Aggies placing five-game win streak on line against tough UC Irvine squad – Cache Valley Daily

LOGAN — For the first time in nearly three weeks (since Nov. 14), the Utah State men’s basketball team will play a game in the Spectrum, taking on a tough foe in UC Irvine. The Anteaters are currently the top-ranked opponent (according to KenPom) on the Aggies’ non-conference schedule.

“They do not beat themselves,” USU head coach Danny Sprinkle said of UC Irvine. “You look at any Russ Turner team those past 15 years at Irvine, or however long he’s been there, they’re one of the better teams on the West Coast.”

Utah State is currently on a five-game winning streak with an overall record of 6-1. The Aggies only other loss, though, was against the only other team in the top 100 of the KenPom rankings, Bradley. And while that was a road game, Utah State doesn’t yet have a high-quality win under its belt. Several of its opponents are solid teams (Akron, Stephen F. Austin, Saint Louis) but aren’t the kind where a win could single-handedly improve the Aggies’ resume. And while UC Irvine isn’t a blue-blood or major conference team, it could end up as a quality win down the road.

While UC Irvine has two losses, its shown the ability to win very tough road games. The Anteaters defeated then-No. 16 USC on the road earlier this year (although the Trojans were missing their leading scorer, Boogie Ellis, during that game). 

There are four active Anteaters currently averaging 11+ points per game this year, one of whom comes off the bench — Justin Hohn (12.8), Derin Saran (11.1), Devin Tilis (11.1), Andre Henry (11.0). All four have led UC Irvine in scoring in a game at some point this season and three of those players (Hohn, Tilis and Henry) have recorded a 20-point game. The balanced scoring comes from being, as Sprinkle described them, a “very unselfish team,” Sprinkle also pointing out the fact that only four of UC Irvine’s 13 players to see minutes this year don’t have at least as many assists as they do turnovers.

“You’ll see the last seven seconds of shot clocks, they’re gonna pass the ball three, four times,” Sprinkle said. “A lot of teams just go to a ball screen, (UC Irvine will) drive, kick, drive, kick, drive, hit a post guy and lay it up. “You’re gonna have to guard for all 30 seconds of the shot clock.”

Even including the balanced scoring and unselfish passing, the greatest strength for UC Irvine is its defense. Under head coach Russ Turner, now in his 14th season with the Anteaters, has consistently produced quality defensive teams and this year’s squad is no different. The Anteaters currently rank 23rd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency and have held five of eight opponents to under 70 points and all opponents to 74 or fewer points.

One of the recent points of emphasis from Sprinkle to his team has been rebounding, and UC Irvine will be a major challenge as the Anteaters are a tough rebounding team despite not having elite size.

“Their guards are thick, they’re tough,” Sprinkle said. “And their guards have always done a good job rebounding the basketball and that’s why they’re always one of the top rebounding teams in the country. I think they’re almost plus eight right now and if you look at who they played. I mean pretty much every team has been Big West level or up you know and they’re still plus eight rebounding.”

Adding to the Aggies’ challenge will be the potential absence of star forward Great Osobor. The junior has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds so far for USU, but may have to sit out because of eye issues stemming form multiple hits to the face he took against Saint Louis earlier this week. Sprinkle said on Friday that Osobor still had blurry vision but that it had improved from Thursday.

Should Osobor sit, it would likely push either Max Agbonkpolo or Karson Templin into the starting five and into significantly more minutes.

Sprinkle has his own connections to UC Irvine, largely through coaching against them as an assistant at Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton, a nearly combined 20 years of coaching in the same conference as the Anteaters.

“Played them in the championship twice when I was at Fullerton. It was always one of those teams (that) to win it, you had to run through them. And it’s gonna be a physical game. Russ is gonna be down there screaming on the sideline. I’ve already seen it a bunch before. But it’s gonna be an awesome environment. It’ll be a great test for our guys.”

Projected Starters

Utah State (6-1)

  • G – Darius Brown (6-2, Sr.) – 11.0 points | 3.3 rebounds | 7.7 assists

  • G – Mason Falslev (6-3, Fr.) – 11.1 points | 4.9 rebounds | 3.6 assists

  • G – Ian Martinez (6-3, Jr.) – 9.3 points | 3.0 rebounds | 1.3 assists

  • F – Great Osobor (6-8, Jr.) – 21.0 points | 10.4 rebounds | 3.0 assists

  • C – Isaac Johnson (7-0, So.) – 7.6 points | 3.0 rebounds | 0.7 assists

UC Irvine (6-2)

  • G – Pierre Crockrell (6-0, Sr.) – 4.9 points | 1.5 rebounds | 5.3 assists

  • G – Justin Hohn (6-1, Sr.) – 12.8 points | 4.3 rebounds | 0.9 assists

  • G – Andre Henry (6-4, Sr.) – 11.0 points | 4.1 rebounds | 1.6 assists

  • F – Devin Tillis (6-6, Sr.) – 11.1 points | 6.4 rebounds | 2.1 assists

  • C – Carter Welling (6-11, Fr.) – 4.3 points | 3.8 rebounds | 0.8 assists


Utah State

  • Max Agbonkpolo – Day-to-Day (Foot)
  • Great Osobor – Questionable (Eye)

UC Irvine

  • Bent Leuchten – OUT (Knee)

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