There’s been at least one guarantee during the Dan Monson era at Long Beach State: the 49ers are going to challenge themselves with one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules.
Even with heavy personnel losses from last year’s Big West champion squad (most notably Big West Player of the Year Casper Ware), Long Beach State ducked no one in putting together a schedule that has included a visit by North Carolina and a trip to Arizona. This week may take the cake however, as Long Beach State has road games against No. 4 Syracuse and No. 7 Ohio State.
For a team with just nine available scholarship players this season has taken a lot out of the 49ers, but they push forward with an eye toward conference play and the goal of repeating as Big West champions.
How does a team with a 3-4 record deal with such a tough schedule? The 49ers focus on themselves and what they need to do in order to get better.
“This whole trip is about us coming back with something to hang our hat on as far as our identity and playing against these teams and getting better,” said Monson, who admitted his team took a step in reverse Monday. “Last year’s team would go into these games looking for an at-large bid (in the NCAA Tournament).
“This team, we’re using this as a true preseason and, again, these are great teams for us to see because they’re going to expose any weakness we have.”
Long Beach State is coming off of a 64-59 home loss to Fresno State on Monday night, one in which the 49ers shot 3-of-14 from beyond the arc and 18-of-33 from the foul line. Those numbers, in addition to shooting 29.6% in the second half, proved to be too much to overcome despite 23 points and 13 rebounds from senior forward James Ennis.
But even with the loss to the Bulldogs and what could be two road losses, help isn’t too far away for the 49ers. December 18, when Long Beach State visits UCLA, is the day that transfers Keala King, Tony Freeland and Edgar Garibay are due to become eligible to play.
King will give the 49ers another perimeter scorer, thus helping out Mike Caffey, while Freeland and Garibay are expected to factor into the front court rotation alongside Dan Jennings. Those two will also allow Ennis more opportunities on the wing, as he’s had to deal with bigger players on both ends of the floor due to a lack of interior depth.
Taking on Syracuse and Ohio State are significant challenges for any team, much less a depleted one like Long Beach State. But with reinforcements on the way, these games can only help players such as Kris Gulley and Kyle Richardson.
And if that means another Big West title come March, the 49ers’ ambitious scheduling will have paid off.