Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:15PM

Long Beach State 49ers (5-6) at #9/9 Texas Longhorns (9-1)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: LHN
Vegas: Texas -15.5 | KenPom: Texas, 71-56 (93%)

Although the Longhorns are favored in the rest of their non-conference games, there are still a pair of good tests left on their December home schedule. Stanford, who travels to Austin on Tuesday night, is the bigger name, but tonight’s opponent, Long Beach State, is certainly one of the better mid-majors to come through the Erwin Center in recent years.

Dan Monson has challenged his Long Beach State squad
(Photo credit: David Kohl/Associated Press)

Don’t let the 5-6 record fool you. Dan Monson drew up a brutal schedule for his 49ers, one which is currently ranked 6th-toughest in the country by Ken Pomeroy. That ranking doesn’t even include their remaining non-con schedule, which has road games with Texas, St. John’s, Syracuse, and Louisville.

Although the 49ers have played quite a few major-conference opponents close this year, they fell short in most of their upset bigs. Still, they managed to snag a pair of nice scalps in wins over Kansas State at home and Xavier on a neutral court. The 49ers had previously been blasted by Xavier in Cincinnati, playing such awful defense that they were able to lose by 23 points while shooting nearly 55% from the field.

Texas clearly has the edge on paper, but Long Beach State has a team that is quick and athletic enough to hang with big-name opponents. The 49ers also have a pair of familiar names that have played at other successful D-I programs, so this is not the clear mismatch that typifies most December home games for Texas. If Texas’ intense defensive focus happens to go on an early Christmas break, things could get interesting tonight.

Players to watch

The most familiar transfer at Coach Monson’s disposal is senior Tyler Lamb (No. 1), the former UCLA Bruin who is taking a ton of shots for the 49ers this season. Lamb is responsible for more than 25% of LBSU’s attempts when he’s on the court, and has made more than 35% of his three-point attempts this year.

Mike Caffey is still working on his levitation skills
(Photo credit: Mike J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Lamb also makes great cuts without the ball, which usually lead to easy layups when point guard Michael Caffey (No. 5) finds him flashing to the rim. Caffey has an outstanding assist rate of 32.7%, a number buoyed by his ability to exploit defensive cracks with dribble penetration and then find wide open teammates.

Defenses also have to pay very close attention to Caffey when he passes the ball off, as Long Beach State does a great job freeing him up on flares out to the perimeter, where he’s absolutely deadly in catch-and-shoot situations. Caffey leads the team with 44 long-range attempts, and has knocked down half of them.

Inside, freshman Temidayo Yussuf (No. 4) and senior David Samuels (No. 11) will have the tough task of matching up with the size of Texas. Both are a very lanky 6’7″, but Yussuf has much more muscle than would be expected of a mid-major freshman. He has no problem banging inside and absorbing contact while getting his shot up, but still needs some work on his post defense. Samuels uses more of a face-up game on offense, but his length helps inside defensively, and also causes some issues for opposing guards when he switches on perimeter screens.

Although he doesn’t average a ton of minutes, senior Eric McKnight (No. 12) is another name that will be familiar to college basketball fans. McKnight started his collegiate career at Iowa State, but became well-known as part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Dunk City run through the NCAA tournament. After earning a degree at FGCU, McKnight took advantage of the graduate transfer rule, and has played in nine of LBSU’s 10 games this season. In those appearances, McKnight has averaged 16.6 minutes, but has been plagued by foul trouble, being whistled for more than six fouls per 40 minutes.

Despite coming off the bench, Branford Jones (No. 14) is playing more than 21 minutes per game, and he is another three-point threat for the 49ers. Jones has made more than 40% of his long-range shots, but also makes significant contributions on the defensive end. His personal steal rate of 2.7% is ranked in the Top 500 nationally, but he manages to play that pesky defense without fouling. He is averaging just 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes, which also ranks in the Top 500.

Keys to the game

The 49ers have struggled to win defensive rebounds
(Photo credit: David Kohl/Associated Press)

1) Clean the offensive glass – While Long Beach State’s defense has been hit-or-miss this season, a recurring problem has been second-chance points. The 49ers have allowed opponents to reclaim 38% of their misses, which is currently one of the 30 worst marks in Division I. They have allowed opponents to crack the 40% plateau in five games, including a hideous 60% allowed at Stephen F. Austin on December 5th. The Longhorns are currently the sixth-best team in the nation when it comes to earning second chances, so they should be able to score a ton of extra points after winning back their own misses tonight.

2) Don’t lose the shooters – Long Beach State only shoots a few more threes than the average team, but they are quite accurate when they do put up a long-range shot. The Longhorns need to be ready to challenge on the perimeter when Caffey and the other 49ers create with dribble penetration, as kickouts are very common for LBSU. Texas also has to be ready to fight through screens off the ball, as Caffey will frequently be using them to try to free himself up for a catch-and-shoot from the arc.

3) Focus on feeding the post – In the first half against Texas State, the Longhorn big men gave up far too easily when fighting for post position. They came out of the locker room with a renewed focus on pounding it inside, and the bigs have played three strong halves of basketball since then. Long Beach State does not have the size to match up with Texas inside, and their own big men are prone to foul trouble. Texas needs to try to get Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner going inside, not only to tag Long Beach State with some fouls, but also to build on the recent success by both players before conference play arrives.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:38PM

#2 Texas Longhorns 107, Long Beach State 49ers 74

After a pair of games in which the Longhorns shot just 41% from the field — their only outings below the 50% mark — the pressure was on to bounce back against the pre-season favorite in the Big West Conference. But with Texas’ two big post presences limited to just 31 combined minutes, it was up to the freshmen and the role players to carry the Longhorns to victory. To say they responded to the call would be a gross understatement.

Six different Longhorns scored in double figures en route to a dominating 107-74 victory over Long Beach State, the highest offensive output for a Rick Barnes team in four years. Texas moved the ball well, used dribble penetration with great success, and played stifling defense that led to 23 turnovers and 33 points off of their opponents’ miscues.

Statistically, this was by far the best showing by the offense all season. Long Beach State wanted to run, and the 84 possessions in the game was the most the Longhorns have seen this year. Texas took advantage, scoring at an insane rate of 1.3 points per possession. Even with the 49ers shooting over 40% and knocking down 19 free throws, there was no possible way to keep up with the offensive explosion on the other end of the court.

What looked good

It’d be easy to say that everything looked good in this game, but that would be a tad oversimplified and a bit disingenuous. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that nearly everything looked good for the Longhorns on Monday night.

Dogus Balbay had another career night
(Photo credit: Laura Skelding/American-Statesman)
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Dogus Balbay made just his second start of the year, and his inclusion in the lineup immediately made things flow. In the first four and a half minutes, the Longhorns had eight field goals, and four of them came off of assists from Balbay. For the night, he finished with a career-high eleven dimes, and managed to play his 24 minutes without a single turnover.

In many of the early games this season, the Texas offense would sometimes grind to a halt without Balbay on the floor. Defenses would switch to zone and double- or triple-team Dexter Pittman immediately as he received the entry pass. When the Texas shooters were off from long-range, the team would often go for minutes without making a field goal. No one seemed to want to dribble-drive, and the ball movement around the perimeter was oftentimes not fast enough to get open looks.

Against Long Beach State, though, it was quickly clear how much Texas had worked on their offense in practices. When teams tried to trap Pittman, he kept the ball high and reacted quickly. Jordan Hamilton, Avery Bradley, and J’Covan Brown all made strong moves to the hoop with the basketball and their stat lines reflected the benefits of that aggressive approach.

On defense, the sudden spike in turnovers was huge for Texas. They forced eight LBSU miscues in less than eight minutes, and the frustration was quickly apparent in the body language of the 49ers. While some skeptics might think that the increase in turnovers was a result of the extra possessions, stat guru Ken Pomeroy would beg to differ. He measures turnovers as a percentage of possessions, and Texas’ 28% rate in last night’s game was head-and-shoulders above their performance in any other game this season.

What needed work

Texas had a tough time shutting down a guard named Casper

The one thing Texas struggled with all night was slowing down the inside-out guard tandem of Casper Ware and Stephan Gilling. The pair combined for 34 points on the night, nearly half of their team’s entire offense. Ware was constantly beating Texas defenders with a lightning-quick first step, and he earned himself seven trips to the charity stripe. When Ware wasn’t scoring at the rack, Gilling was knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer — to the tune of a 6-for-12 night from long range.

While Texas won the game, and quite easily, the defense against these two guards will surely be highlighted by the coaching staff in film session. The Longhorns are going to face a lot of quick guards this year — Sherron Collins of Kansas and Kalin Lucas of Michigan State come to mind — and against a more well-rounded opponent, these kind of defensive lapses could be killer.

The other focal points in this one will seem incredibly repetitive for anyone who has been regularly reading this website. Once again, Texas struggled from the foul line — they were 8-of-15 tonight — and J’Covan Brown compiled a handful of dumb turnovers. The free-throw nightmare is going to be a season-long theme, but I am supremely confident that Barnes and his assistants will settle Brown down as the season goes on. Many of his turnovers last night were a result of his attempt to be overly flashy as Texas coasted with its big lead. In the post-game interviews, Barnes noted that this is simply Brown trying to “make a great pass instead of just a good pass.” If Brown will stop trying to make SportsCenter’s Top Plays, his turnover numbers will certainly improve.

Handing out blue stars

Practically everyone in this game looked excellent. Even though Brown was responsible for six of Texas’ eleven turnovers, he provided thirteen points and five rebounds. As mentioned earlier, Jordan Hamilton was much more willing to drive from the wings, instead of immediately popping a three-pointer. In fact, Hamilton took just 25% of his shots from behind the arc, a far cry from the 60% of his attempts that were coming from long-range prior to this game.

Avery Bradley was finally able to showcase that silky-smooth midrange jumper that Texas fans have been hearing about so often. He added 17 points in the winning effort, and provided two steals and a block on the defensive end. Down low, Gary Johnson was a beast off the bench. He scored fourteen points and grabbed five boards in just 22 minutes on the court, and his ability to get quality looks inside led to a scorching 88% shooting night.

The bench combined for 61 points in this game, a statistic you might likely never see again. Beyond the players listed above, even the role players who see the floor for just a few minutes were able to get into the act. Alexis Wangmene looked good down low, scoring eight points — four of them coming off of beautiful assists from Balbay. His defense also seems to have improved, as he was able to frustrate the opposing big men without picking up his typical rash of fouls.

While Shawn Williams didn’t showcase the three-point stroke that one recruiting expert had trumped up during the off-season, he continued to hustle and play tough inside in his limited minutes. The guy just knows how to get to the ball, and he’s going to be a feisty rebounder when Barnes isn’t getting what he needs from the front line.

The big finish

On a personal note, last night’s game was probably the closest I’ve come to ending the streak of consecutive games attended. Something nasty decided it wanted to infect me on Saturday, and with finals and papers due for most students, there was nobody else going to guilt me into attending. I managed to make it to the game in time but likely looked like a serial killer, slouched in a seat by myself with a hooded sweatshirt pulled tight around my head. Fortunately, the Longhorns looked great so their performance didn’t make me feel any worse.

Next up for Texas is an I-35 battle against Texas State, a team that is predicted to finish at the bottom of the Southland Conference this year. It won’t be a tough test for the Longhorns, but provides another opportunity to tweak the little things they’ll need to work on before the big 1-2 punch of North Carolina and Michigan State. Game preview will be up on Saturday morning, and in the meantime I’ll be working on photo uploads and Notes from the Road.