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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Long Beach State

Well if it's good enough to get broke off a proper chunk/ I'll take a small piece of some of that funky stuff

Michael Caffey in his natural state.
Michael Caffey in his natural state.

Coach Mack et al. have made a habit of bringing in early-season opponents that will allow the team to grow into the year without serious risk of picking up an embarrassing loss while still providing more of a challenge than the procession of cupcakes that travels to lose to Syracuse every year. Teams with recent success, solid hopes for success this year, or a wealth of experience on the roster can furnish a November game that won't be a complete walkover or a blight on the resume while also giving the team room to breathe. With seven seniors on the active roster and a 10-6 conference record a year ago, Long Beach State certainly fits the bill.

After going 21-27 in conference in his first three years at LBSU, coach Dan Monson has reeled off an impressive 53-13 mark in his most recent four seasons of conference games. Having Casper Ware didn't hurt, but that's the kind of run that gets coaches paid. After five decent but not great seasons at Minnesota, Monson enters his eighth year at Long Beach State positioned to have a big season.

Offensively, Monson's most effective Long Beach teams have gone at an above-average pace. Perhaps in keeping with that, turnovers have been a problem; only one of his teams has been above 150th in the nation in TO%. Other than that, his teams haven't featured a consistent offensive footprint. Free throw and three-point attempt rates have been all over the map, as has OReb%. The past two seasons have seen LBSU land 265th and 245th in the country in assist rate, which you don't need me to tell you isn't very good.

On defense, Monson has consistently conceded the three-point arc to no apparent benefit. Opponents have been able to shoot almost at will from deep against his teams, but the kinds of numbers that usually correlate with a packline strategy (OReb%, 2P%, blk%) haven't shown consistent results that would suggest Monson's defense is strategic rather than just bad. Forcing turnovers and defending the glass have both been particular weak points of late, leaving his team behind in the war to get free buckets.

Just one of any meaningful scope, as 6'9", 245-pound center Dan Jennings has departed the program after exhausting his eligibility. He posted a modest 9.9/8.3/0.5 game line on .594/.000/.450 with a usage rate of 20%. He led the team in EFG%, OReb%, DReb%, and block%. The only things keeping him from posting a more impressive line were the aforementioned low(ish) usage rate and a dreadful 42-86 showing from the free throw line. Being called for 4.3 per 40 minutes also didn't help him stay on the court long enough to compile more numbers.

Loads of them, and many of them upperclassmen. You don't often find a single class dominating a team's roster, but - counting walk-ons and players redshirting - Long Beach has seniors accounting for half of the team's compliment of players.

Rising senior Michael Caffey is a 6' guard who put up 16.2/4.4/4.3 despite a mediocre .409/.290/.663 shooting line. His secret? A team-leading 28.5% usage rate. Don't be afraid to lift, son! Barely less shameless is 6'5" rising senior Tyler Lamb, whose 15.4/3.6/2.2 came on .415/.370/.761 shooting. Both players had below average EFG% but made up for it with pure volume shooting. At least Caffey posted a team-leading 26.3% assist rate.

Offering an incremental step up in efficiency was the 9.1/3.2/1.7 on .464/.203/.750 shooting thrown up by rising senior guard A.J. Spencer. Spencer took just 18% of the team's shots while on the floor and had the best TO rate of any frequent ball handler at 14.1%. Rounding out the rising seniors who made significant contributions to the team is 6'7", 225-pound big man David Samuels. His 6.1/5.4/0.7 was supported by an almost inexcusable .408/.200/.640, but he is the team's top returning offensive rebounder with an OReb% of 9.6%. Hustle like that makes up for a few dozen errant shots and a 6-29 mark from deep.

The team has no players who will be juniors this season, which is a mildly interesting roster anomaly. Rising sophomore Branford Jones won the team award for "Name Most Likely To Be Confused With a Character on Downton Abbey" as well as putting up 5.8/2.1/1.8 on .415/.373/.740 as a reserve guard. Travis Hammonds is a 6'6" wing who joined the team in the second semester and scored 6.5 points per game thanks in large part to his 37.2% mark from beyond the arc.

Rising seniors Kris Gulley, McKay LaSalle, and Christian Griggs-Williams all played but did not feature meaningfully in the direction of the season.

Incoming players:
Perhaps most interesting of the incoming players is immediately-eligible Florida Gulf Coast transfer Eric McKnight. McKnight was the center on the "Dunk City" squad that made a run to the second weekend of the 2013 tournament; he posted 6.9 and 5.1 last year and is a formidable shot blocker in the middle.

Four freshmen join the team, headlined by PG Justin Bibbins. Bibbins has excellent speed and quickness and a good pull-up game in transition. Scouting reports note that he "lacks ideal size." As he is listed at 5'8", 150, I'd have to agree. He could also use to add some range to his jumper. Temidayo Yussuf is a back to the basket post who measures 6'7", 240. His size is an asset in positioning, but he lacks elite athleticism. He makes up with it where he can with good hands and solid footwork, but he is ultimately a 6'7" post who can't really jump.

Shooting guard Deontae North stands 6'4" and excels in getting into the lane and using his body control to finish over and around larger men. He plays hard on both ends, but his offensive game is currently limited by a lack of a reliable jump shot. Finally, 6'7", 195-pound Jack Williams is a face-up four with a good first step and range out beyond the arc. He struggles to finish due to his narrow frame and poor body control, but he can knock down jumpers if left open. His lack of bulk makes him easy to bully in the paint.

This team had an above-average level of experience last year and hasn't lost much of that this time around. They should make a meaningful early opponent for Xavier's young squad, but their veterancy ultimately shouldn't be enough to overcome Xavier's talent. If the Musketeers lose focus, though - and if Long Beach State can iron out the shot selection issues they had last season - this could end up being a tighter contest than it needs to be.