49ers look worthy of an NCAA bid
GOLETA – when the members of the NCAA Tournament selection committee get together, do they watch game tape?
If so, Long Beach State has a special delivery awaiting.
The 49ers came to UC Santa Barbara, which doused their hoop dreams at the big West Tournament last March, and basically went viral.
They ended the first half with a 10-0 spurt. They opened the second half on a 22-9 roll. With eight minutes left, some Thunderdome spectators went to find their cars, or maybe the wine shop.
“That second half was a beauty,” said Casper Ware, the big West’s standard-bearing point guard.
It wound up 71-48, and Long Beach thus powered to 7-0 in conference play.
Pick your highlight, from either a did-you-see-that standpoint or a purist’s view. There was James Ennis descending from the banners for various dunks, and there was Eugene Phelps knocking Gauchos out of the way for rebound baskets.
And there was Ware, at 5-foot-10, standing firm in the lane and taking a charge from UCSB’s 6-foo-5, 205-pound Orlando Johnson.
The 49ers took everything else from Johnson and James Nunnally, too. together they average 36.2 points for the Gauchos, but here they got only 15 and shot a combined 5 for 22.
“Casper and Larry (Anderson) did a great job on those two,” Coach Dan Monson said. “They contested the jumpers and everybody else helped out. I think it was probably our best effort of the season.”
Cautionary note: Long Beach beat UC Santa Barbara by 16 and 18 points last year and then lost when it mattered most. but they remember. This is a unique group, in the vagabond context of college basketball in 2012.
T.J. Robinson and Anderson are fifth-year seniors. Ware and Phelps are fourth-year seniors. Respectively, they have started 100, 90, 115 and 78 games for the Beach.
“They’re grown men,” Monson said admiringly. “They don’t panic. They trust each other. At Cal Poly (Thursday night), we fell behind when they shot 75 percent in the first half. in the past we wouldn’t have won that game. Instead we stayed patient.”
Down by seven at the half, Long Beach State won, 78-69.
Monson, to his credit, does not soft-pedal the importance of these games.
He knows Long Beach can ride one avenue to the NCAA Tournament by winning the big West Tournament at Honda Center on the second weekend of March. but he also is looking for the back entrance.
The 49ers are ranked 48th in the most recent Ratings Percentage Index, the famous RPI that is often RIP-ped by coaches and teams who don’t benefit. last year’s no. 48, in the final RPI, was Illinois, which did squeeze into the tournament field.
But much of the RPI is controlled by who you play. if you play in a “power” conference you aren’t hurt by losing conference games. if you play in the big West, you can be mortally wounded.
To circumvent this, Monson annually schedules a death-march schedule. This year the 49ers lost at North Carolina (by six), Kansas (by eight), San Diego State (by four) and Louisville. They also lost at Montana, and to Kansas State in the finals of a Hawaii tournament in which they beat Xavier and Auburn in the first and second rounds.
They also won at Pittsburgh, before anyone, including Pittsburgh, knew how mediocre Pittsburgh was.
With all that, Long Beach State’s “strength of schedule” is ranked only 65th, because of big West competition.
A more equitable RPI would judge the 49ers by their nonconference schedule only, reasoning that the state of the big West really isn’t Monson’s responsibility. but to watch Long Beach State tour the nation for “good losses” while the “power” leagues play most of their games in their protected castles is to realize the unfairness.
Fortunately, the tournament selection committee doesn’t always let the RPI makes its decision. if the 49ers were to go unbeaten in the big West, it’s likely they would be viewed favorably no matter what happens in Anaheim.
“I’ve told the guys that our best shot is to win the big West Tournament,” Monson said. “We know how hard that is. I think we’ll get a very good team to play in the Bracket Buster game (in late February) so that should help.
“But, really, we know how important this is. our guys have done a lot of great things individually. They’ve set records. T.J. will be the leading rebounder in the history of the big West. They’ve been great, but they know that the only way to really leave a legacy is to get into the NCAA Tournament.”
If 68 teams are better than Long Beach State, none of them are welcome at UC Santa Barbara.
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