Anteaters picked to win Big West Conference by publications.

Will Davis is a top returning player for the UC Irvine men's basketball team.Will Davis is a top returning player for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team

Fourth-year head coach Russell Turner’s UC Irvine men’s basketball team has been chosen to win the Big West Conference in preseason polls by at least three publications.

The ‘Eaters are picked first by Athlon Sports, Lindy’s Sports and USA Today Sports.

UCI finished 21-16 overall last season, tying the program’s third-most victories for a season in the school’s 48-year history.

The ‘Eaters were 11-7 in the Big West in 2012-13 for the program’s most conference victories in 10 years.

UCI advanced to the championship game of the Big West Conference Tournament last March for the fourth time in history and the first time in the last five years. The ‘Eaters topped Hawai’i and No. 1 seed Long Beach State before falling to Pacific in the final.

The team then advanced to the postseason for the first time in 11 years as UCI reached the second round of the Tournament (CIT). The ‘Eaters defeated High Point, 80-71, in the first round before ending the season with a 76-62 loss at Oral Roberts in the second round. The win over High Point was the program’s first postseason victory in 27 years since an 80-74 win at UCLA in the first round of the 1986 NIT.

“We appreciate the respect that some people have shown to our players,” Turner said. “We also know the predictions in previous years haven’t been accurate.

“Our own expectations are high as well and hopefully we can reach those if we continue to improve.

“The Big West Conference is wide open,” Turner added.

Junior forward Will Davis II was named to the All-Big West preseason first team by Athlon Sports and the second team, along with senior guard Chris McNealy, by Lindy’s Sports. USA Today Sports named Davis and sophomore guard Alex Young to its preseason second team.

Lindy’s also named Davis as the Big West’s best defender and best NBA prospect. He broke his own single-season record with 88 blocked shots last season when he earned the Big West’s “Best Defensive Player” award and was named to the Mid-Major Defensive All-America team.

McNealy averaged 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds last season and he enters his senior season with 821 points and 369 rebounds in his Anteater career as he looks to become the 17th player in UCI history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career.

Young set a UCI freshman record with 144 assists last season when he averaged 9.2 points and 3.9 assists per game. He was named Big West co-Freshman of the Year and was selected to the Mid-Major Freshmen All-America team.

USA Today Sports recognized UCI with the Big West’s top recruiting class that includes 7-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye, 7-2 freshman Ioannis Dimakopoulos and 6-3 freshman Luke Nelson.

UCI opens the season at home against Chapman in an exhibition game Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Bren Center. The regular season begins with Fresno State visiting the Bren for the first time in 21 years Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.

The ‘Eaters were 9-0 in Big West games at the Bren last season and 13-1 overall at home.

UCI was 12-0 last season when holding the opposition to 60 points or less.