The defending Big West Champion, Long Beach State men’s basketball team graduated four of its five players from last year’s starting lineup, but the 49ers were once again picked as preseason favorites to repeat as conference champs. While the 49ers have certainly missed its fearsome foursome, Long Beach has shown to be a dangerous team with a 6-8 overall record and 2-1 mark in conference play.
Long Beach Head Coach Dan Monson has gained notoriety for scheduling tough nonconference opponents, playing North Carolina, Arizona, Syracuse and UCLA this season.
As a result of the brutal schedule, Long Beach finished the preseason with a 4-7 overall record with notable victories against Fresno State and Loyola Marymount.
Leading the 49ers thus far in the season has been senior forward James Ennis, who ranks fifth in the Big West with 17.5 points per game. Ennis is also ninth in the league with 6.9 rebounds per game, third in blocks at 1.9 and ninth in steals at 1.4.
With sophomore guard Michael Caffey now starting at point, Long Beach has been fortunate to have one of the most versatile playmakers in the conference. Caffey averages 11.9 points per game and is third in the Big West with 4.3 assists per game. Additionally, he leads the conference averaging nearly 35 minutes per game.
Opening Big West play, the 49ers defeated Pacific 67-63 at home before taking a two-game road trip to the Central Coast. In its first conference away game, Long Beach fell to Cal Poly 79-73. Last Saturday, the 49ers came to the Thunderdome, squeaking out a 77-70 victory over UCSB.
A trio of transfers that became eligible after sitting out last season have made a large impact for the 49ers this year. Three juniors in guard Keala King and forwards Dan Jennings and Tony Freeland have all cracked Long Beach’s starting lineup alongside Caffey and Ennis.
Of the three transfers, Jennings is the only one who has been eligible the entire season. Jennings is fourth in scoring for the 49ers averaging over 10 points per game. He is also second on the 49ers and 11th in the conference with 6.3 rebounds per contest.
In only three games this season, Freeland has made an impact for the 49ers averaging 12 points and 6.3 rebounds, marks that would rank second on the team if sustained since the beginning of the season.
King, meanwhile, has only made one start for Long Beach in its most recent game against UCSB, but has had an important impact averaging 8.3 points and six rebounds.
A relatively young team, the 49ers only other senior on the roster aside from Ennis is guard Peter Pappageorge. Pappageorge averages 6.9 points per game and has started in 11 of the team’s 14 games this season.
Despite sporting a lineup that is still new to playing with each other, Long Beach looks to be a dangerous team in the Big West and one that will certainly be in the hunt for the conference title in March.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of January 9th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.