Tomorrow’s night game against the Loyola Marymount Lions presents the UCLA Bruins with a legitimate challenge. The NET rankings are the NCAA’s new basketball ranking system. In the early NET rankings, LMU ranks #25. It is a challenge UCLA, which is currently ranked #89, should be able to overcome, but the Lions definitely do not qualify as a cupcake.
The challenge of LMU starts with the fact that, unlike, say, St. Francis or Hawai’i, LMU has some players that could legitimately play in the Pac-12. First among those is 6’1” James Batemon. Batemon is averaging 21 points a game, but his real average is much higher. Batemon only played 22 and 16 minutes against two of LMU’s cupcakes where he scored 11 and 10 points. On the other hand, in LMU’s toughest games, he scored 27 in each of LMU’s toughest games against UNLV and Georgetown.
Batemon is also a scorer. He hit 4 threes against UNLV to get a large portion of his points. Against Georgetown, he scored 27 by going 13-13 from the line. In those games, he scored 54 of LMU’s 126 points or 43% of their points. He will be the second-best guard UCLA has faced this year behind only North Carolina’s Coby White.
The difference is UNC’s White had a lot of people around him who could score while LMU does not have as much talent. At the same time, the next best player on LMU presents UCLA some more challenges. For the first time this year, Moses Brown will be playing against someone taller than him in 7’3” Mattias Markusson. Markusson is a legitimate force inside.
Against Georgetown and UNLV, Markusson led both teams in rebounding with 13 and 11, respectively. He is a true center. While not as polished inside as Michigan State’s Ward, the easy offensive rebounds that Brown has lived off this season won’t be there.
But, this is a game UCLA should and must win. While Batemon and Markusson are Pac-12 level players, the rest of LMU is not, but the rest of the Lions still makes up a good team and what jumps out at you are their team defensive stats.
LMU ranks 11th in the NCAA in scoring defense, giving up only 57 a game. They rank 35 in three-point defense. This is a very well-coached team. They also rank third in the nation in free throw percentage at 81%.
So, this game is the kind of test you want if you’re the Bruins. A well-coached team that gives you a chance to hone your skills for better teams in the Pac-12.
Keys to the Game
1. UCLA needs to key on Batemon and not foul him. Against Long Beach State, UCLA played defense terribly and helped out off LBSU’s Deishaun Booker. Booker burned them for 31 points including a number of open threes. Against LMU, UCLA must always know where Batemon is at all times and never help off him. Batemon is a great foul shooter. So, they need to also play defense without fouling. IMHO, it would be best to put multiple people on Batemon and not just Jaylen Hands. It is a lot to ask Hands to patiently run point and cover the other team’s best player.
2. UCLA needs to dominate inside. UCLA is number 4 in the country for defensive rebounds. The reason for this is UCLA is so deep up front. I know this is going to get some people wound up, but Cody Riley, not Moses Brown, is our best inside player on offense. Whichever one Markusson is not on should get the ball down low. LMU will not have an answer and Riley can eat up anyone not named Markusson.
3. Be patient. LMU is not going to let UCLA run. The Lions will play smart defense. That said, The Bruins have a big physical advantage. Unlike against Hawai’i, UCLA needs to work the ball in and out. If the Bruins do that, LMU will have to help and there will be open shots.
The Lions will be pumped up and not scared by aura of Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins must make them scared of our inside advantage before the game is over.