Mississippi Valley State Preview

UCLA opens its NCAA Tournament campaign tonight against #16 seed Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, who lost to Washington State this season by 45 points. The Bruins will probably be at about 3/4 speed, but that will still be good enough for a 30-point win...

The UCLA Bruins begin play in the 2008 NCAA Tournament on Thursday night as the #1 seed in the West Region. They will face the 16th seeded Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (the school that brought you Jerry Rice), the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

It should be noted that no #16 seed has ever defeated a #1 seeded team since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams. Along with other #16 seeds, Mount St. Mary's, Portland State and Texas-Arlington, that kind of upset won't happen this year. Three of the four #16s are just not good enough to win that first round game, while the 4th, Portland State, had a slight chance at being the first if they had drawn Memphis, but, alas, they drew Kansas and that isn't a good match-up for the Vikings.

This preview, however, is about MVSU and its game with the Bruins. The Delta Devils finished with a record of 17-15, including a 9-game winning streak to finish out the season. They started out a horrible 2-11 on the year and included in those losses was a 71-26 loss to Washington State. That's a 45-point loss. The two victories were over non-Division 1 schools. However, MVSU finished the year 15-4 and three of the losses came in overtime or on the last possession. The trouble for the Delta Devils is that record was achieved against competition from the SWAC and that conference is clearly one of the two worst in the country.

MVSU is coached by James Green and he does have a senior-dominated squad. The backcourt is led by senior Stanford Speech and juniors Michael Clark and Dwayne Harmason. They run 6'3", 6'2" and 5'11" respectively across the board. Speech and Clark are the designated shooters with Speech also being a dribble-drive threat. Clark is almost exclusively a spot-up shooter. Expect Russell Westbrook to take Speech while Josh Shipp is on Clark. Harmason is the point guard and has relatively good quickness. His decision-making is solid as is his 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Speech averages 10.8 PPG but is a weak free-throw shooter at 59%. The diminutive Mike Davis, a 5'8" senior, is the primary backcourt player off the bench.

Up front, Green goes with two seniors; 6'5" Carl Lucas, the team's leading scorer at 12.7 PPG, and 6'10" Larry Cox, who leads the Delta Devils in rebounding (8 RPG), and blocked shots, with 50. Cox isn't a wide body, though, and at 225 lbs. he is going to have trouble on both ends with either Kevin Love or Lorenzo Mata-Real. Lucas is a bit of a threat as he can shoot from beyond the arc (42%), and drive to the basket. Assuming Luc Richard Mbah a Moute doesn't play significant minutes, that means Lucas will be guarded by a combination of Mata-Real, Alfred Aboya and James Keefe. Nikola Dragovic may even see some time on Lucas.

Cox usually doesn't start, though, and junior Eric Petty, a 6'6" JC transfer, does. However, with the size that the Bruins present, expect to see Cox over Petty. Freshman forward Chris Watson, a 6'8" low post guy, may be MVSU's most talented player.

The Delta Devils are going to lose this game because of a lack of UCLA-level talent, which truly shows up in the team's offense. The Delta Devils struggle to score. They average 62 PPG in a conference that isn't exactly known for defense. They are methodical on offense, but not a Washington State or Arizona State type of methodical. MVSU's low offensive output is more indicative of their inability to shoot the ball very well as much as it is a result of their style. They have almost 100 more turnovers than assists as a team, they shoot less than 44% from the field as a team and they are outrebounded by at least 2 per game. This is without seeing a UCLA-level defense.

Speaking of defense, Green likes to play man but has thrown in a mixture of several types of zones this season, including a variation on the old Temple 1-3-1 match-up zone, although they used that in only about 2 or three games. Green is also a former assistant to USC's Tim Floyd, so Ben Howland said Wednesday they might see a USC-type defense, implying a triangle-and-two. MVSU will try and slow down the game. Green recognizes that the Bruins are bigger, more athletic, shoot better, have more depth…you get the picture.

This game shouldn't be close from the get-go. MVSU is arguably one of the two worst teams in the Tournament. Many "experts" state that MVSU should have been in the play-in game in lieu of Mount St. Mary's. Expect the Bruins to play at about ¾ speed, thus allowing MVSU to score more than it otherwise would have. The Delta Devils played three other teams from BCS conferences -- Mississippi, Baylor and Wazzu. They lost by more than 30 to each. The game should be over roughly around halftime and if it isn't, i'ts because the Bruins are sleepwalking through this one. Coach Ben Howland should get to rest all of the starters. You read it here first; a Bruin line-up of Keefe, Dragovic, Chace Stanback, Mustapha Abdul-Hamid and Matt Lee would beat MVSU by roughly 15 points. They won't win by 50, but the Bruins should win in a rout.

Mississippi Valley State 44

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