Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008-09 Opponent Breakdown: Loyola Marymount

Before I get into the season preview for the Loyola Marymount Lions, I just want it to be known that this is a program that will challenge Gonzaga for WCC supremacy in the near future. In no way does this mean that Gonzaga is going to "fall off", but instead I really believe that something special is happening in Los Angeles. While the "resignation" of Rodney Tention was a surprise, LMU hit a home-run with the hiring of Bill Bayno. Bayno is a highly respected recruiter, who had a very successful run at UNLV. He led the Runnin' Rebels to the NCAA tournament twice, but was fired because of recruiting violations (he was never implicated in the NCAA report). Bayno has already acquired Drew Viney and Larry Davis, two high profile transfers from Oregon and Seton Hall respectively. Equally exciting for LMU fans was the commitment of Terrell Vinson, a top 100 prospect who held offers from Georgetown and Maryland. Although this year might be a struggle, the future is very bright for LMU.

Last Season's Results: After spending the last paragraph talking about how great the LMU program will be, it is depressing looking back at last season. The disaster that was last season saw the Lions go 5-26 (2-12) and finish last in the WCC. The only two victories that the Lions had over DI teams outside the WCC were Mercer and Boise State (this was actually an impressive victory). The Lions were blown out by such perennial powerhouses as Arkansas-Little Rock (71-40), Cal State Bakersfield (98-64), and Sam Houston St. (83-66). The only two victories that LMU managed in conference were wins over Portland and USF. Their season ended in the 1st round of the WCC tournament, when they were blown out by USF. This was a fitting end to a season that saw very little go right.

New Faces: Much like many of the other struggling programs in the WCC, LMU has brought in a host of new faces. The Lions will be relying on four freshman, as well as one JC transfer. LaRon Armstead is a freshman that should crack the starting lineup from the beginning. Armstead, a 6'5 F from Los Angeles, could be the surprise freshman in the conference. He has range that extends all the way to the three point line, but can score from everywhere on the court. Armstead has good size for his position, and will put up impressive stats from day one. Another freshman that could come in and start for the Lions is Jarred Dubois. Dubois, a PG from Westchester high school, is not a prolific scorer, but always makes the right decision with the ball. He is a great leader for any team, and his savvy on the court could really help the Lions this year. A lot is expected of JC transfer Vernon Teel. Teel, a SG from Queens, New York, is a prolific scorer and an excellent on ball defender. He averaged over 35 points per game his senior year of high school, and his ability to score will be helpful to the Lions. The rest of the incoming freshman include Kevin Young and Ashley Hamilton.

Players to Watch: LMU saw its top two scorers from last season transfer out of the program. Therefore, the top returning scorer for the Lions is Tim Diederichs. The 6'9 PF became the first freshman in team history to start every game of his freshman year. He was impressive in averaging 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds. Diederichs ended the season in strong fashion as he scored in double-digits in each of the last five games. As he gets comfortable with his new teammates and coaches, I expect Diedrichs to average double figure points this year. One of the rare success stories last year was the emergence of Corey Counts. Counts was a walk-on who found himself inserted into the starting lineup. Gonzaga fans will remember Counts vividly, as he scored a career high 21 points against the Zags. On the season, Counts averaged only 6.1 points, but his story was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. There is a reason that a lot is expected of JC transfer Vernon Teel. He was known as a scorer when he came out of college, but he adapted his game to the next level during his year in junior college. Teel uses his size and quickness to get to the basket, and does an excellent job of finding his open teammates. He has the athleticism and skill to contribute at a high level next season.

TKR's Concern-O-Meter: While I don't think that LMU is ready to challenge the upper level of the WCC on a regular basis, I really hope that the Zags do not overlook this team. The Lions have an abundance of young and talented players who will be looking to impress their new head coach. Bill Bayno is an excellent coach, and if he can get this group of players to buy into his message and play as a team, then LMU can really surprise some people. They are clearly not as talented as GU, but I think their athleticism and talented guards could give the Zags some trouble if they do not give LMU all of their focus.

What We are Watching for: I will be interested to see how quickly this team can mesh under Bayno. He has brought in a very talented recruiting class, and has some decent talent returning from last season. If Bayno can get everyone on the same page, this team could be very good. As for individual matchups, it will be fun to watch Steven Gray and Vernon Teel. Teel is an elite level defender who will make life very difficult for Steven. It is imperative that Steven does not only rely on his jumper, but keeps Teel honest by attacking the rim. Gray will also be tested by Teel on the defensive end. Teel is strong and quick, but in no way should he be able to dominate Steven.

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