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The game against Northern Arizona (who is not the worst team on the schedule) was never likely to be much of a test for Xavier, and it wasn't. The Musketeers dispensed of the Lumberjacks with a summary swat but are now moving on to a team much more likely to present some sort of challenge. The 49ers of Long Beach State aren't the mid-major power they were in 2011 and 2012, but they are a significant step up from NAU. These teams last met in one of Xavier's ill fated holiday tournaments back in 2012.
The LBSU schedule is loaded with power teams (Kansas St., UCLA, Louisville, Syracuse, and Texas still loom) that could greatly boost a resume if they are good enough to win their conference. Xavier is the second of those non-conference tests this year, with a 95-90 loss to a very solid BYU team already in the books. Don Monson is clearly trying to get his team back to where they were a few years ago, well aware that the Big West is there for the taking. For Xavier, this looks like another warmup game on the way to Alabama on December 6th, but that doesn't mean it will be a walkover.
Long Beach has played BYU and a division II team, so there isn't a great deal to glean yet. The last few years Monson's team has played with a tempo right around the national average. The game against BYU featured 78 possessions and very little in the way of defense. In that game, LBSU lifted 22 three pointers and knocked down 13 of them. In the next game the 49ers put up another 18 threes and made ten more. Last year Xavier got torched from deep and NAU even managed to 8-20 from behind the arc, so a team with a slow pace and a commitment to heave has a punchers chance.
Long Beach State probably has a defense, but it didn't make the trip to BYU. No 49er stands taller than 6-9 and willowy 6-8, 185 pound freshman Jack Williams was the biggest player to make the start. The Cougars gashed the 49ers inside, where they shot 57%, which opened up the outside, where they shot 46%. The lack of solid interior defense figures to be just as much of an issue for Long Beach against Xavier.
Players to watch:
Former UCLA guard Tyler Lamb now suits up for the 49ers. He averaged 15.4/3.6/2.2 on 41.5% shooting last year but hasn't appeared yet this year due to suspension. He will make his season debut against Xavier and figures to instantly become LBSU's best player. Lamb joins Michael Caffey to make up a backcourt that shoots with reckless abandon and Kobe Bryant levels of accuracy. Caffey knocked in 40.9% of his shots last year and has taken up the scoring mantle with 19.5 per game so far this year.
McKay LaSalle, Deonte North, and Branford Jones take the majority of the rest of the minutes. What means is that LBSU does not have a player over 6-4 who plays more than 50% of the available minutes. While the Beach is designed to be a guard driven team, their lack of size borders on the absurd. Leading rebounder David Samuels is a towering 6-7 and is only averaging 20.5 minutes per game.
- How much Dee Davis? This is a game that, in theory, Xavier should win. That means that, in theory again, it may not be necessary to push Dee through 30-35 minutes. The senior needs to get into the flow of running the team for long stretches of time before the real challenges come in December and January, though. This is the Catch 22 of trying to get an established player back up to speed. Brandon Randolph and Larry Austin Jr. both have looked competent in relief.
- Where does Edmond Sumner fit? Watching or listening to Xavier against NAU it was hard to imagine where another guard would fit. Davisx2, Randolph, Austin Jr., Remy Abell, JP Macura, and Trevon Bluiett all saw time at either the one or the two. Into that very crowded situation now steps Edmond Sumner, probably the second best player of the recruiting class. Again, this game seems like it is one Xavier should win, but players can't just be thrown together come late December, they need significant time together.
- Will the pace matter? Xavier wasn't careful with the ball against the Lumberjacks. Lost in the complete rout is the fact that the team spent some time looking less than sharp. If Long Beach can keep the pace down at a trudge and Xavier is again sloppy, this game could get unnecessarily tight.
- Dominate inside: Long Beach isn't big, Xavier is. The Musketeers shot an incredible 82.9% from inside the arc against NAU. That number may come down, but Xavier should have the beating of the 49ers all day long. If the offense runs inside out again, another hiding could be on the way.
- Pressure the ball: The Beach turned the ball over on 23% of their possessions against BYU and 20% against the mighty San Francisco State. They get Tyler Lamb back, but he's not always rock solid with the ball. Xavier has the athleticism and depth in the guard spots to make life very unpleasant for a team that is very prone to throwing the ball around.
- Jump out early: This is not the kind of game that teams with serious aspirations for the season should be losing. Last weekend Xavier put the game out of reach before it was even ten minutes old. It may take longer today, but Xavier needs to get all over Long Beach early and put them out of the game. The 49ers gave a good BYU team a game because the Cougars couldn't ever get to a lead. The Musketeers can't let that happen.