A prominent UCI sign at Crawford Hall, part of the Crawford Athletic Complex. UCI sign at Crawford Hall - the athletic complex.Photo by Allyunion at en.wikipedia [Attribution, CC BY-SA 3.0, GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], from Wikimedia Commons.
A prominent UCI sign at Crawford Hall, part of the Crawford Athletic Complex. UCI sign at Crawford Hall – the athletic complex. Photo by Allyunion at en.wikipedia [Attribution, CC BY-SA 3.0, GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

A watch party will be held Friday at the Newkirk Alumni Center at UC Irvine for the telecast of the Anteaters’ debut in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Doors will open at noon, with the tip-off of the East Regional game against Louisville from Seattle set for approximately 1:10 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided. The game will be televised by cable’s TBS.

The Anteaters (21-12) are a decided underdog. A quartet of oddsmakers have each installed the Cardinals (24-8) as an eight-point favorite. The ESPN- affiliated data prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com gives UC Irvine a 25 percent chance of winning.

Two bits of history are against the Anteaters.

UC Irvine is seeded 13th in the 16-team East Regional, while Louisville is seeded fourth. Since the NCAA tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the 13th seed is 25-95 against the fourth seed, a .208 winning percentage.

A team from the Big West Conference, of which Irvine is a member, has not won a game in the round of 64 since 2005.

However, Rodger Sherman of the website SB Nation, wrote that “the Anteaters could pull a giant upset against Louisville, thanks to the fact that they actually have a giant,” the 7-foot-6-inch center from Senegal, Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college basketball.

UC Irvine has drawn praise in at least two other areas — its nickname and prestigious collection of alumni.

The website NJ.com, affiliated with 12 New Jersey newspapers, ranked UC Irvine’s Peter the Anteater as “the No. 1 mascot” in the tournament, calling it “cute, uncommon and with that long tongue, useful.”

The Indianapolis Star chose six-member teams of prominent alumni of all the teams in the round of 64 and judged UC Irvine’s superior to Louisville.

The UC Irvine representatives were actors Jon Lovitz and Bob Gunton, the movie director and television producer McG, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks, four-time Olympic gold medal-winning diver Greg Louganis, and Roy Fielding, the computer scientist who was one of the principal authors of the HTTP specification.

The Louisville alumni were the late legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas; Jay Gruden, the coach of Washington’s NFL team; novelist Sue Grafton, NFL linebacker turned ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, Donald Elbert, who led the team of engineers that invented AstroTurf; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

UC Irvine qualified for the tournament by defeating Hawaii, 67-58, Saturday night, in the Big West Conference Tournament championship game.

The Anteaters had an 0-4 record in the finals of the Big West Conference tournament before Saturday’s victory. The winner of the conference tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

UC Irvine opened in the fall of 1965 and began competing on the Division I level in 1977. It played in the Division II tournament four times.

— City News Service

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