The game does represent an opportunity for the Bruins to gain more momentum heading into the big non-conference finale against Missouri next week. That means it gives the Bruins and Coach Ben Howland more opportunities to work on the man-to-man defense that Howland considers critical to the success of the team.
In Long Beach State the Bruins will find an opponent that, style-wise, will test them. LBSU like to use its athleticism to attack teams through dribble penetration and one-on-one match-ups. Monson likes to extend his defense to disrupt passing lanes and force guards and playmakers to move laterally rather than cutting towards the basket. The problem for Monson is that he's been playing heavily short-handed.
Although UCLA is playing with only eight scholarship players, so is the Beach. Of those eight, though, Monson is only truly playing six (more than about 10 MPG). That's because three transfers -- juniors Keala King (6'5" 196) Tony Freeland (6'7" 225 lbs.) and Edgar Garibay (6'10" 250 lbs.) -- have yet to play a meaningful minute for the 49ers. All three will be eligible to play upon (successful) completion of their first semester at LBSU. Successful completion means that their first semester grades must be posted for them to be considered, and finals at LBSU concluded on Monday. While it possible one of the transfers, two or all three could be eligible by game time, the reality is that no one knows whether that will happen. Interestingly, an NCAA and LBSU rule states that once grades are posted, the student in question is then considered to have passed (or failed), but a class cannot be posted until every student in the class has their grades completed. In other words, the professors have to grade every students' final and then have their final grades calculated by a certain time on Tuesday for any of the transfers to play. Professors at Long Beach State have until December 20th to complete this process. It should be assumed that Monson (who is a good man but whose ADD has caused him some real issues in coaching, especially when he was at Minnesota) and his staff, as well as the LBSU athletic department, will put all kinds of appropriate pressure on the various educators in order to gain eligibility for the players by game time.
Without the aforementioned transfers, Monson has been getting his team to work hard but they've been relatively uncompetitive, especially compared to recent 49er squads.
He does have two solid players in senior forward James Ennis (6'7" 210 lbs.) and sophomore point guard Mike Caffey (6'0" 170 lbs.). They are the two leading scorers for the 49ers, averaging 16.9 and 10. 9 PPG. However, they have been poor outside shooters, with Ennis at 31% from behind the arc and Caffey at less than 30%. In fact, as a team LBSU shoots a pretty poor 31% from the three-point line. Ennis is clearly the first option for the squad and Caffey runs the show, but they have been so overwhelmed by being the only two go-to guys on the team that they are clearly not playing at their optimum.
Their teammates have had to step up several slots in the rotation because of the transfers not playing yet and that movement has been more than the players can reasonably handle. One exception is sophomore wing Kris Gulley (6'7" 180 lbs.) who is the one true deep shooting threat on the team. He is hitting over 42% from distance.
Junior post Dan Jennings (6'9" 255 lbs.) has been good enough, too, averaging 9.4 PPG and 7 RPG, behind only Ennis' 7.9 RPG. Jennings is certainly stronger than all of the Bruin posts, but he is very limited athletically.
If the three transfers were to be declared good to go then that would change Monson's rotation dramatically. Both King and Freeland would start, with both Gulley and probably senior guard Peter Pappageorge (6'0" 182 lbs.) headed to the bench. While Pappageorge is a nice shooter, he does little else at the level needed for LBSU to succeed so coming off the bench is the best situation for him and the team. King would become arguably the second go-to player on the team with Ennis, thus allowing Caffey to simply concentrate on getting the ball in the hands of his scorers. Gulley is probably better suited to coming off the bench, too. Garibay is the defensive enforcer this team has lacked all season. He may not score all that much but he will board, and, more importantly, he'll block and alter shots.
Along with the poor shooting overall (the Niners shoot less than 39% from the floor as a team), the team does a poor job or rebounding and taking care of the ball. The 49ers are being outrebounded by more than 4 RPG and have 164 TOs on the year while having forced only 145. Further, LBSU has only 104 assists on the year up until this point.
Saying that LBSU has been uncompetitive in its losses would be an understatement. Of LBSU's six losses, five have come by double digits with four being over 20-point defeats. They really have been run off the court in some games this year.
Having those three transfers ready to go helps on the defensive end as much as the offensive end. Monson employs a standard 1-2-2 extended half-court, trapping defense that gave UCLA fits when they played LBSU three years ago. Ennis will still be on the top of that defense and his length will cause some issues, especially when Larry Drew is the primary ball handler. The way to beat the 1-2-2 is to run a 2-1-2 offensive set against it and get the ball to the middle. That middle should be manned as much as possible by Kyle Anderson. He has the ability to drive and dish, drive to score, shoot and generally see the floor better than anyone else on the Bruin roster.
UCLA and Howland feel that they made strides against Prairie View on Saturday. That remains to be seen, as Prairie View isn't a team that matched up well with the Bruins. LBSU is more athletic than PVAM and, if they get all three transfers, then the 49ers will be more athletic than virtually any opponent the Bruins have faced yet this season. Because of this the same questions that dogged the Bruins going into the last game will continue to be: what kind of intensity will the Bruins bring to the game and more specifically to the defensive side of the floor?
This game is a very difficult call without knowing who will be playing for LBSU. As written previously, it's not as if it will be a game with or without the three. One or two may be ready to go while the third is not. One may play while the other two sit. It really is a crapshoot to predict a winner.
Let's assume that even if the 49ers get all three back that they won't be in game shape yet (much like Shabazz Muhammad wasn't when he returned from his dance with the NCAA) and the chemistry of the team won't be at optimum. Assuming those things to be true, let's also assume that all three transfers will play. The fact that it's their first game in almost a year and the first with this supporting cast should allow LBSU to make enough mistakes, both physically and mentally, to see the Bruins prevail.
Long Beach State 71