In a season full of unfamiliarity, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team is set to begin postseason play in uncharted waters for the program—as the Big West tournament’s lowest seed.
Although the immediate future appears to be doom-and-gloom, especially with the attendance restrictions and the bracket’s reseeding format, the Beach (11-21, 6-10 Big West) is in a healthy position to make a Cinderella run thanks to factors both in and out of their control.
Its 6-10 conference record is not only tied with No. 7 Fullerton—and the best of any Big West eight seed in the last decade—but also boasts quality wins over three of the conference’s top-4 teams.
While no eight seed has been able to upset a Big West regular season champion since the tournament’s restructuring in the 2010-11 season, the Beach certainly has a realistic shot of making that happen.
Thanks to tiebreakers and final scores on the last day of the season, Long Beach’s opponent worked out to be none other than No. 1 UC Irvine, who they split the two-game season series with.
Being that No. 2 CSUN and back-to-back Big West Player of the Year Lamine Diane decisively swept the Beach, the Anteaters are a more comfortable matchup.
Long Beach sorely needs to get back to its defense-first identity once the opening buzzer sounds in Anaheim. On the season, Long Beach went 3-0 when holding opponents under 60 points and 10-3 when opponents score under 70, but have only won one out of 18 when giving up more than 70.
To close Big West regular season play, five of the Beach’s last six opponents averaged 73.6 points.
With 11 newcomers and just four upperclassmen, head coach Dan Monson’s final challenge this season will be to figure out how to motivate and prepare a younger group for tournament play.
“Somebody is going to have to beat [Irvine] to advance on,” Monson said, “so we get the first crack at it. That’s how we have to look at it, and be excited for that opportunity because last week at this time, we weren’t even sure if we were going to make the tournament.”
To keep its postseason alive, Long Beach will have to mirror the defensive performance it displayed when it beat UCI 63-56 in January. Above winning the rebounding and turnover battles, the Beach held the Anteaters to a stifling 33.8% (22-65 FG) shooting from the field.
“I tell my teams every year this,” Monson said, “‘Any four-minute stretch that you lose concentration or you fatigue or get out of your gameplan, your season’s over from this point on.’”
Freshman center Joshua Morgan was named the conference’s 2019-20 Best Defensive Player, becoming the third player from Long Beach State and just the second freshman in league history to earn the accolade. Morgan was also named alongside sophomore guard Chance Hunter as Honorable Mentions to the All-Conference team.
To win three games in a row and punch a ticket to March Madness, Long Beach will have to expand its glimpses of league-best defense to each play.
“When this team’s right, they play with everybody in this league,” Monson said. “If they can get right for three days, it could be a magical week for an eighth-place team.”
No. 8 Long Beach State will begin Big West tournament play against No. 1 UC Irvine on Thursday, March 12, at 6 p.m. at the Honda Center.