At the conclusion of every Long Beach State men’s basketball practice, the team comes together in a circle. Head coach Dan Monson talks about what the team must do to win, not from a basketball standpoint, but often from a mental standpoint.
Early on Tuesday morning, following a 64-59 home loss to Fresno State, a somewhat beleaguered group listened as Monson discussed the team’s identity. Having already faced three top-25 teams in North Carolina, Arizona and Syracuse, The Beach will now face No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday, in an attempt to create some sort of team identity that they have struggled to find thus far in the 2012-13 season.
“You have an opportunity to play two top-10 teams and you want to take advantage of that opportunity,” Monson said. “Yet, we’re in a position right now where we just need to worry about playing better and getting better.”
The 49ers carry a 3-5 record into Columbus. For the veterans on the team, there is no intimidation factor as these road trips are commonplace. Monson prides his teams on continually having some of the most brutal non-conference schedules of any team in the country. Since taking over The Beach in 2007, the 49ers have gone on the road to face Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas State, North Carolina and a bevy of other heavy-hitters. They’ve kept up with them as well.
This season, they have shown flashes of a team that is capable of playing at a higher level, but no one is really sure what this team looks like just yet. This clearly isn’t a year in which The Beach plans to contend for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
“What I want to see in this stretch is for us to continue against good teams to stay together and continue to create an identity of who we want to be,” Monson said. “It’s going to be a difficult thing to happen until we get everybody together.”
High-profile transfers in Keala King (Arizona State) and Tony Freeland (DePaul) both had NCAA waivers denied and won’t be eligible for competition until the end of the semester. Edgar Garibay, a 6-10 forward from Loyola Marymount, will also join that group, creating even more of a puzzle than the one that already exists.
“It’s been a slower process,” Monson said. “There’s advantages to having older redshirts and transfers with their experience, but I think there’s a negative in that they also have their own preconceived ideas of their roles.”
So far, Monson is encouraged by a defensive-mindset that the team has taken on. In two games against Fresno State, Monson feels that the team has made things happen offensively based on its defensive execution.
But with the exception of the three captains – James Ennis, Mike Caffey and Peter Pappageorge – the team remains inconsistent at crucial moments. The challenge this weekend will be to remain consistent against teams that are more than capable of exploiting even the smallest mistakes.
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense is one of the most difficult to face in the country. A young 49er team that has lacked offensive patience in the past will need to move the ball laterally and carefully chose its shots. The Buckeyes are also a team in transition, similar to Long Beach, but have had players like LaQuinton Ross to step up and fill the voids of the departed players that led Ohio State to a Final Four appearance last season.
But according to Monson, the scouting reports are only going to get them so far.
“I think the good news about where we’re at right now is that I don’t think we will worry too much about what they are doing,” Monson said. “We’ve got to get ourselves playing well before we can really, realistically worry about an opponent.”
They might have only played seven games, but for Long Beach State, this preseason is already feeling like a long one.