Shaka Smart’s second season in Austin is only eight games young, but the 2016-17 campaign is now amid one of the worst starts in recent program history. In fact, the Texas Longhorns current 4-4 record marks the school’s worst eight-game start since the 1998-99 season – a 2-6 debut to the Rick Barnes era. Fortunately for the ‘Horns, they return home for a Saturday afternoon meeting with a team that’s suffering its own share of on-court struggles – the 2-9 Long Beach State 49ers.
Though it would be a stretch to place LBSU in the same category as the four potential NCAA Tournament bound teams that Texas has fallen to this season, a tremendously difficult schedule can be partially to blame for the abysmal record. Four of the 49ers nine losses have come against ranked competition, including three teams currently listed among the top seven in No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Kansas and No. 7 North Carolina.
To spark its first winning streak of the season against Texas, head coach Dan Monson’s group will need to do what it does best at the highest level – connect from the perimeter. An undersized team headlined by its perimeter talent, the 49ers feature five players that have made at least 10 threes this season, led by Noah Blackwell’s 15 connections. Only Tevin Mack has made 10-plus threes this season for the ‘Horns with 17 of his own.
Gabe Levin, Evan Payne and Justin Bibbins lead the way for LBSU’s small-ball lineup as the 49ers three leading scorings, collectively contributing an average of 34.1 points each time out. Levin and Payne, a pair of Loyola Marymount transfers, are the 49ers only double-digit scorers, averaging 12.5 and 12.1 points, respectively.
For Texas, the advantage will come in the form of physically overwhelming Long Beach State and utilizing its interior size, which may not be a strength against many teams, but it will be against the 49ers.
6’9, 200-pound redshirt freshman LaRond Williams and and 6’8, 255-pound Mason Riggins represent the only credible size LBSU possesses, but the two play just 9.1 and 10.5 minutes per game, respectively. If Texas’ Fro Bros – the 6’11 Jarrett Allen and 6’10 James Banks – and the 6’8, 275-pound Shaquille Cleare can stay out of foul trouble, it should prove to be a difference maker in getting the ‘Horns back above .500 on the season.
Long Beach State is far from the stiffest completion Texas will have seen thus far, but for a team that’s slogged to a 4-4 record with conference play still weeks away, it’s an important meeting for the ‘Horns to prevent sliding into a downward spiral by losing five of its last six games.