Long Beach State will take its lumps until help arrives on December 18

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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.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?

North Carolina’s Luke Maye declaring for NBA draft without hiring agent

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina junior Luke Maye has declared for the NBA draft but isn’t hiring an agent.

The 6-foot-8 forward was a third-team Associated Press All-American after averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player after increasing his scoring average by 11.4 points from his sophomore to junior seasons.

Coach Roy Williams says in a statement that it’s ”a great opportunity” for Maye to work out for NBA teams and get feedback on what to improve in his game.

The deadline for college players to declare early for the draft was Sunday night. Players who don’t hire an agent can maintain their college eligibility as long as they withdraw by May 30, which is 10 days after the NBA draft combine.