UCLA vs Loyola Marymount Pick
Loyola Marymount Lions (8-0 SU, 4-2 ATS) vs. UCLA Bruins (5-2 SU, 3-4 ATS)
When: Sunday, December 2, 2018 – 10 PM ET
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV: Pac-12 Network
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LMU +10.5/UCLA – 10.5 @ Bovada
Total: O/U 144
Last Time Out: Loyola Marymount hammered Bethesda 106-50, UCLA defeated Hawaii 80-61.
Analyzing the Lions:
Long an afterthought in a West Coast Conference that’s been dominated by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, Loyola Marymount is off to a solid start this year, mostly off the play of guard James Batemon. The senior averages 21.4 points per game, a number that would be higher if he hadn’t played just 16 minutes in the Lions’ rout of lower-level Bethesda. Beyond Batemon, however, Loyola isn’t a particularly deep teem in terms of offense and instead focuses on its defense. Of the Lions’ six games against Division I competition, not one has topped a combined score of 150 points.
Analyzing the Bruins:
UCLA has a multitude of weapons who can hurt its opponents, most notably sophomore Kris Wilkes. A 6-foot-8 guard, Wilkes can score from anywhere on the floor and provides the height needed to grab rebounds when necessary. Against Hawaii, he notched a double-double by grabbing 10 rebounds to go with 16 points, and he’s scored in double figures in every UCLA game this season.
His boards are as important as his points, because it’s not with the first shot that UCLA beats its opponents. It’s with the second and third. The Bruins rank 10th in the country in rebounds and are excellent at getting on the glass and extending their possessions. When teams don’t limit the Bruins to one shot, they usually find themselves paying the price.
The battle in the paint. Moses Brown doesn’t see too many players who can match him in the height department, but Loyola Marymount has a player who can do that in the 7-foot-3 Mattias Markusson. The Swedish junior averages 11.4 points a game and has a two-inch height advantage on his counterpart Brown. If Markusson can establish himself in the paint early in the contest, Loyola Marymount will set itself up to get easy baskets inside and stay in the game. If Markusson can’t get close to the hoop, Loyola is in trouble.
Loyola Marymount Will Cover if:
The Lions can clamp down on the UCLA offense. Loyola Marymount has held its opponents to just 58.4 points a game, and only once has a foe even gotten to 70 points this season. This game is going to take Loyola’s best efforts on the defensive side of the ball from the opening tip, but if the Lions can frustrate the Bruins and keep the game close, they’ll have the edge because UCLA is a poor free-throw shooting team at 62 percent, giving Loyola Marymount a chance to pull itself to within the spread in the dying minutes.
UCLA Will Cover if:
The Bruins can force the Lions away from the hoop by establishing their presence in the paint. UCLA averages seven blocked shots per game, good for 10th in the nation, and such a presence can be a major intimidation factor that can force an opponent to alter its offense. If Loyola Marymount has to get out of its comfort zone early to get its offense going, UCLA will have a big advantage.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
With Loyola Marymount’s gaudy record and UCLA’s struggles, it might be tempting to take the points with the Lions and gamble on them to stay close with the Bruins, especially with the Pauley Pavilion crowd likely to be dead during a Sunday night contest against a non-name opponent.
But a check of the records reveals that Loyola hasn’t exactly been testing itself against the best of the best in the early going. Per Ken Pomeroy, Loyola’s schedule ranks 333rd in the nation, or the 20th-weakest schedule in Division I college basketball. Yes, Loyola is 8-0, but it’s a soft 8-0. The Lions have beaten a pair of Division II schools, which don’t have a spread and don’t count toward the tournament, they barely escaped from Central Connecticut and their best win is over a very pedestrian Georgetown team that will be lucky to finish in the top six of the Big East. In short, there isn’t anything impressive on Loyola Marymount’s resume at the moment.
Conversely, not only is UCLA one of the true blue-bloods in the sport, but the Bruins have tested themselves against Michigan State and North Carolina, and even though they didn’t win, those losses will prepare them for tough competition throughout their schedule. Plus, the Bruins got themselves back on track against Hawaii, setting them up to out-athlete Loyola and turn this game into a comfortable victory.
Loyola winning here would be a truly impressive feat and show that the Lions can reasonably make a push toward an at-large bid for the NCAAs this year. But based on the information we have, Loyola doesn’t look like it’s going to give UCLA much trouble, and I don’t see enough here to gamble on the points with the Lions. Go with the Bruins and lay the 10.5 points, or, if you’re not completely sold on UCLA, gamble on a good defensive battle by taking the under, which should be a solid play in this game.