Posted on November 20, 2023
The week-long event features basketball tournaments all across the country. From the Maui Invitational to the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Pac-12 is heavily featured in many MTE’s over the next seven days.
UCLA tips off the action tonight against No. 4 Marquette in the First Round of the Maui Invitational.
I preview the game here and my pick appears at the bottom.
No. 4 Marquette vs. UCLA
Monday, November 20
8:30 pm PT, ESPN2
Marquette is the preseason favorite to win the Big East and is led by three players averaging double-figures. Guards Kam Jones and Tyler Kolek run the backcourt while forward Oso Ighodaro leads the way down low.
The Eagles are a guard-based team, though, which could be problematic matched up against UCLA.
Ighodaro is the tallest player among the starters and he is listed at 6-foot-11 and 235-pounds. That’s probably not going to get the job done facing UCLA’s bigs.
Marquette is undersized at the power forward position, too. David Joplin starts at the four spot and he’s just 6-foot-8 and 225-pounds.
That makes the Eagles vulnerable if Cronin decides to play two of his bigs together. And even if he doesn’t, Turkish forward Berke Buyuktuncel has a height and strength advantage over Joplin that should pay dividends.
Without a true center, the Big East team is almost entirely dependent on the play of its guards. That should play into the hands of Cronin’s defense-first game plan.
As long as the Bruins are getting deflections, clogging lanes, contesting threes, and aggressively defensive rebounding, the game should be played at the pace Cronin needs.
But if the Eagles are able to get in transition, find open looks from deep, and score relatively easy in the paint, UCLA will be in trouble.
Still, with a noteworthy height advantage across the board, this game should favor the Bruins’ style of play.
An X-Factor, though, is Marquette’s Ben Gold. The sophomore 6-foot-11, 245-pound forward/center is the tallest player on their roster and averages 6.3 points coming off the bench.
A strong game from the New Zealander could be the difference in the end, especially if Shaka Smart plays him at the same time as Ighodaro.
On the other end of the court, Bona has to have an efficient game from the field. Smart knows the entire offense runs through him and the game plan will be entirely focused on slowing him down.
That should result in open looks for the likes of Sebastian Mack, Dylan Andrews, and Lazar Stefanovic. With all the focus in the interior on Bona, the trio have to seize their opportunities.
It’s one of those games that should favor UCLA on paper from a pure roster composition standpoint. But due to the youth on the Bruins’ roster, Marquette probably finds a way to steal the game down the stretch.
Dane Miller’s Game Pick
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