The Long Beach State 49ers face an absolutely brutal non-conference schedule. If they can survive that stretch, once Big West play begins... in the words of Dr. Dre at the end of California Love, "Long Beach in tha house!"
Experience is at a premium in the 49ers' starting lineup with a senior-laden group returning. Leading that charge is Big West Player and Defensive Player of the Year, point guard Casper Ware. Fellow first team all-conference selection, Larry Anderson will once again join Ware in the backcourt giving them a bigger duo at guard with Greg Plater graduating. Anderson can use his size and driving ability to cause match-up problems for other Big West teams.
T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps return to their starting spots in the frontcourt. Robinson averaged a double-double for the second straight season and with 36 boards, will become the school's all-time leader in rebounds. He can be a terror on the glass but has also added the ability to stretch defenses wth his jumper and range out to the three-point line. After transferring in from a junior college, Edis Dervisevic was a key role player a year ago and will likely move into the starting lineup. He adds a physicality in the paint that Robinson lacks.
If there is one concern about Dan Monson's team this season, it is the uncertainty off the bench. The 49ers only went seven deep last season but will need to find some role players this year. Corey Jackson played sparingly last year and figures to be the first guard off the bench, while freshmen Shaquille Hunter and Michael Caffey could work themselves into the mix.
Kyle Richardson saw limited minutes last season and is the only frontcourt reserve who even sniffed meaningful action. Redshirt freshman Nick Shepherd could make an impact this year due to his size. JUCO transfers James Ennis and Kris Gulley will try and crack the rotation on the wing.
With an experienced and talented starting five, Long Beach State is the clear favorite to win the Big West. Unlike last year when they were upset in the title game of the conference tournament, the 49ers need to complete the net-cutting sweep to earn a berth in the Big Dance. If they do, it is never too early to start talking potential Cinderella sleepers? just saying.
Player to Watch: Casper Ware, PG
Besides Robinson becoming the 49ers' all-time rebounding leader, Ware could break some school marks as well, as he ranks in the top ten in points, assists, and steals. The four-year starter makes an impact on both ends of the floor. He is also coming off a summer in which he was named the MVP of the highly competitive summer Drew League, which could help him take his game to the next level and also increase his awareness among NBA teams.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/16 at Pitt
11/19 at San Diego State
11/28 at Louisville
12/6 at Kansas
12/10 at North Carolina
12/22 vs. Xavier (Diamond Head Classic)
12/23 vs. Clemson/UTEP, (Diamond Head Classic)
12/25 Kansas State/Southern Illinois/Auburn/Hawaii (Diamond Head Classic)