While most of us are driving to and from grandmother's house or wondering how long we have to stay at an annoying holiday party to be "polite," the Muskies will be in beautiful (I've heard) Honolulu, Hawai'i for the Diamond Head Classic. The tournament will be played on the December 22-23 and Christmas Day. When the pairings were announced earlier this month, it was revealed that X would be up against Long Beach State in the first round. With C-o-m-p-t-o-n likely out of the picture, the University they call Long Beach will come under the microscope today.
Long Beach State is coached by Dan Monson, who presided over Gonzaga's rise to national prominence in the late 1990s. Monson went to Minnesota after Gonzaga's Elite Eight run in '99, but lackluster results there led to his resignation seven games into 2006. While at Minnesota, Monson's team pace got slower and slower every year; he apparently learned for the results he got from that, because his last two (and most successful) teams have been easily in the top 50 in the nation in pace. LBSU's adjusted offense jumped from 199th to 106th last year, boosted mostly by a concomitant jump in EFG% (218 to 132) and offensive rebound percentage (202 to 148). Defensively, the 49ers have continually improved at protecting the glass (49th in offensive rebound percentage allowed last year) and been consistently awful at blocking shots (never better than 241st; 325th last year).
While the numbers from LBSU last season aren't jaw-dropping, they played what what Ken Pomeroy rated as the fourth most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation. When then 49ers were sitting at 5-7 in mid-December, six of those losses had come to teams in Ken Pom's top 50, and five of them came away from home. The one exception was the first game of the year, when San Diego State knocked them off at home. This team has faced some of the toughest teams in the nation and doesn't figure to be intimidated by any opponent.
Long Beach State's biggest departure was guard Greg Plater. Plater posted 11.8/2.6/1.8 on .378/.363/.810 last year, shooting 97-267 from behind the arc and 32-74 from inside it. Guard Tristan Wilson and his 14 minutes per game are also out the door; he takes his 3.7/2.5/0.6 line with him. Guard Brandon Nevens played 117 minutes the entire season, and his departure rounds out the losses the 49ers experienced over the summer.
The most important play coming back for Coach Monson is rising senior guard and AP All-American honorable mention Casper Ware. Ware posted 17.2/2.5/4.4 with 1.6 steals per game on a .422/.381/.810 shooting line last year. At 6'8" 210, forward TJ Robinson is LBSU's best returning big; he put up 13.6/10.1/1.0 on .500/.375/.587 shooting. While Ware got his three-point number on 75 of 197 shooting from deep, Robinson's came on a paltry 9 of 24.
Sandwiched between the two both positionally and in terms of production is 6'5" swingman Larry Anderson. Anderson posted 14.3/6.3/3.3 on .520/.294/.674 last season and was the team's most efficient shooter (EFG 54.7%). Rising senior forward Eugene Phelps and his 9.7/6.8/1.5 round out the interesting players coming back for the 49ers. LBSU was 344th in the nation in bench minutes last year (only Xavier had fewer), so those four guys are accustomed to running the show for long periods of time.
Monson hit the JuCo trail for his team this year, adding James Ennis from Ventura College, where the 6'7" swingman averaged 20.3/7.8/5.0 on .588/.368/.795 shooting. Independence Community College gave up Kris Gulley - another 6'7" swingman - to the 49ers' cause; he averaged just over ten points and just under five boards in his lone season there.
From the high school ranks, Monson and his staff added Gatete Djuma, a 6'9" Rwandan forward who averaged 11.7 and 9.8 with 2 blocks West High in Utah. Closer to home, highly thought of Corona, CA point guard Michael Caffey committed to LBSU. While diminutive (5'11" 155), he has top-class dribbling ability and athleticism and needs only improve his shooting and feel for the game to be a steal for Long Beach State. Willowy shooting guard Shaquille Hunter also joins the team this year; he is known almost entirely for his offensive prowess, with range beyond the arc and the ability to put the ball on the deck and pull up or get all the way to the tin. When he's doing anything other than trying to score, however, his slight frame and inconsistent handle let him down on either end of the court.
Long Beach State brings back four very experienced, very good players from a tournament-caliber team of a year ago. To that mix, they've added a couple of high-ceiling JuCo athletes and some interesting incoming freshmen. The 49ers' schedule is tough enough to warrant mention: if the team comes together, they've got a good chance to be interesting come March. If someone wants too big a bite of the apple, or if the new players have trouble integrating, the schedule may well may piece them apart.
The poll is where you tell us what you think will happen. The comments are where you tell us why.