*LMU has used four different starting lineups, with Erik Johansson (6’6” Jr.) starting all five games. However, he’s played just 8 minutes in each of the past three games. Meanwhile McClendon, despite coming off the bench in three of the five games, is third on the team with 23 mpg. He’s effectively a starter.
About Loyola Marymount:
Wins: N-#74 Georgetown (65-52); A-#146 UNLV (61-50); N-#171 Ohio (65-56), H-#334 Cal St. Northridge (79-64).
Throw out the pre-season rankings; Loyola Marymount was picked 7th in the 10-team West Coast Conference by the coaches and, well…they’re playing like a team that will be in the mix at the top of the league (at least, behind Gonzaga) all season long. Their season-opening win on the road at UNLV certainly raised eyebrows, and the follow up beat-down of Georgetown in Jamaica got the Lions on the map.
Head coach Mike Dunlap is in his 5th season after coaching the Charlotte Hornets for one season, and probably entered the season somewhere near the hot seat; he was just 23-49 in WCC play in his first 4 seasons at the helm. However, the hot start as people taking notice.
The Lions are led by their combo guard James Blackmon. The 6’1” senior does it all for Dunlap’s crew; he’s averaging 20.4 ppg on a 30.4% usage rate, is shooting 35% from three, has attempted 40 free throws in just 4 D1 games (making 88%), and is averaging 4.6 apg. He’s the engine for this team in the same vein that Tyler Kohl is for Central Connecticut, though he does it a bit differently.
While Blackmon provides a lot of the offense, LMU’s five game winning streak to start the season has been largely due to their defensive prowess. They’ve yet to allow a team to score more than 0.88 PPP (Cal St. Northridge), and held Georgetown to just 0.76 PPP (the Hoyas scored 1.16 PPP against CCSU). Pressure defense is the name of the game for the Lions; they’re forcing turnovers on 26.3% of their defensive possessions, good for 13th nationally, and are allowing opponents to shoot just 19.4% from three, 5th best. Sophomore guard Joe Quintana has 10 steals in five games (6.1% steal rate, 12th highest in the country), while senior guard Jeffery McClendon and 6’7” freshman wing Dameane Douglass have been solid defensively as well.
And of course, like most teams that employ pressure defense, LMU has rim protectors as well, namely 7’3” 261 lb. Mattias Markusson, as well as 6’6” 241 lb. sophomore Zafir Williams. Dunlap can also bring 6’10” Petr Herman off the bench, as well as 6’8” 231 lb. Jordan Bell. Size, this team has.
One other thing to note; sophomore forward Eli Scott, who led the team in rebounding last season with 7.3 per game and also averaged 12.6 ppg as a freshman, has yet to play in a game due to some sort of illness. While it’s doubtful he plays on Wednesday, it’s worth remembering that this squad isn’t even at full strength.
Player to Watch: Mattias Markusson
Don’t get me wrong; James Blackmon is the team’s best player, and will certainly be a handful for the CCSU guards. But Blackmon is not unlike a guy like Jamaal King of SFU, or even JR Lynch of Hartford. The Blue Devils know what it’s like to face a dynamic lead guard. However, Markusson presents a whole different type of matchup, as it’s not like the Blue Devils face a guy with this kind of size on a regular basis.
After playing sparingly as a freshman, Markusson had somewhat of a break out last season as a sophomore; he averaged 8.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg and was super-efficient while doing it; he had a 127.6 O-Rating in league play (2nd in the WCC), shot 63% from the field, and was also 2nd in offensive rebounding (11.7%) and 5th in defensive rebounding (24.4%). Fouling was a bit of an issue, which limited his minutes (~25 mpg), but he was certainly a bright spot for 5-13 Lions.
This season, he’s only built on what he did last year; while he hasn’t been quite as efficient (53% from the field), he’s upped his free throw % from 61% to 91% (10 for 11), has improved his rebounding numbers, and has been able to stay on the floor; he’s yet to commit more than three fouls in a game, and is averaging 32 mpg.
While he doesn’t provide the versatility of a guy like Georgetown’s Jessie Govan (Markusson has attempted one three-pointer in his career), it’s difficult for a team like CCSU to match up with his size; Deion Bute is their largest rotation player at 6’9” 220 lbs. Plus, given his shot blocking ability and amount of space he takes up in the paint, it may be near impossible for the Blue Devils to get points at the rim.
Things to Watch
Are you sick of reading about the turnover issues? Because I’ve already grown tired of writing about them. But here we are. At the risk of beating a dead horse; CCSU is currently 258thnationally with a 21.3% turnover rate, which is a very slight improvement over last year’s figure (21.8%), and they are coming off a historically bad second half against Florida A&M during which they turned it over 16 times. It’s a problem.
But do you want to know what’s worse? Loyola Marymount lives off turning their opponents over. Their defensive turnover rates in four D1 games this season (D1 average is 19.4%):
Turnovers, galore! Loyola Marymount’s 12.2% steal rate is 31st nationally, and they do it by overplaying the ball, which they can do because no one wants to wander into the lane and face the 7’3” Markusson.
Protecting the ball will be the name of the game Wednesday night.
I’m kind of cheating here since I’ve already highlighted Markusson, but similar to FAMU and Justin Ravenel; shut down Blackmon, and you will likely shut down the LMU offense. Of course, Blackmon is much more dynamic (and better) than Ravenel; he can score in a variety of ways, gets to the line a ton, and makes plays for his teammates.
It’s hard to imagine Tyson Batiste opening up on Blackmon; instead, expect to see Krishnan get the call, at least to start, with Segwai probably seeing more time than usual given his defensive abilities. LMU's senior star must be licking his chops with the idea of going up against a couple of freshman guards. It’ll certainly be a learning experience for the young backcourt players.
One part of Blackmon’s game that is less than ideal is his propensity for two-point jumpers. Last season, 27% of his shot attempts were two-point jumpers, making about 42% of those shots. This season, in a relatively small sample, that figure is up to 33%. Making him put the ball on the floor and pull up in the mid-range is going to be the best way to slow him down offensively. Don’t let him get his feet set. And don’t let him get all the way to the rim. Easier said than done, I’d imagine.
CCSU's shooting vs. LMU's defense
This early in the season, it’s difficult to know which data is real, and which data is noise. Case in point; Loyola Marymount is currently allowing the 15th lowest eFG% in the entire nation (40.8%), generally due to its 19.4% 3P% allowed, which is 5th lowest nationally. However, with largely the same personnel (and coach) last season, LMU allowed the 346th (out of 351 teams) worst eFG% (57.4%), and allowed opponents to shoot 38% from three.
The Lions held Georgetown and Ohio to shoot a combined 7 for 43 (16.3%) from three in Jamaica; maybe it was the shooting backdrop? After all, those games were played in a hotel ballroom. But then again, it didn’t really affect CCSU; they shot 42% as a team in the two games from three-point range.
So what I’m trying to say is; I don’t know if LMU’s three-point defense is due for some regression, or if it’s here to stay*. But seeing as how Central Connecticut is shooting 45% from three so far this season, we’re bound to get some answers Wednesday night.
*Side note: This is why analytics should always been used in conjunction with, not instead of, video and in-person scouting. Maybe LMU has committed to stifling three-point shots by selling out on the perimeter and allowing teams to penetrate freely given their behemoth in the middle. Or maybe their opponents have simply missed a ton of open shots, and they’ve been somewhat lucky. I have neither the time nor resources to do that kind of research. But I’m sure the CCSU coaching staff has.
Since beginning the season ranked #141 in Kenpom, Loyola Marymount has steadily climbed after each win, currently sitting at #104. And while they have two very interesting wins (at UNLV and a neutral court win over Georgetown), I can’t get the fact that LMU was picked to finish 7th in the WCC out of my head.
Are they a complete fluke? Probably not; there’s value in having roster continuity, and 65.5% of the minutes played by LMU players so far this season have been from guys who played last year, which is in the highest 15% in the nation. Perhaps this team is gelling at the right time, and it’s correlating with a significantly improved defense. However, I have a hard time believing they are one of the top 100ish teams in the nation.
With that said, this is a terrible matchup for the Blue Devils. Even if they are able to limit turnovers, it will be hard to find points in the paint. And even though CCSU has been historically hot from the field through five games, I don’t quite believe they are one of the top 30 or so shooting teams in the country. Throw in the travel to the west coast, and I think this game will be a struggle. The best thing going for CCSU is that LMU likes to play slowly, which will keep the score relatively low. Make enough shots and you never know what will happen.