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UCLA Basketball’s No Excuse Tour Game 1: ISU Preview

UCLA plays a team from Indiana in the first game in the new Pauley, in part to honor Coach Wooden.

Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

For those who worry about UCLA being young, try being the Indiana State Sycamores, they lost 4 of their starting 5 players to graduation. It is not like it was a great team to start with going 18-15, eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference. They played in the CIT postseason tournament and lost in the first round. ISU was 1-5 last year against NCAA tournament teams.

What Indiana State does have that may present a challenge is they will undoubtedly try to slow the game down. A stat points toward that end from the ISU Quick Facts Page:

- The Sycamores were 9-1 last season when scoring at least 68 points and were 11-1 when holding teams to 63 points or less.

ISU did set a relevant NCAA record last year toward an effort to win a slow set offense game:

- Indiana State was a perfect 12-of-12 from 3-point range on February 11 against Southern Illinois which is a new NCAA record for most consecutive 3-pointers made, best 3-point field goal percentage with at least 10 attempts and most attempts by a team that hits all of their 3-pointers.

Helping them distributing the ball and setting up those threes is their one returning starter, Jake Odum.

- Jake Odum scored a team season-high 34 points against Illinois State on February 14, giving him six consecutive games of reaching double figures scoring and marked the sixth 20-point game of his career. Add in his seven assists and seven rebounds, Odum is the first player to go 34-7-7 in the NCAA this season. Odum is the first college basketball player to post 17 made free throws and seven assists in the same game since North Dakota State's Ben Woodside did it in 2008 against Stephen F. Austin. Odum's 34 points marked the first Sycamore with a 30-point game since Marico Stinson's 37 points in December of 2006 against Drake and is the fifth-highest single game performance in the MVC this year.

Ironically Odum may be a mini Kyle Anderson. Odum is 6'4" and not only led ISU in assists but also in rebounds last year with 5.9 per game. Maybe Norman Powell will match up with him but this will be a point guard who should match up better with Anderson when UCLA is on offense with Anderson at the point.

ISU is actually a strange matchup for UCLA to start the season because they are almost as tall as UCLA. Joining Jake in the back court is Junior College transfer Dawon Cummings (also 6'4"), Gonzaga transfer and redshirt Junior Manny Arup (6'6"), then two returning players who are now starters including 6'8" Center Justin Gant and 6'10" redshirt sophomore forward Jake Kitchell. ISU is taller than UCLA at two positions, shorter at two and the same height at one compared to the UCLA likely starting lineup of Larry Drew II, Norman Powell, Kyle Anderson, David Wear, and Travis Wear.

Of the likely matchups underneath: whichever Wear gets Kitchell will be facing someone they should be able to out-quick. Kitchell is listed at 240 but may be heavier. In any case playing against Tony Parker and Josh Smith everyday Kitchell should not be a problem for the Wears. Gant is a similar player to Kitchell but weighs less. They both shot over 20% of their shots last year from three, although they both only played limited minutes.

The small forward Arup sat out last year after transferring from Gonzaga. Manny is from Sudan via Canada. He did start a few games for Gonzaga two seasons ago and scored 16 on the road against Notre Dame where in 32 minutes he went 4-5 from three. He fell out of favor toward the end of the season and transferred. It will be interesting to see how Kyle does matching up against him.

The shooting guard is Cummings who led his JC team in steals last year while shooting 35% from three. Dawson may handle some point guard duties and can rebound as well.

ISU has played one exhibition game, which they won over "Lewis." The coach was not happy with the victory (Quote is a bit awkward may be a typo):

"All of the new players did not some nice things in the game," Lansing said. "It is the mistakes that we have to clean up. It is early, but that is not going to be an excuse here in a week when we go to UCLA. We are in this together. We have to keep improving, but I don't want to keep harping on how young we are this year."

Actually the Sycamores are more new than young. Only Gant in the starting lineup has been in college for less than two years.

In the Lewis game, the Sycamores were led by RJ Mahurin off the bench. A 6'9" red shirt junior who also shoots a lot of threes.

So ISU has a number of new starters but are not a young team. They have surprising size but probably are not particularly fast and I think they will want to slow the game down against UCLA and wait patiently for a good shot, preferably from three. On defense, they have five players with size and their guards can really crash the boards. It will be interesting to see how quickness of the backcourt of Drew and Powell does against bigger players. In the frontcourt it will be fun to see if UCLA's bigs outrun ISU's and can make this a higher scoring game.

At the end of the day, ISU is just an opponent. This game is about the new Pauley, the new recruiting class, and the new bruin basketball team. Let's see if they can play fast and run in the same way the great John Wooden teams of the past did.