Last season was one to forget for head coach Dan Monson and the Long Beach State men’s basketball team. After finishing 15-19 overall and failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year, the team saw five players transfer out of the program following the disappointment of last year.
If there’s anything that will be different about this year’s team compared to last, it’s going to be a positive change of culture, combined with an initial degree of uncertainty as to how Monson will piece eight returners and eight newcomers together.
“This team is more talented offensively than they are defensively,” Monson said. “I like our chances of [Bryan] Alberts, Edon [Maxhuni] and [Jordan] Griffin. I think once they get in rhythm that will help us offensively.”
According to the preseason polls, the team is predicted to finish in fourth place in the Big West Conference behind Cal State Fullerton, UC Davis and UC Irvine. Coming off of last year as projected favorites to win the conference, the 49ers have something to prove this season.
A “chip on the shoulder” mentality and a new group of guys willing to shift the culture might be enough to contend at the top of the Big West come March. Under Monson, Long Beach has historically finished at or near the top of the conference, and the team expects that to be the case once again this year.
This season, the biggest change fans will see is the different playing style at the point guard position for the 49ers. With a rich history of scoring point guards such as Casper Ware and Mike Caffey, Monson has brought in point guards junior Deishuan Booker and freshman Edon Maxhuni, both who bring pass-first playing styles to Long Beach State.
“I call it the Lonzo Ball effect — hopefully the pass-first will become contagious and this team gets into an offensive rhythm,” Monson said. “We will share the ball and make that extra pass more than we have [in the past].”
Opening up the season Saturday, Long Beach’s second exhibition is the annual Homecoming game at 4 p.m. against the Cal State Dominguez Hills. The 49ers have won six consecutive home openers — all six sellouts. The pyramid will once again be rocking, as the games tend to be one of the biggest turnouts for students.
As always, Monson has assembled a tough, nationwide pre-season schedule to challenge his players and allow them to gain experience against some of the top programs in the nation. While this year’s two-week road trip is shorter and less gruesome compared to last, the 49ers will still have plenty of work cut out for them.
Long Beach’s road trip starts Nov. 18 as they travel to Corvallis, Oregon to take on the Oregon State Beavers. Last season, the 49ers came out on top with a 71-67 win over the Beavers in a matchup at the Moda Center in Portland. Senior forward Gabe Levin had 13 points and four rebounds.
The team will quickly turn around and fly to Morgantown, West Virginia to face the No. 11 ranked Mountaineers. West Virginia is coached by the legendary Bob Huggins, who has compiled a 819-330 (.713 winning percentage) record in 35 seasons.
A matchup with Missouri, followed by two other games the 49ers will play in the Advocare Invitational Tournament in Orlando, will begin the toughest stretch of games for the 49ers. Missouri will be led by the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit and projected NBA lottery pick in Michael Porter Jr. While the Tigers are not ranked in the preseason top-25, the task of containing Porter Jr. will be a challenge in itself.
Rounding out the rest of the notable pre-season matchups for Long Beach are two road games at No. 3 Arizona and No. 2 Michigan State. After, the 49ers will host two marquee home matchups against Fresno State and Stanford the weekend of Dec. 2.
This season, Long Beach State will have a minimum of 15 televised games scheduled throughout the year. Along with the Big West Conference games on Fox Sports and various ESPN networks, Long Beach will be on the Pac-12 Network in the games against Oregon State and Arizona.
“We’re gonna try to make the right passes and not look like a one man team,” Maxhuni said.
As long as this year’s team stays composed and retains its confidence after the tough non-conference schedule, Long Beach is primed for another year competing at the top of the Big West Conference with the chance of earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Record prediction: 17-15 overall, 9-7 Big West