It is time for our yearly preview of UCI which always includes a comment about Michael Wilder's afro. But in a weird way this may be a bit of a seventies style game if UCLA has its way. If the critics are to be believed, this is not your brother's Ben Howland defense first team, but more of a team that would be comfortable in the legendary ABA.
That is because some say UCLA is an offense first team now. Rightly scoff those who have watched Ben Howland for years. But the odds are pretty good that UCLA scores more than the 86 in the first game this season, why?
Well, last year UCLA scored 86 or more points just once against a division one opponent last year (they also did against D-II Chaminade but I don't count that). That opponent was UCI who UCLA beat 89-60 last year.
Of course, UCI could have changed. Well they could of but they did not, they returned all five starters from a team that went 12-20 last year. But yes UCI is better and beat a Nevada coming off a 28 win season.
While UCI may be better, UCLA is better, the question is how much? The player to focus on tonight may be Norman Powell. Powell had by far the best game of his career last year against UCI, scoring 19 points (a career high). I am hoping Powell does some of those high flying dunks he has shown in practice.
But enough on UCLA, let's talk about UCI.
All hair jokes aside, Michael Wilder is a leader. He is his conference leader in returning players in a dizzying array of statistics.
Senior Michael Wilder tops the returning players in the league in points (762), assists (162), field goals made (223), three-pointers made (152), free throws made (164) and minutes played (2,321).
Despite being only 6'2", he played power forward last year and this year he is selected to the conference first team all preseason poll. He also had a double double his first game. Wilder is a strange player who can seemingly do a bit of everything. This year he is a three but a tough match up for Kyle Anderson.
But while Wilder is the jack-of-all trades, Daman Starring may be the star. He was named Big West player of the week.
Starring scored a career-high 25 points and added seven rebounds and two assists in Saturday's season-opening, 78-64 win over Nevada at the Bren Center. Starring hit all 10 of his free-throw attempts in the victory.
He is UCI's first Big West Player of the Week since Derick Flowers earned the award last Dec. 31.
Starring also was named the Mid-Major National Player of the Week by College Sports Madness.
Starring gets his points by shooting a lot. Last year he took 54 more shots than Wilder, but Wilder still edged him in the scoring lead. Starring shot only 39% last year but was the unusual player who was the same from 2 as 3.
Derrick Flowers is the nominal point guard. Although everyone seemingly pitches in, with four of the five starters last year averaging between 2.4 and Flowers 3.2 assists per game. Flowers is a poor shooter who went 0-7 in the win against Nevada and shot only 37% last year from the field.
Which brings us to the next starter, Adam Folker. Folker is both the worst and the best shooter on the team. Folker shot 56% from the field and 34% from the free throw line. This gives you an idea of his range. He also led UCI in rebounds last year and will be returning to his natural position of power forward.
The last starter is new, Will Davis II. Will played last year for UCI and made a name for himself by:
He broke the 18-year-old UCI record for single-season blocked shots with 55 as a true freshman...also set a new school for single-game blocked shots with eight in the Feb. 25 win over Cal State Northridge.
Will also blocked 4 shots against Nevada. So UCLA will face an actual shot blocker tonight.
The bench is led by former starting guard Chris McNeely. McNeely statistically is very similar to Starring, he was second in shot attempts and third in scoring while also shooting under 40% (see a trend?) overall but a good 41% from three. As if UCI did not have enough guards, they also added a new 6'1" freshman in Alex Young and have their old starting point guard Aaron Wright (shot 32% last year) is still around. Oh they do have backup big body in Connor Cliff who in 5 minutes against Nevada picked up three fouls.
So what does it all mean? UCI is a team of relatively poor shooting off guards, who work hard on defense and shoot okay from three. They have a shot blocker but at times their power forward may be the 6'2" Wilder.
UCLA should score a lot in this game and use their size advantage at all positions. UCI's got to hope they can cause problems for UCLA with their quickness and relatively good defense. On offense they need one or two of their shooters to get hot.
Could be a fun game and I think if this were the old days, there would be a chance for Whoopers (I think that was 80s right?)