Our old friend Tyler Lamb and his Long Beach State (LBST) 49ers (2-2) visit Pauley Pavilion tomorrow at 7PM PT (TV PAC-12 Networks -- again) to take on the Bruins (3-0).
The 49ers beat Kansas State lost at home Friday, 69-60. Kansas State was a tournament team last year, and ranked #28 by USA Today in the pre-season. LBST led the whole way against what looked to be a pedestrian K-state team. The 49ers came out in a zone, including a few possessions in 1-2-2, but switched to MTM at about the 12 minute mark at which point they opened up and held an average margin of about 11 points. K-state went to a full-court press with 8 minutes left in the game, and finally chipped into the LBST lead with three minutes to go as LBST turned the ball over several times and couldn't seem to get a defensive rebound. K-state got within 4, but LBST pulled away again in the final minute. Mike Caffey and Branford Jones LBST with 13 points each. LBST had 18 TOs and gave up 14 O-rebs.
I was fascinated by how deep LBST went (in contrast to our bench), and how big and strong their guards were. Their bigs were athletic, but not skilled. Still, these guys are not cupcakes.
The rest of their resume is a 95-90 loss to BYU, a 74-64 win over San Francisco State and a 97-74 loss to Xavier. They return more experience than the Bruins and have played a tougher schedule thus far. The Bruins haven't been away from Pauley yet.
Last year LBST finished 15-17 overall and 11-7 in the Big West Conference - third place in the regular season. The media tabbed the 49ers to place third in the league this year. Senior point guard Mike Caffey was named pre-season All-Big West. Checking ESPN's stat page for LBST, you would draw the conclusion that the 49ers are a horrible rebounding and defensive team, turn the ball over a lot, but are good shooters (though oddly mid-pack in assists -- the two guards get most of the points).
Senior guards Caffey (6'0") and Lamb (6'5") were both all-conferences last season, and combined to average 31.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. They play with a three-guard starting lineup (this is getting old) including senior McKay LaSalle (6'5"). The starting lineup is rounded out by senior forward David Samuels (6'7") and Florida Gulf Coast graduate transfer forward Eric McKnight (6'9") who adds athleticism and shot-blocking. LBST lost returning starting guard and fourth leading scorer A.J. Spencer to an ACL injury during the first week of practice. The bench is deep as Coach Dan Monson has used eight players in heavy rotation and three more average about 10 mpg each.
The headline: LBST is good and deep at the guards, but their bigs don't score much -- or rebound for that matter.
The last four statistics are components of the Four Factors as espoused by Dean Oliver. UCLA wins the highest rated category, eFG%, but it's relatively even after that. Vegas has UCLA favored by 12.5.
As usual, the biggest challenge will be for the Bruin guards to contain the opposition perimeter, but this time the guards are bigger and LBST can send a wave against a Bruin team with a short bench.
Though many of us predicted that Norman Powell would cover the opposing 1, that hasn't been the case yet, and I don't expect it to start against LBST. He might find himself playing ex-teammate Tyler Lamb (with help from Noah Allen). Also surprising, Norman's minutes are about the same as last year's but he's been fouling more -- is this a symptom of guarding bigger players and getting charges called while forcing it?
Thus far, Coach SALford has started his son Bryce on the opposing point guard, pivoted to Isaac Hamilton, and ultimately spent most of the game in a zone. Caffey is averaging 19.7 ppg on 58% shooting. I don't think the Bruins can afford to throw the first four minutes away letting Caffey light up Bryce.
Kevon Looney and Tony Parker, with help from Wannah Bail and Thomas Welsh, should easily win the battle of the interior since LBST appears to be a guard-centric team that's weak inside.
Though the competition ramps up Sunday night, the Bruins should take care of business if they can keep Caffey under control.