|Monson isn't afraid to play anyone, and that's helped his team big in recent years. (US Presswire)|
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Dan Monson has done it again.
Long Beach State's coach has put together another eye-popping non-conference slate, one that will likely have the 49ers RPI at numero uno in the nation at the turn of the New Year.
"It's kind of our niche," said Monson, who said the 49ers have been number one in the country in the RPI for three straight years in early January.
It made sense with the previous group. Monson was trying to establish something since taking over at Long Beach and when he recruited the group of Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps, it was somewhat logical to toss together a schedule that would gain national attention -- and also prepare them for Big West play.
But this new group? No one has any clue what to expect -- including Monson.
It's why, though, you've got to respect and love his philosophy. Go out and play people. The slate this year includes a home game with North Carolina (we'll touch more on this later) and road contests at UCLA, Arizona, Syracuse, USC and Ohio State.
Monson has lost four cornerstone guys in Ware, Anderson, Robinson and Phelps. These guys were 29-3 the past two seasons in league play and went to the NCAA tournament a year ago. He still has holdovers Mike Caffey and James Ennis, both of which he considers upper-echelon players in the league. But he's added a trio of transfers -- including two in Keala King (Arizona State) and Dan Jennings (West Virginia) that came with significant baggage.
"Everyone's got a different way," Monson said. "For me, this is an easier way to coach. These kids need it. It humbles them -- and also helps us with recruiting. We don't have these transfers if we don't have this schedule."
"But those other kids started with us as freshmen," he added. "They won more games every year they were here. With all these new guys, it's a gamble."
King and Jennings were both essentially kicked out of their respective schools while Tony Freeland came back home from DePaul. A year ago, Long Beach knocked off Pittsburgh, Xavier and Auburn. Monson still isn't certain whether he'll have King, who averaged 13.7 points before departing Tempe, and Freeland until after the first semester. Both are petitioning the NCAA for a waiver to be able to play at the start of the season.
That means Monson may not have all his bullets when Roy Williams and the Tar Heels come to the Pyramid on Nov. 16, a game that the UNC coach could have easily bailed on. The game was set up for the Wear Twins -- Travis and David -- and Larry Drew II. A homecoming for the California natives. The only problem is all three players bolted prematurely and now play at UCLA.
"He could have easily said he didn't want to play it anymore," Monson said. "But I really respect him for that. We went there twice and he honored the commitment he made."
Even without King and Freeland, this team is dangerous. Jennings is talented, Caffey may be the best point guard in the league and Ennis has drawn rave reviews from Monson and all the NBA scouts that came through last season.
"He changed four or five games because of his defense," Monson said "He's so long and athletic. He's a unique player. You don't find a lot of guys at 6-foot-7 who can play off-guard. He has great vision, can shoot and can defend."
Monson is clear: Ennis still needs to work on his perimeter shot and his on-ball defense, but he feels as though -- as long as he's more assertive -- he could turn into a star this season.
If he does, with another brutal schedule, the country will certainly hear about it.