Ohio State returns to the hardwood on Saturday, taking on Long Beach State at noon on the BTN. The Buckeyes (5-1) will try to regain some confidence on the offensive end and solve its ongoing inconsistency at the pivot against the 49ers (3-5) out of the Big West Conference. The media selected “The Beach” as the preseason favorite to win the conference a third straight time. Long Beach State has reached the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, winning its conference tourney last year with a 25-9 overall record and a 15-1 conference mark, and receiving an at-large bid in 2010-11 after losing in the Big West tournament final. The 49ers bowed out of the dance in the first round both years, falling to No. 5 seed New Mexico last year and No. 2 seed Washington State the year before. This season, Long Beach State is off to a slow start, but against a pretty formidable schedule. The 49ers have lost to Syracuse, Fresno State, Arizona, North Carolina, and USC, and have wins over North Alabama, Fresno State and Loyola Marymount. Long Beach State’s most recent game was an 84-53 loss at Syracuse on Thursday night.
The Buckeyes won their only previous game against the 49ers, a 93-87 affair on Nov. 26, 1987 at the Lobo Classic in Albuquerque, NM. Long Beach State could be a dangerous team. They won’t be intimidated by Ohio State, after playing Syracuse, UNC and Arizona. The 49ers play a pressure defense and they like to shoot from outside the arc. LBSU has attempted 171 triples this season (21.4 per game). If those shots fall, LBSU will hang around for quite awhile. The good news is that as a team the 49ers are hitting only 31.6% from downtown. The bad news is that redshirt sophomore guard Kris Gulley (#0) is hitting his bombs at a 48.1% clip (13/27—though he was 0-4 Thursday). Either Deshaun Thomas or Sam Thompson will likely start the game defending the 6-7 Gulley, who sat out last year after transferring in from Independence Community College. Gulley averages 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Joining Gulley in the starting lineup are three other guards and 6-8 redshirt junior forward Dan Jennings (#35), a West Virginia transfer. Jennings is scoring 8.6 points pulling down 7.0 rips per contest. He sat out last season as a redshirt after two years with the Mountaineers. Senior guard James Ennis (#11) is the main man Ohio State has to try to contain. Ennis, a pre-season All-Big West selection, leads the 49ers in points per game (15.6), rebounds per game (7.8), and blocks per game (1.8). Last season, the 6-7 Ennis was an honorable mention all-conference performer.
Sophomore guard Mike Caffey (#5) mans the point for the 49ers, averaging 10.5 points, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Rounding out the starting five is senior guard Peter Pappageorge (#2), averaging 8.6 points and 2.5 rebounds. Pappageorge has attempted the most treys on the team (45) and has the second best shooting percentage beyond the arc (33.3%). He also hasn’t missed a free throw yet this season (12/12).
Head coach Dan Monson (258-255 overall, 88-82 at LBSU) typically uses three or four guys off his bench. You may recall Monson from his stint at Minnesota from 1999-2007, when he led the Golden Gophers to a 118-106 record and one NCAA tournament appearance (2005). Off the pine, we’ll likely see redundantly named freshman guard Deng Deng (#23), the team’s most productive bench player (5.8 points, 2.4 rebounds per game). Deng averages a tick under 17 minutes per game and has seen action in all eight of LBSU’s games this season. Junior forward Kyle Richardson (#34) averages 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game. Sophomore forward Nick Shepherd (#33) and redshirt freshman forward Gatete Djuma (#24) both add 6-9 size off the bench in relief of Jennings. I’m guessing Djuma brings some toughness to the lineup, as he grew up in Rwanda, moving to the United States just two years ago. Shepherd adds minutes (12.1 per game) but doesn’t score much (1.1 ppg) and only averages one rebound. Djuma is very raw and has shown very little in the stat sheet while averaging two minutes per game.
Long Beach State wins if…The 49ers could steal this game if they control the glass and shoot better than 40% outside the arc. I think Ennis would need to score more than 20 points, or reach his average if Gulley and Jennings can hit double figures. If Gulley hits four or five treys, it could put Ohio State in a tough spot. Still, the Buckeyes would also likely have to lose the turnover battle and the 49ers would need to limit Deshaun Thomas to under 16 points to optimize their chances.
Ohio State wins if…it can improve slightly on the poor shooting performances of the last two games. That shouldn’t be too difficult with a percentage under 35 over that span. Ohio State will probably have to shoot in the neighborhood of 40% and limit turnovers to less than 12, while forcing 12-15 from the 49ers. Ideally, Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams should combine for 12-14 rebounds from the five spot. Most importantly, someone in the starting lineup has to help Thomas with scoring. Double figures from Aaron Craft or Lenzelle Smith Jr. would be beneficial, and welcome.
Notes: With 14 points last Saturday against Northern Kentucky, Thomas tied Bill Andreas for 46th on Ohio State’s career scoring list, with 1,023 points. He needs 23 more points to pass Ken Johnson and Jamie Skelton for 44th…Aaron Craft is 10 steals behind David Lighty for second in OSU history and 23 shy of Jay Burson’s school record of 204…Thad Matta has never faced Long Beach State as a head coach…The Buckeyes have an all-time record of 7-1 against teams that currently represent the Big West Conference. The lone loss came to Hawaii in December of 1967…Kevin Kogler and Jim Jackson will call the game for BTN.