The No. 5 seeded New Mexico Lobos drew a tough matchup in Big West champions and No. 12 seed Long Beach St. 49ers. Long Beach State will not be intimated by New Mexico since they played a tough non-conference slate where they played the San Diego St. Aztecs, Pittsburgh Panthers, Louisville Cardinals, Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels, Kansas St. Wildcats, Auburn Tigers and Xavier Musketeers. Out of those games the only victory came against Pitt which was on the road.
Long Beach State ran through conference play easily and had only one setback which was a 77-74 loss to the Cal. St.-Fullerton Titans in the Big West season finale. One thing that makes Long Beach State dangerous is that they have been together as a team for the past few years so they have cohesiveness. One thing about Long Beach State and New Mexico is that when these teams are playing at their best they could beat a lot of teams.
Long Beach State is not a team that is amazing at any particular area, but they are a well-rounded team, which can be said for New Mexico as well. New Mexico is a top-30 rebounding team and No. 10 in the nation in assists compared to Long Beach State is hovering around a 100 ranking in those categories. However, the difference is negligible when looking at pure numbers.
One area that Long Beach State can take advantage is on three-point shooting. New Mexico gives up a lot three-point shots and Long Beach State shoots a solid 36 percent from beyond the arc, and Larry Anderson could be the key since he shoots 41 percent from three-point range. However, Anderson is questionable with a knee injury, and if he is out then Long Beach State's chances of winning drastically decrease.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Casper Ware was named the 2012 Big West player of the year and was named to his second first team All-Big West selection. Ware led Long Beach in scoring by averaging 17 points per game, and has experience in the Drew League where he played against many current NBA players where he held his own.
Larry Anderson is a three-time first team All-Big West player, and he is a sharp shooter from three-point range. Anderson also is a defensive presence that averages just under two steals per game.
T.J. Robinson also was named to the Big West first team for the second straight year. Robinson is very similar to New Mexico's Drew Gordon and averages 12 points and 10 rebounds per game, plus he shoots 53 percent from the field.
Long Beach State also has Eugene Phelps and James Ennis who were named to the all-conference, plus they round out the scoring for Long Beach State as both average just over nine points per game.
The offense for Long Beach State spreads out the scoring, so New Mexico can not just concentrate on one certain player. Well, actually slowing down Ware would be a good idea since he averages 17 points per game, but not let Phelps, Ennis or Robinson have a big scoring game.
Since there is almost always a 12-seed that beats a 5-seed there are a lot of people that see this as one of those games.
KenPom gives Long Beach State at 32 percent chance of defeating new Mexico which is second best among the 12 seeds.
ESPN Insider is giving Long Beach State a 42 percent chance of winning:
The top upset on our board isn't as obvious as you'd think. The Lobos have been a hot pick according to tempo-free stats all season; they're actually underseeded if you go by kenpom.com's rankings. But their few weaknesses happen to be exactly the types that get a Giant sent home early. On offense, they don't score enough from 2-point range, and on D, they allow a ton of 3-point attempts. Although they've held shooters to 30.9 percent from downtown, it's the attempts that are alarming.
And Long Beach State can take advantage. The 49ers don't stand out in any single area, but they're above average in almost every aspect. They're good offensive rebounders, rank in the top 100 in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage (resulting in a healthy possession advantage) and shoot it well from 3-point range (35.8 percent).
I think coaching is going to be the difference between these two teams, and that edge goes to New Mexico with Steve Alford who has coached in five NCAA tournaments compared to only one for Dan Monson.