anteaters are favored to win tonight’s tilt. UC Irvine has been installed as a two-point favorite per the CBB betting odds, and the total checks in at 130 points.
What’s at Stake?
Coming into tonight’s game, UC Irvine is the favorite to win the Big West’s automatic bid. Ken Pomeroy’s numbers have the Anteaters as the best team in the conference, and they are 29 spots ahead of UCSB.
The Anteaters grabbed some nice wins to give the conference a little bit of a boost in non-conference action back in November. UC Irvine went into College Station and knocked off Texas A&M, and then they followed that up with neutral site wins over UTSA and Tulane. The school even grabbed a win against perennial mid-major power Saint Mary’s, and that has them feeling good about their chances. They can’t afford to drop another conference game after losing by double digits at home to Long Beach State last week though.
Unsurprisingly, Hawaii has been pretty good on the island. The Rainbow Warriors are 9-2 at home so far this year, and they have a decent win over Colorado right before Christmas. They also beat Utah on a neutral site on Thanksgiving, but five non-conference losses will kill any hopes of an at-large and they must avoid another conference loss after falling to UC Riverside over the weekend.
UC Irvine is playing its second straight road game, but the road game the Anteaters played this weekend wasn’t a long one. They only had to travel across Los Angeles (about 65 miles) to take on Cal State-Northridge, so they haven’t had to stress about two long road trips in short succession.
This will be a match-up of size versus athleticism. UC Irvine is the biggest team in the conference. The Anteaters have a ton of big men that can control the glass, and their depth helps them stay rested. Head coach Russell Turner uses a nine-man rotation where players average between 15 and 25 minutes a game, and they can play intense defense because they are constantly coming off to get rest.
UC Irvine is one of the best defensive teams in the country (55th in the nation and tops in the conference according to Pomeroy), and the Anteaters should have a big rebounding advantage on the Rainbow Warriors.
Hawaii is led by its guards. The Rainbow Warriors ask them to stretch the floor with their athleticism, but they haven’t been shooting well this year. Even one of last year’s leaders in true shooting percentage, Brocke Stepteau, has been unable to get much going, yet he leads the team with 38.3 percent of his threes being successful.
Jack Purchase and Zigmars Raimo are both decent big men, but Purchase does not use his size too often and prefers to play along the perimeter.
The one big advantage for Hawaii coming into tonight’s game is that the game is on the island. Opposing teams often get caught up in the fun and sun of Hawaii, and that can give them an edge. However, UC Irvine came to the island and beat them 66-57 last year, and this is a veteran team looking to take care of business. I’ll go ahead and lay the points with the Anteaters, and the under is a decent play too.