No school puts together a nonconference slate quite like Long Beach. The 49ers have already played North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, and Washington this year, and played Virginia, Arizona, Duke, and Oregon last season. The big reason for this is head coach Dan Monson gets to keep a portion of the guarantees paid to the school, so he’ll collect a nice tidy check for coming to Lawrence tonight. But it also gets the team prepared for the Big West season, and I have to think it helps with recruiting as well.
Last year the 49ers made the conference title game, and look like the Big West’s best team this year, losing only two major contributors off last year’s team (although in fairness it was their best player).
Because of the strength of schedule (ranked 1st via KenPom) some of the numbers are pretty ugly. Long Beach is a good mid major but just doesn’t have the firepower to compete at places like Louisville or North Carolina.
Keep the previous paragraph in mind when reading Long Beach is shooting 30.1 percent from three, 44.2 percent from two, is turning it over on 24.3 percent of its possessions, and is rebounding 28.8 percent of its misses. Those numbers are all amazingly ugly, but against a normal set of opponents it would look better. Long Beach also doesn’t take a lot of threes, so even if they have one of those days where they just can’t miss from deep, that alone probably wont be enough to spring the upset.
Speaking of ugly numbers, Long Beach is allowing teams to shoot 54 percent on twos and rebound 35 percent of their misses while forcing turnovers on just 17 percent of their possessions. They don’t allow teams to take a ton of threes, but given that they rank 348th in height, Kansas probably won’t need to take a lot of them.
Players to Watch
Gabe Levin, junior forward
Levin has been the team’s best player so far this year, and its best defensive rebounder at 6-7. He’s shooting 55 percent from two, which is impressive against that competition, but is turning the ball over a ton.
Jordan Griffin, freshman guard
Griffin is the stereotypical low usage guard. He hasn’t committed a foul yet this season, barely turns it over, and is shooting 43 percent from three thanks to really only shooting when he’s wide open. That combines for a 114 offensive rating, tops on the team.
Evan Payne, junior forward
Payne is playing 20 minutes a game, but he makes the most of those minutes. He’s taking 31 percent of the team’s shots while playing, and is shooting 39 percent on twos and 31 percent from three. As you can tell, he hasn’t had a very good season, but he was pretty good as a sophomore at Loyola Marymount, and I love watching mid to low major gunners.
Things to Watch for:
- The starting lineup - Kansas will keep the same lineup it went with against UNC-Asheville, but given Long Beach’s lack of size it looks like Azubuike, Lucas, and Bragg could all have nice days.
- Rest - Graham and Mason (and Lucas given his nagging injuries) all could stand to only play about 20 minutes or not at all in this one. Fat chance though.
- Jump shooting - Kansas is back up to 35.5 percent from three, and Mason (48 percent) and Svi (41 percent) are having nice years from deep. Graham is back up to a respectable mark (32 percent) and Vick was 3-4 from deep last game. Obviously a continuing improvement from the latter two and Josh Jackson not falling off a cliff from deep will go a long way towards this team reaching its ceiling.
Long Beach is the type of team to hope for if you’re looking for a first round opponent in the NCAA tournament (famous last words). They don’t take a lot of threes and aren’t good enough on the offensive glass to bother Kansas there. Add in this game at Allen Fieldhouse and Kansas finally getting some regular rest, and I think the Jayhawks cruise 91-69. Nice.