Long Beach State coach Dan Monson has always been in favor of playing a difficult pre-conference schedule. And they don’t get much more difficult than the 49ers’ opening-round game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against defending national runner-up Michigan on Thursday (6 p.m. Atlantic ; 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
Long Beach is off to a 1-3 start this season, with losses to Arizona, Loyola Marymount and fellow Puerto Rico Tip-Off participant Kansas State. And now they face a Michigan team that came up just six points short against Louisville in last season’s national championship game.
Monson said his scheduling philosophy dates to his first season as a head coach, with Gonzaga in the late 1990s. He took the Bulldogs to the Top of the World Classic in Alaska, where they beat Tulsa (coached by Bill Self), Mississippi State (which was coming off a Final Four appearance) and fifth-ranked Clemson to capture the tournament championship.
“I was a naïve first-year head coach, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is easy. Why doesn’t everybody do this?’ ” Monson joked. “I’ve taken some poundings along the way since then, but this (type of schedule) is truly for us to get better. Our players are 18 to 20 years olds. They don't need confidence, they need reality. We try to give them reality here of how much better we have to get.”
Though Michigan (2-1) lost several key players from last season’s squad, they do return sophomore forward Glen Robinson III, who is averaging 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Wolverines have three other players scoring in double figures as well as a 10.7 rebounding average from 6-foot-10 junior forward Jon Horford.
“Glenn Robinson has taken on a real leadership role with this team, and he has some good, fine young men to lead,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They love Glenn, and Glenn has provided some great leadership both in his work habits and what he says and does on and off the court.
“The majority of our team has one year of experience or this is their first year. But we’re moving in the right direction. They’re making progress. This tournament will really assist us in growing very quickly early in the season.”
As for Long Beach, Monson said he knows exactly where his team needs to improve in order to compete with the Wolverines. “We only have four things we need to work on now, and that's our offense, our defense, our rebounding and our shooting,” he said. “So we’re excited to play in this tournament and have a chance to use it to get better.”