After a listless performance at Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday, UCLA basketball is looking to get back on track against the James Madison Dukes on Thursday night.
The jokes were already lined up regarding James Madison’s apparent existence as a university as well as somehow sneaking a college basketball team on campus. We were going to discuss just how badly this team was going to get beaten and how long it would take before UCLA would send these kids back home, dejected, their heads hangin’.
But UCLA ruined that, after most predicted much of the same things against UCI. The Anteaters, to their credit, are young, motivated and talented, but they didn’t belong in the same class as UCLA, though the Bruins failed to prove otherwise.
James Madison? They did just as poorly last season, except they didn’t have the excuse that the entire line-up consisted of freshmen.
The Dukes return three of their top five scorers in 2011-12, losing their second-leading scorer Anthony Humpty Hitchens while retaining a good chunk of last year’s starting line-up.
We cautiously point out to you, though, that much of the returning rotation players were juniors last year, meaning it’s plausible that their peak isn’t much different from their 12-20 campaign last season. And, much like UCI, these Dukes were in the bottom half of the nation in nearly every statistical category you can think of in 2011-12, with the lone exception being three-point percentage and three-point attempts.
Which could be damning to UCLA’s chances of starting the season 3-0.
Because it was the perimeter game that UCLA couldn’t seem to hinder against UCI, which shot a ridiculous 45 percent from downtown. UCLA lacked the speed to get out to the three-point line and rotate to shooters and the Anteaters made them pay from the perimeter. Given that James Madison did well in shooting the three ball in 2011-12, it’ll be tough to count out the Dukes given what we know about this UCLA team in that aspect.
And in that regard, UCLA fans should be a tad weary of 6’7” forward Andrey Semenov, who shot a fantastic 44 percent from three last year; he also led the team in offensive rating while earning a team-high True Shooting Percentage of 57.1 percent.
Also of note is the size of the James Madison backcourt; none of their guards are taller than 6’4” and Devon Moore, the starting point guard, could provide serious match-up problems for Larry Drew II.
Moore, mind you, will be James Madison’s offensive initiator. Despite the fact that he leads the team in assist percentage, though, he’s also turnover-prone, earning a 20.7 percent turnover rate while on the floor.
On the interior, James Madison isn’t much of a threat (we hope); the rotation consists of players that are reminiscent of wingmen in size and nothing larger with the exception of Enoch Hood, a 6’9” forward that wasn’t all that impressive last season.
Overall, UCLA should beat this team handily; though recent gripes with this squad has to do with their athleticism, they sure as hell can’t expect to have issues with James Madison, a team that doesn’t have as bright of a future as UCI does and doesn’t have any sort of momentum to build on from last year.
Of course, these are Ben Howland’s Bruins, after all, so what do you expect?
PREDICTION: UCLA 81, James Madison 49