Team preview: UC Irvine

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2005-06 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 31, 2005, 12:23 PM ET
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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Everything seemed to be going so right. UC Irvine had shown promise in 2004-05, and with four starters coming back, the Anteaters seemed poised for a leap forward this season.

Then it all crumpled into a heap on the court one day in May.

That's when Jeff Gloger, a fifth-year senior and one of the Anteaters' steadiest players, went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during an individual workout. Making matters worse, all hope that Gloger could return by the end of the season vanished when he contracted mononucleosis, postponing surgery for more than two months. Gloger had surgery in July and his status for this season is uncertain.

"It was a freak deal,'' coach Pat Douglass said. "He just reached back for a ball and his weight was going forward and it put all his weight on the knee. He's really a well-conditioned athlete and it just popped. It takes quite some time to rehab that, and the prognosis doesn't look like he's going to be able to join us any time soon. It doesn't look good.''

The hole left in the lineup is a large one. The 6-4 small forward averaged 9.6 points and 5.0 rebounds last season. He is UC Irvine's career leader in steals and was on pace to set the school's career assist record.

Even more important, though, Douglass was counting on Gloger's experience and leadership to be a driving force of his team's push to become a Big West championship contender.

"I think our strong suit was that we had five returning seniors, and Jeff being a fifth-year senior, yeah, it really sets us back a step,'' Douglass said. "Now we'll have to go with young kids at his position. It's much better if it's going to occur that it occurs before you start practice, but you don't go out and replace a fifth-year senior. That did take a little wind out of our sails.

"But we're not going to hang our heads. We're going to move forward. We've got some good returning players and some kids who got some valuable game experience last year, so we're optimistic. Injuries do occur. But we've had time to realize we're going to be short-handed, so we have to adjust and move on.''

Even without Gloger, the Anteaters have plenty to work with, especially in the backcourt. UC Irvine's starters represent the classic guard combination, with a penetrating, pass-first point man and a spot-up sharpshooter with seemingly unlimited range.

The shooter is 6-5 senior Ross Schraeder, the team's leading scorer last season at 12.9 points per game, and he is one of the nation's deadliest three-point gunners. In his first season as a starter, Schraeder's 43.9 percentage from outside the arc ranked second in the Big West and 11th in the country.

At the point, Aaron Fitzgerald barely trailed Schraeder as a scorer at 12.7 points per game, but passing is his real strength. The 6-2 senior led the conference with his average of 5.2 assists per game and had 20 games with five or more assists. They are perfect complements, with Fitzgerald's drives in the lane setting up Schraeder's bombs, and the outside shooting threat helping to open up the middle for Fitzgerald's penetration.

"We're looking for them to be two of our mainstays,'' Douglass said. "They both really had exceptional games at times, and I think they'll be even more consistent this season.'' Behind them, the backcourt is a bit thin. Junior college transfer Mike Green, a 6-1 sophomore, is an accurate shooter who might also have to back up Fitzgerald at the point. Up front, the Anteaters have bodies coming back, but little size or proven productivity.

Sophomore Darren Fells (5.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg), a burly 6-7 power forward, showed flashes last season and should improve. At 6-10, Adam Metelski (3.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg) has the size, but the center from Poland played sparingly last season. He shot 57 percent from the field, but only 39 percent from the free-throw line.

Another juco player, 6-9 junior Mark Kelley, displayed considerable offensive skills at Citrus College.

Nic Campbell (5.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg), a junior from Tasmania who started the last 12 games last season, is only 6-6, as is sophomore Patrick Sanders (1.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg).

Still, Douglass expresses no concern about his inside game.

"We have four guys there, so I feel pretty good about it,'' he said. "In this league, there aren't a lot of teams that have 6-10 guys. There are a lot of 6-8 athletes.''

Douglass' biggest concern, of course, is how to replace Gloger, and he heads into the opening of practice with three players -- an undersized senior and two young players -- vying for the spot.

The senior is 6-3 Shamar Armstrong who played barely 10 minutes per game last season, averaging 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds. He'll battle Sanders and 6-5 freshman Adam Templeton, who Douglass calls "a well-rounded player,'' for the position.

"None of them have Gloger's experience,'' Douglass said. "We'll be young at the position. Gloger, as well as giving us additional ball handling, was in the passing lanes often and he's a good offensive rebounder. We do miss him. He's a different type of player than other kids we have in the program.''

One the Anteaters will have to learn how to do without.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: C-
INTANGIBLES: C

Gloger's injury might well rip the heart out of a team that was beginning to see itself as a Big West contender. The guards are as good as any pair in the conference, but they'll need help from the bench and the inside game. Youngsters such as Fells and Kelley are going to need to grow up fast.

And someone needs to take over a key spot from Gloger.

"Obviously, our strength is at the guard position,'' Douglass said. "But I do like the combination of our post players. The key ingredient's going to be replacing Jeff. I feel very comfortable with the guards and with our four and five position, but that wing position is going to be a key.''

If someone steps forward to fill it, the Anteaters could be dangerous. If not, it could be a long season.

"Our goal is to get in that upper echelon of the top four teams [in the Big West],'' Douglass said. "If we can get the necessary experience in preseason and get ourselves ready, that's a key to get off to a good start. You gain some confidence and kind of get on a roll.''

For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

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