Long Beach State is a member of the Big West, a mid-major conference with one power pelt to its credit already this season, as Cal-State Fullerton handed it to Notre Dame rival UCLA on its home court, 68-65 in overtime on Tuesday.
The 2-0 49ers were tabbed as the pre-season conference favorites for 2010 after finishing in a second-place tie (10-6) and 15-15 overall last season. Sophomore Larry Anderson received pre-season 1st Team All Big West honors, an honor he earned on the court last year as well as one of two freshmen in Big West history to be named 1st Team All Conference.
Anderson received pre-season sleeper status from ESPN analyst and former Villanova head coach Fran Fraschilla, who touted the 6'5" guard as the Big West's best NBA prospect.
Anderson's classmates Casper Ware and T.J. Robinson joined their teammate on the Big West's All Freshman team last season, and Robinson is off to a hot start with 15 points and double-digit boards in both games played to date.
LBS is led by former Minnesota head coach Dan Monson, who has rebuilt the 49ers squad from 6-25 his first season (2008) into one of the Big West's favorites for 2010.
In an effort to improve their season-end RPI and steal a quality win or two to catch the NCAA Selection Committee's eye, the 49ers have scheduled a brutal non-conference slate. In addition to tonight's game vs. the Irish, Long Beach State will face No. 9 West Virginia on a "neutral" court in Anaheim (with an outcome-dependent matchup vs. either Clemson or Texas A&M one day later) and play road games vs. No. 3 Texas; No. 5 Kentucky; and No. 8 Duke, prior to conference play.
Furthering the 49ers November buzz was Irish head coach Mike Brey, who included the squad in his media day Q&A when asked about a busy early-season schedule in which the Irish will play 12 games in 28 days.
"Nobody thinks about Long Beach State...but Long Beach State is very good," Brey offered in October.
"That would be a quality win for us. Not many people know that now, but that would be a quality win because they're going to go on and have a good year."
Whether the 49ers live up to that billing is irrelevant (a win over Long Beach State is unlikely to ring true on Selection Sunday) but they are nonetheless Notre Dame's first test of the season – an athletic group that will challenge the offense in transition and with penetration in half-court sets.
In addition to Anderson, a player for whom the Irish have no clear defensive matchup, the overactive Robinson is a 6'7" forward with bounce that will test Tyrone Nash on the glass as the Notre Dame junior's toughest foe until at least December 19 vs. UCLA. Nash's ability to stay out of foul trouble tonight ranks as a key to the tenor of the contest.
Point guard Casper Ware is a 5'9" speed burner and serves as a November wake-up call for Irish senior guard Tory Jackson, a veteran who's had his way with two overmatched point guards to date.
Colorado State transfer Stephen Gilling can fill it up from beyond the arc (224 career triples), a skill set that plagued the Irish Monday night as Saint Francis (PA) torched the Joyce Center Court nets for 13 treys in 19 attempts.
As will be the case for the Irish through the holidays, the 49ers have no physical matchup for 1st Team All American forward Luke Harangody. Backup forward Kyle Richardson (6'7" 220) could receive a few minutes vs. Harangody in the post, allowing Robinson to concentrate on weak side help and much needed offensive contributions.
The 49ers roster does include a 7-footer, Redshirt freshman Mike Vantrimpont.
Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors
The untested Irish have started hot, shooting 56/75/54 percent (FG/FT/3PT) while averaging 90 points over two easy victories. Head coach Mike Brey has afforded at least 15 minutes of playing time to seven players while three of the team's four freshman have received time with the fourth, Tom Knight, expected to redshirt barring another frontcourt injury.
- Forward: Tyrone Nash – Limited by foul trouble on Monday, Nash has scored 15 points but has just six boards over the season's first two games. The junior has added four steals and is an encouraging 3-5 from the free throw line. Nash at 60% from the charity stripe will help the Irish win an extra conference game in 2010.
- Forward: Luke Harangody – Already averaging 23 points and has gone to the foul line for 20 freebies (17-20). Harangody's expanded floor game (3-9 from beyond the arc) has lowered his shooting percentage early (43%). The big man has added four steals and four blocks as well as six assists vs. four turnovers
- Guard: Jonathan Peoples – Shooting 54.5% from the field, has hit 3-6 from behind the line, and totaled 15 points, 4 steals, and 3 assists in the early going.
- Guard: Ben Hansbrough – The team's second-leading scorer at 18.5 per (19 and 18 respectively), Hansbrough has drilled 9 of his first 11 3-point shots and augmented that effort with 12 free throw attempts (curiously missing 4 vs. St. Francis). The transfer has accounted for 11 assists vs. 4 turnovers through two starts in a team-high 67 minutes.
- Guard: Tory Jackson – A near-perfect start with 16 assists vs. two turnovers, Jackson has been patient, hitting 7 of 12 shots (4 of 7 behind the line) while quarterbacking the offense to 90 points per game. His first major defensive test arrives tonight vs. the purportedly ultra-quick Casper Ware.
- Forward: Tim Abromaitis – Has totaled 13 and 17 points in 21 and 27 minutes of action through two games. Abro has connected on 11 of 16 shots from the field (6-10 from deep) and added nine boards. His two free throw attempts in 48 total minutes won't fly as the Big East defense's learn his tendencies as a shooter.
- Forward: Carleton Scott – Aside from calmly draining a second-half 3-pointer, Scott hasn't shown up offensively. No blocked shots and just four boards in 31 minutes…the Irish need more across the board from their most athletic wing player.
LBS: Probable Starters and Key Contributors
The sample size is admittedly small, but the youthful (and yet experienced) 49ers have shown early-season balance with six players averaging at least nine points per game and eight averaging at least 11 minutes per contest.
Look for LBS to shorten its bench in the second half today in an effort to steal one in South Bend.
- Swingman: Larry Anderson – 6'6" 215-pound multi-talented, aggressive athlete has 38 points, 10 steals, and 11 assists over his first two games. Anderson has started hot, hitting 10-18 from the field (3-6 from beyond the arc) and worked his way to the charity stripe for 20 free throw attempts (75%) in two contests.
- Forward: T.J. Robinson – At 6'7" 210 pounds, Robinson will pose a major test for Nash defensively and for the Irish on the glass.
- Forward: Eugene Phelps –- 6'6" 200-pound sophomore has 18 points, 8 boards, and 9 fouls to his credit in 30 total minutes.
- Guard: Casper Ware – Could hurt the Irish with his quickness and passing skills but the 5'9" 170-pound sophomore is susceptible to Tory Jackson's strength and rebounding ability as well.
- Guard: Stephen Gilling – The team's best outside shooter is off to a slow start (3-11 from beyond the arc). 6'2" 207-pound senior will likely be checked by Irish senior Jonathan Peoples as Jackson will be necessary vs. the speedy Ware.
- Forward: Arturas Lazdauskas – The 6'7" 215-pound senior fouled out in 10 minutes in the team's season-opening win. Hello Harangody…
- Guard: Greg Plater – 6'1" 165-pound junior has fired 13 shots (hitting five) from beyond the arc in 44 total minutes off the bench.
- Forward: Kyle Richardson – 6'7" 220-pound true freshman has logged 24 minutes in first two contests.