If you watched college hoops last season, you were probably a little bit of a Long Beach State fan. The 49ers, who play in the Big West conference took the national hoops scene by storm thanks to their impressive collection of non-conference scalps. The Beach took out #9 Pittsburgh, #15 Xavier and then beat Boise State and Auburn, in addition to an OT loss to San Diego State and close loses against #6 UNC and #13 Kansas. Their "we'll play anybody" mentality paid off as they blew everybody away in Big West play, setting the stage for them to be one of the most talked about #12 seeds in recent memory.
Naturally, #5 seed New Mexico State blew them out in the first round, ruining your early bracket and setting the stage for Debbie from Accounting to win the office pool, AGAIN. In conclusion, Long Beach State was pretty good last season, and nothing ever makes sense in March.
But that was last season. This year's addition of the 49ers hasn't shown much of that same upset magic.
The 49ers have certainly scheduled ambitiously again. Long Beach has already faced USC, #11 UNC, #10 Arizona, and #4 Syracuse. The problem is, the Beach has been blown out in all of those games. They also split an unusual two game set with the Fresno State Bulldogs (with the road team winning both games), and still has UCLA sitting on the schedule before Big West play starts. The 49ers will certainly be battle tested as they head into their game with the Buckeyes, but they haven't shown they can hang with the big boys just quite yet.
So what happened? For starters, Long Beach lost 4 of their 5 starters from last year's run, with only senior swingman James Ennis (6-7) returning. Luckily for Long Beach State, Ennis is still really good. He leads the team in both scoring at rebounding, at 15.6 and 7.8 per game respectively. Ennis is struggling a little bit from 3 compared to last season (.297 to .350), but he'll certainly shoot from range. He's also a good shotblocker and has been good about staying out of foul trouble. If he's unable to get it going offensively, The Beach is going to really struggle to score.
Junior Dan Jennings, a West Virginia transfer, joins Ennis in the front court. At 6'9", he brings more interior defense and rebounding (7 boards a game), and doesn't take many bad shots. He may be coming into his own a little more as an interior defender, as he's blocked 7 shots in his last 3 games, including 3 against Syracuse. Jennings struggles as a free throw shooter (53% this season), which means the 49ers might leave a few points on the board. Junior Kyle Richardson and sophomore Nick Shepherd (6'9") will come off the bench if Ennis gets into foul trouble. Richardson has added some rebounding, but Shepherd hasn't done much for the 49ers this season except wrack up fouls.
Sophomore Kris Gulley will see duty on the wings, adding rebounding, size (6'7"), and an extra shooting option (8.1 ppg). He's shooting 48% from three, and is more than capable of stepping into a passing lane to pick off an errant pass or two. He's rail thin though (only 180 pounds), and may be susceptible to being pushed around a little. Freshman Deng Deng (Deng^squared, if you will) will spell Gulley. Deng isn't the three point shooter that Gulley is, but can get to the basket and the free throw line a little better.
Running the show for Long Beach State at guard is sophomore Mike Caffey. Caffey is second on the team in points (10.5 per game), and leads the squad in assists (4.8 per game). He certainly isn't a big guy (6'0", 170 pounds) but does a good job of not turning the ball over (unless he's playing Fresno State; the Bulldogs forced him into back-to-back 6 turnover games), and rebounds well for a point guard. One thing Caffey has really struggled with this season is his shooting, and that would be putting it charitably. Caffey is having a horrible year shooting the threeball (20%), he can't get his free throws to drop (58%, and is 5-for-his-last 14), can't get short buckets to drop (29% total field goal percentage) AND to make it all worse, he shoots. A LOT. Against top flight competition (UNC, Arizona and Syracuse), Caffey is shooting 22% (8/35).
Peter Pappageorge joins Caffey at guard, adding 8.6 points and 2.1 dimes a game. Like Caffey, Pappageorge is a competent passer who takes care of the basketball, and is capable of getting hot from three. Also like Caffey, he hasn't shot the ball spectacularly well this year, although he has made all of his free throws. Freshman Bradford Jones, who played his first game of the season yesterday against Syracuse may see time against the Buckeyes.
There is still plenty of time for Long Beach State to regroup and have a very strong season in the Big West. Against competition similar to the Buckeyes though, the 49ers have really look flustered. Struggling offensively at Syracuse is no crime, as plenty of squads better than Long Beach have been vexed by the Orange, but the 49ers haven't really been close against North Carolina or Arizona, squads that we would like to think are comparable to Ohio State.
Caffey is certainly capable of getting his, and should Long Beach start to heat up from downtown, this could be an interesting matchup for stretches. A key matchup will be what the 49ers do with LaQuinton Ross. Ross had one of his best games as a Buckeye against Northern Kentucky, dropping 20 points and really carrying the water offensively. if Aaron Craft remains in a shooting slump, this would be a great opportunity for Ross to show he deserves more playing time, and that he could be the second scoring option that the Buckeyes will need if they want to be a contender in the Big Ten.
Sure, why not.
Holy Diver. Long Beach keeps things close at first, but OSU's size and athleticism force deprive the 49ers of any offensive options outside of Caffey. Ross has another breakout game.
Ohio State 75, Long Beach State 61