Long Beach State has nothing to lose in NCAA Tournament vs. Arizona

Mar 19, 2024, 4:46 PM

Marcus Tsohonis dribbles against UC Irvine...

Marcus Tsohonis #0 of the Long Beach State 49ers dribbles the ball against the UC Irvine Anteaters during the second half of the semi-final game of the Big West Conference basketball tournament at The Dollar Loan Center on March 15, 2024 in Henderson, Nevada. (Photo by Zak Krill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Zak Krill/Getty Images)

There’s nothing more dangerous in the NCAA Tournament than a basketball team with nothing to lose.

Long Beach State has been through a whirlwind season, finishing 21-14 but 10-10 in Big West conference play. On March 11, the team announced it would mutually part ways with longtime head coach Dan Monson. However, he would be allowed to coach until the end of the season.

The Beach then won three games to win the Big West conference tournament, securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, LBSU plays No. 2 Arizona on Thursday as a 15-seed.

The chances look unlikely for the Beach, but it’s playing with house money.

What can we expect on the court from Long Beach State vs. Arizona?

LBSU is ranked 163rd in KenPom ratings, third among Big West teams. Long Beach State does most of its damage inside, as it is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country at 30.8% (324th in the country).

It is ranked 210th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency and 145th in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Arizona, for comparison, ranks 8th and 12th, respectively.

Long Beach State spreads the ball around. Five different players on the roster average points in the double digits.

Senior guard Marcus Tsohonis, who spent two years at Washington, leads the team in scoring with 17.8 points per game. He’s scored 15 or more points in each of his last seven games.

The 6-foot-10, 230-pound big man Lassina Traore averages a double-double with 12.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Traore was LBSU’s star during the Big West Tournament, averaging 18.3 points per game over the three games and scoring 25 in the championship win against UC Davis.

Aboubacar Traore, who is not related to Lassina, averages 12.1 points per game and strictly scores inside. He shoots 75% of his shots at the rim.

Jaden Jones, who puts up 12.2 points per game, is the only player on the team with a three-point percentage at least 37% at 37.9%. Jones takes 66.7% of his shots beyond the arc, making him one of the few marksmen on the team.

Sophomore AJ George is the only underclassman on the team averaging more than five points. He rounds out the five double-digit scorers with 10.9 points per game.

An up-and-down season

The Beach started the season hot and finished the 2023 calendar year with a 9-5 record. Its nine wins included triumphs over USC, DePaul and Michigan. Tsohonis had a season-high 35 points against the Wolverines.

Long Beach State went 5-5 through its first 10 conference matchups, then went on a five-game winning streak to reach 10-5. It was smooth sailing, but the fun would stop there.

The Beach then lost its next five games, taking us back to Monson’s early announcement of a departure from the program.

Long Beach State entered the Big West Tournament as the fourth seed and would leave as conference champions after three wins in three days, including a win over UC Davis in the championship game.

A favorite to upset?

Arizona could repeat history by losing to a 15 seed for the second year in a row after losing to No. 15 Princeton in last year’s tournament.

A team that has been a No. 2 seed two years in a row has never lost in the first round both times.

The Wildcats are strong down low with All-Pac-12 First-Team center Oumar Ballo. Ballo averages a double-double of his own with 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds.

Arizona also ranks 24th in the nation in team three-point percentage (37.1%), 300 spots ahead of the Beach.

After three straight wins and a conference title, Long Beach State could be poised to bring its best against the Wildcats.

However, its earlier trends suggest volatility could be in store for LBSU.

Thus, with a five-day break and a matchup against one of the best teams in the nation, Long Beach State will have to reach a new level in what could be Monson’s last game in his 17-run with the program — or the continuation of a victory lap.

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