After finishing a second year with 15 wins and a below .500 record, Long Beach State men’s basketball was an early exit from the Big West conference last season.
While the glory days are long gone, a fresh start and new identity has the program heading in a new direction. Head coach Dan Monson received a 5-year contract extension in March and assistant coach Bobby Braswell was hired at the end of May. Braswell, considered a defensive specialist, returns to Long Beach after coaching the 49ers from 1989-1992.
The biggest change for Long Beach will be adjusting to the loss of forward Gabe Levin after graduating last season. The senior averaged 18.5 points and 7.2 rebounds while playing 31 minutes per game. The 49ers will look a lot different on offense, using more ball movement and spreading the wealth when it comes to scoring.
“I think we’re more experienced,” Monson said. “We also don’t have that one guy that’s really head and shoulders above everybody else. We’re really working on trusting each other and having our go-to guy being the right guy, the open guy, the next guy.”
In the Big West preseason polls, Long Beach was predicted to finish fifth in the conference behind UCSB, UC Davis, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine. Last year the team was predicted fourth in the preseason polls.
Throughout the summer and fall, defense was a main focus for improvement after Long Beach averaged 75.3 points per game on offense while allowing 78.4 points per game on defense last season. Practices have been filled with defensive instruction with less focus on offense. Along with defense being the priority in the off-season, the team will look to use more ball movement to balance itself out on offense after losing Levin.
“Second biggest [offseason focus] has been moving the ball, spacing and pace,” Monson said. “Spread the court and use both sides, not let the ball stick on one side of the court.”
With the personnel Long Beach has, playing at a fast pace with a lot of ball movement can play right into its favor. The team has an influx of athletic guards and forwards. Senior guard Deishuan Booker, redshirt senior guard Bryan Alberts, sophomore forward Jordan Roberts and redshirt junior guard Ron Freeman will be the team’s biggest playmakers while playing at a high pace. The 49ers are a team full of returners, which means depth is not a problem. If one player can break out into a lead role, the team will be able to compete in the Big West.
Redshirt senior center Temidayo Yussuf, along with senior forwards Mason Riggins and KJ Byers, will be the 49ers interior presence down low, providing rebounds and a defensive presence in the key. Over the summer, the post players were working on becoming more than just that.
“I did a lot of skill work,” Riggins said. “I’ll be able to hit the 15 foot jumper when I need to and I’ll also be able to take other big men and even guards off the dribble and get to the rim.”
Opening the season Friday is a road matchup at No. 21 UCLA followed by the annual homecoming game where Menlo College will visit the Walter Pyramid at 4 p.m. The 49ers have won seven consecutive home openers.
While “adjustments to the scheduling philosophy” was a part of Coach Monson’s restructured contract extension, Long Beach will still take on a challenging pre-season schedule. The main difference this season is that many of the games are relatively local and there is no grueling east coast road trip.
In previous seasons, the 49ers have had consecutive games on the east coast resulting in losing streaks and a loss of morale for the team. However, Long Beach still has its work cut out.
The team’s biggest stretch of away games begins Nov. 12 at Arizona State, followed by a matchup with No. 18 Mississippi State. The 49ers will then head to Las Vegas and play two games in the middleweight bracket of the MGM Resorts Main Event.
Rounding out the rest of the notable preseason matchups for LBSU are home games against Oregon State, Colorado State and road games at USC, San Diego and Stanford.
As long as Monson’s team stays defense oriented and retains its confidence after the tough non-conference schedule, the 49ers are primed to be a surprise and pose a serious threat to top Big West teams.