Dec 26, 2011, 11:28 AM EST
Long Beach State is done punishing itself.
The 49ers played one of the nation’s toughest schedules – only Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State had it rougher, mostly ‘cause they need the money – and they ended up 7-6 at the end of it.
Facing the likes of Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, Pitt, Xavier, Kansas State and San Diego State resulted in all but one of their losses, which is probably the same fate that would await most non-BCS schools playing a similar slate. Combined records of those seven teams: 73-13.
Now LBSU will take a week off before Big West play begins. Only question is, will the brutal slate pay off?
It did last season. Kinda. T
he 49ers played the fourth-toughest non-conference schedule, then ripped through league play with a 14-2 record and 10 double-digits victories. Yet when the conference tournament rolled around, they couldn’t get past Santa Barbara, a team with two elite talents in Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally but an 8-8 conference mark.
(Perhaps the Gauchos, who swept the league titles the previous season, were simply saving themselves for the conference tournament. Their defense certainly played like it. Anyway.)
At any rate, this is the third season in a row coach Dan Monson has set up a similar non-conference schedule for Long Beach. (2010 was another conference tourney final to Santa Barbara after an 8-8 league record.)
The trying slate hasn’t hurt the 49ers, but it hasn’t helped, either. They’ve fallen short of winning the automatic bid for the past two NCAA tournaments, and their résumé hasn’t been deemed good enough to garner an at-large bid. Perhaps this season they’ll pull off the double. Or not.
But the real benefit? The schedule’s made Monson’s team better.
The 49ers start four seniors in Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps, three of whom are four-year starters. Phelps is a three-year starter. They’ve improved drastically by being tested so often and so sternly the last few years. That’s why unlike previous seasons, they’ve actually pulled off a few wins (and had just one blowout loss) against the tough slate.
The 49ers should win the Big West. And they should take the automatic bid, too.
And when March rolls around, this isn’t a team BCS schools will want to see in the bracket.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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