RTT: The first thing that jumps out when looking at the roster is that Long Beach State starts five seniors, which would suggest a very mature team. On the other hand, it is my understanding that none of the starters have ever played in the NCAA Tournament. So Maturity or Madness, which wins out?
PC: Personally, I think "senior leadership" is a bit overrated when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. What year were Carmelo Anthony, Michael Jordan and Joakim Lowery when they all won the title?
That being said, Long Beach State does have a team full of seniors, including its top two bench players (Mark Dawson and Louis Darby). It is a very confident team, so I don't think the NCAA atmosphere will intimidate them. From talking with the players, they are going into the game Friday, not hoping to win, but expecting to.
RTT: I understand that the 49ers play a style of basketball that is similar to that employed by Memphis. Would you agree with that statement, and, if so, could you elaborate a little bit on what LBS' version of it looks like?
PC: To be honest, most of my time I spend watching college basketball is between Big West and Pac-10 teams. I don't think I have watched Memphis play all year (I've only seen Tennessee once, against Ohio State).
Offensively, LBSU plays a simple, yet very effective game. They have four starters that can consistently hit the 3-point shot (Aaron Nixon, Kejuan Johnson, Kevin Houston and Sterling Byrd). So, this what they do. A) Whoever brings the ball up the court chucks up a 3. B) The point guard, Houston, penetrates and then kicks out to a shooter for a 3. C) They set a screen for either Nixon or Byrd, and they shoot a 3. D) The occasional pass to the block (to either Dominique Rick or Mark Dawson) and they go 1-on-1, unless he gets doubled teamed, and then they pass to a shooter for a 3. Throw in some mid-range jumpers and that's the offense.
So the cliché, you either live or die by the 3 holds merit with LBSU. They are a very high-tempo team (like Tennessee from what I have read) and will try and get easy baskets if they see a fast-break opportunity. Overall, LBSU is very good offensive team.
Defense and rebounding are the two big holes for the 49ers. LBSU play a man-to-man defense, and rarely goes zone. At times, it looks as if LBSU could care less about defense and will save its energy (mental and physical) for offense. They can get away with this most of the time against Big West competition, but they are going have to step it up if they are going to have any chance against the Vols. It is also a small team, which hurts them on the boards (They play with two point guards, Houston and Johnson, a shooting guard, Nixon, a small forward, Byrd, and a traditional forward, Ricks). Pay close attention to see if Byrd is grabbing defensive rebounds early in the game, if he is a non-factor, it should be a good day for Tennessee.
RTT: Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl brought a "controlled chaos" style of basketball to the Vols two years ago, which essentially means that they press their opponents from horn to horn and from basket to basket, attempting to find an advantage by creating turnovers through aggressive, pesky defensive pressure. On the other hand, it appears that the strength of LBS is the play of its backcourt duo Nixon and Johnson, who are putting up some solid numbers and filling the school's trophy case. Has the team faced much full-court pressure this season? If so, how do they generally respond? If not, how do you think they will respond?
PC: This is why getting LBSU in the first round wasn't the best matchup for Tennessee. No team has pressed LBSU all year, and probably for good reason. Like I stated earlier, LBSU plays with two point guards (Houston and Johnson), and Nixon is also a very good ball handler. It is very possible that the combined pressure of playing in the NCAA Tournament and Tennessee's consistent press might be too much to handle for the 49ers. But if I had to bet on it, I wouldn't expect the Vols to press as often as they usually do.
Some other notes: Players and the media were surprised LBSU were seeded as high as they were. I expected a 14 seed, maybe a 13 seed if they got lucky, but a 12 seed was pretty shocking. So it might be good news for Vols fans that LBSU isn't exactly a traditional "upset special" No. 12.
Also, Nixon is very good. He was the Big West Conference Player of the Year, has constantly made big shots under pressure, and has carried the team at times. He will probably be a second round draft pick. He is also coming home. He grew up in Cleveland, so if he needed any extra motivation he has it.
Anyway, it should be a good game this Friday, looking forward to it.