Montana vs UC Irvine Preview and Prediction
Montana vs UC Irvine Preview
When you see a game between Montana and UC Irvine, ‘great matchup’ doesn’t come to mind–but it should.
The Anteaters are the favorites to make it from the Big West Conference in 2018-19, returning 94 percent of its offense and two-time Big West Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Galloway. UC Irvine is off to an 8-2 start to the season, including wins at Texas A&M and St. Mary’s and a 20-point victory over Idaho.
The Anteaters again have one of the nation’s top defenses, ranking in the top 100 for scoring defense, field-goal defense, rebounding, turnovers forced and blocked shots.
While UC Irvine has one of the nation’s top defenses, Montana currently owns the nation’s top field-goal percentage. The two teams are next to each other in this week’s CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll (No. 17 and 18).
The Anteaters balanced attack
Typically, when a team is as good as the Anteaters, there are one or two guys leading the way–that is not the case for this team.
No UC Irvine player is in double figures for scoring, but six players average at least 8.0 points per game. No player plays more than 26.1 minutes per game, but nine average at least 15.6, including five with at least 22 minutes.
Galloway is averaging a team-best 8.5 rebounds per game, including 3.6 offensive boards (22nd in NCAA).
Elston Jones ranks second in the Big West (90th in NCAA) with 1.7 blocks per game.
Through Wednesday, Montana’s .532 field-goal percentage ranks No. 1 nationally. The Grizzlies have made at least half of their shots in six consecutive games. They have made at least eight three-pointers in six consecutive games. The Grizzlies hit that number just three times in 2017-18.
Five different players have led Montana for scoring through seven games.
Montana’s two losses have come short-handed to opponents with a combined record of 11-4, including a Creighton team who is receiving top-25 votes and was within a few possessions of upsetting No. 1 Gonzaga.
Michael Oguine is seven points away from moving into the top 10 in school history for career scoring–he averages 15 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Senior Ahmaad Rorie is my favorited Grizzly to watch–he leads the team in scoring (15.9 points per game) and assists (29). His 4.1 assists-per-game average ranks fourth in the Big Sky, while his 2.4 assist-to-turnover ranks third.
This is going to be an incredible mid-major matchup. If this game was being played in Montana I would pick the Grizz to win–but it’s being played in California so I will give the edge to UC Irvine.
UC Irvine 68 Montana 66