By Jarrod Castillo Staff Writer
March Madness is exactly as its moniker describes: madness. The month-long college basketball tournament is full of upsets, buzzer-beaters and disappointment, making it one of the most dramatic sporting events of the year.
Although the top teams are almost always pegged to make it deep in the tournament, once in a blue moon a team may pull off an upset and go on a fabled Cinderella run, where they advance farther than anticipated. For example, 16th seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County recently upset top-seeded Virginia, which was the first time in NCAA history that a 16th seed has beat a first seed.
Unfortunately for fans of Long Beach State basketball, both the men’s and women’s teams have not been able to make a Cinderella run deep into their respective tournaments in quite some time.
Although the women’s team made the 2016-2017 NCAA Tournament, they were bounced in the first round of the competition. Nonetheless, this year was vastly different as the team experienced a complete overhaul, both on the court and on the sideline. Head coach Jody Wynn and her staff departed for the University of Washington and most of the experienced players on the squad that made the tournament either graduated or transferred out.
As such, first-year head coach Jeff Cammon had to pick up the pieces left by Wynn and filled the roster with seven talented, yet raw, freshmen. That rawness showed as the team went on a 13-game losing streak and on most nights, appeared to be overmatched by their more experienced opponents.
Toward the end of the season, the team turned the corner as freshman guard Shanaijah Davison and senior guard Cecily Wilson led the team on a five-game winning streak to cap off the season. Because of this, LBSU were able to reach the Big West Tournament, although it was short-lived as UC Riverside eliminated them in the first round.
Nevertheless, the women’s team is in a good position to contend for future Big West Conference championships and an eventual berth in the NCAA Tournament, thanks in part to the strong foundation laid by Cammon.
That foundation was evident in the team’s growth once the calendar turned to 2018, as the team shot 40.9 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point land after starting the season shooting 36.5 percent and 26.1 percent, respectively. The team’s rebounding, assist and block numbers got better as the season progressed as well.
With a proper off-season to work on their game, expect the freshman on the squad to continue growing and getting better.
While LBSU’s women’s basketball team has a bright future ahead of them, the men’s squad is in a period of uncertainty. With senior forward Gabe Levin, senior guard Barry Ogalue and senior forward Quentin Shropshire graduating this year, the team will be without its leaders both on and off the court.
Not only was Levin second in the Big West, scoring 21.5 points per conference game, he was also sixth in rebounding with 7.1 rebounds per game. Levin also had a usage rate of 30.1 percent, showing the team’s dependency on its “super senior.”
That dependency was apparent as head coach Dan Monson often elected to run some off-ball movement that eventually led to the ball being dumped to Levin or his frontcourt mate, junior forward Temidayo Yussuf, in the post.
Although the “Twin Towers” approach can work for brief stretches, it’s very difficult to maintain throughout the game and allows the opposing team to double the forwards in the post, forcing other players to beat them.
For it to be effective, the “Towers” need to be surrounded by adequate 3-point shooters they can pass to, something that LBSU has lacked in recent years. Since last making the NCAA Tournament in 2011-2012, the Beach has shot an average of 34.5% from 3-point land since, according to Big West.
With more offenses turning to the three instead of two, LBSU’s current style of play has to change in order to keep up with the rest of the conference, which is evident when their recent records are considered. In the six seasons since the Beach was last in the NCAA Tournament, they’ve had four seasons in which they have finished under .500 in regular season play.
Despite good conference play, the team has seemingly plateaued and failed to advance to the NCAA Tournament since 2012, instead ending seasons in mediocrity.
Coupled with the fact that Levin is graduating, it looks like LBSU’s men’s basketball team is at a crossroads. Should Monson switch to a more modern offense focused on pace and space, with off-ball cuts and screens in order to get shooters open? Or should he continue having his guards dump the ball in the post and let his forwards go to work?
In addition, it remains to be seen who will lead the team on offense in Levin’s absence as his presence on and off the court will be missed immensely. When Levin was lost to injury last season, Monson went with a guard-centric offense, as evidenced by the fact that Evan Payne and Justin Bibbins averaged 14.2 ppg and 13.2 ppg, respectively.
With Levin graduating, expect junior guard Deishuan Booker to take on more of a load on offense with junior guard Bryan Alberts helping him with his 3-point shooting. If all else fails, Monson will likely continue to focus on the post with Yussuf bullying his way to the basket.
One thing’s for certain: both LBSU basketball teams are on vastly different paths. While the women’s team have positioned themselves for future success thanks to laying the proper foundation and internal growth, the men’s team seems to have tapered off and appears to be stuck in limbo between the past and present.
Whatever the case may be, it’s only a matter of time before the Beach has a team joining in on the festivities and chances are, it’s the team no one expects to go on that Cinderella run in March.