Dec 6, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Anthony Ireland (3) dribbles the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh won 85-68. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

WCC Tournament Team Preview: Loyola Marymount Lions

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Loyola Marymount has a recent history of injuries and this year was no exception.  Since Max Good arrived at LMU in 2008, featured players Drew VineyAshley Hamilton, Vernon Teel, and Jarred DuBois, along with countless other role players have missed significant portions of  seasons due to injuries.  This year has been no different, beginning with the car accident that seniors Godwin Okonji and Ayodeji Egbeyemi were involved with in October.  Okonji missed the entire season, while Egbeyemi played only 9 games before injuring his hip.

But that was just scratching the surface.  Starter Chase Flint broke his elbow in January and is out for the season.  In addition to the injuries, Ben Dickinson has missed the last couple of months for personal reasons. Nino Jackson left the team and withdrew from the university.

Despite playing only a seven man rotation, the Lions have managed to maintain competitive in a West Coast Conference that was stronger than ever this season.  Let’s see who the key players for LMU are come conference tournament time.

Anthony Ireland: The best player to play at Loyola Marymount since Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble in 1990.  Ireland has had to do far too much the past two seasons, but nonetheless has performed well as a dynamic leader in the backcourt.  The key for Ireland in Las Vegas will not be scoring, which we all know he can do.  It will be distributing, as he has two capable freshman who benefit from all the attention defenses give to Ireland.

Evan Payne: Payne is a high volume shooter who can get hot in a hurry or can kill the Lions’ chances to win a game with poor shot selection.  He also has a problematic ratio of 45 assists to 81 turnovers this season.  If he lets Ireland do a bulk of the ball-handling and looks to complement Ireland on the wing, the Lions have a chance to be successful.

Gabe Levin: Levin reminds me a bit of Elias Harris.  A 6’7 small forward who has to play power forward in college.  Levin has the ability to attack the rim off the bounce and is very athletic. His highlight dunk at Gonzaga a few weeks ago is a testament to that.  He can pose problems for slower power forwards by taking them both inside and outside, and he gives the Lions a dimension they did not have last season.

Alex Osborne: Osborne has been at LMU for 5 years and has seen many highs and lows from the CollegeInsider Tournament births in 2010 and 2012 and an 11-5 conference record the latter year, to a 1-15 record in conference last season.  As a high-energy rebounder and interior presence, it will be important for Osborne to stay out of foul trouble in order to be effective for the Lions.

With such a blend of youth and experience on this Lions team, it is hard to predict how they will fair against Portland in the 1st round of the WCC Tournament.  Portland, like LMU is short handed without Kevin Bailey and Alec Wintering.  The Lions will need to take advantage of the scoring they have in the backcourt, specifically Anthony Ireland against David Carr at point guard.  Defensively, Osborne, Levin and Marin Mornar will have to control the dynamic duo of Ryan Nicholas and Thomas van der Mars.  Staying out of foul trouble will be difficult for the Lions, but if they can do so, combined with good games from Ireland and Payne, they will have a good shot to knock off the Pilots.

This has not been the best season for the Lions after starting 2-0 in league play and beating a very good BYU team – though that is mainly due to injuries and lack of roster attrition.  I am fully confident that the Lions can put together a run like they did last season when they made it all the way to the WCC semifinals against Gonzaga.  If they do and Payne and Levin play well, that will make an excellent statement towards the league for next season and for years to come.

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Tags: Basketball College Basketball LMU LMU Lions Loyola Marymount Lions Preview WCC West Coast Conference

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