Duke (9-1) hosts Long Beach State (6-6) on Tuesday. While the 49ers record isn't immediately impressive, they have played a tough schedule with four of their six losses coming against Top 20 competition. Long Beach State has lost at #3 Kentucky, at #2 Texas, and to #19 Clemson and #8 West Virginia in the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center. They've also lost at Notre Dame and at Loyola Marymount.
Long Beach State shouldn't be taken lightly as they are not a stereotypical 6-6 team, but rather a team who has lost six games with five of the losses against really good teams. The combined record of the teams responsible for those five losses is 66-4 with three of the five teams being undefeated.
Long Beach State is coached by Dan Monson who has a career win-loss record of 194-163. Monson is in his third season at LBSU and was previously the head coach at Minnesota (99-06) and Gonzaga (97-99).
The 49ers have had four different players named the Big West Conference Player of the Week this season: Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson, and Stephan Gilling.
T.J. Robinson (6'7" 210) is averaging a double-double with 16.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Robinson, who has the ability to knockdown the 15 foot jumper, is the 49ers most versatile player. He was named to the Big West All-Freshman Team last season.
Stephan Gilling (6'2" 207) averages 13 points per game and is making 45.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. His ability to stretch defenses is a valuable asset for the 49ers. Additionally, Gilling is Long Beach State’s premier perimeter defender.
Larry Anderson (6'6" 215) averages 13 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Last season, Anderson was the Big West Conference Freshman-of-the-Year.
Casper Ware (5'9" 170) averages 11.8 points and 5.8 assists per game. Ware is a speedy point guard who has the ability to penetrate and create.
Eugene Phelps (6'6" 200) averages 9.1 points and 7 rebounds per game.
The big question mark for the 49ers is their inside game as they do not start any player taller than 6’7”. In fact, the 49ers have seven players averaging double-digit minutes and none of them are taller than 6’7”. Greg Plater (6’1” 165) and Arturas Lazdauskas (6’7” 215) are players six and seven in Long Beach State’s rotation. Senior Andrew Fleming (7’0” 255) is averaging only 4.3 minutes per game and freshman Mike Vantrimpont (7’0” 225) has only appeared sparingly in four games.
The keys to the game will be:
1. Shaking off the rust. Duke hasn’t played for 10 days since their dominating victory over Gonzaga. Long Beach State has played two games during the same time period. The Blue Devils need to avoid a slow start.
2. Controlling the glass. Duke has a +7.6 rebounding advantage over their opponents this season, while Long Beach State has a -1.6 disadvantage. With Duke’s significant height advantage, the Blue Devils should be able to limit the 49ers second chance opportunities, while simultaneously converting offensive rebounds into points.
3. Taking care of the basketball. Long Beach State has more turnovers (182) than assists (177) on the season. The 49ers cannot afford to waste possessions against the Blue Devils.
This game will be a bigger challenge than casual fans realize. While the 49ers will arrive in Durham with a .500 winning percentage, they also arrive with four returning starters from last season and a coach with a proven track record. In the end, Duke should win this game by a double digit margin, but do not be surprised when the outcome is still in doubt with 10 minutes remaining on the game clock.