Monday, November 28, 2011

Louisville 79, Long Beach State 66

[recap] [box score]

So much of this game was decided by fouls.

In the first half, T.J. Robinson picked up a quick two. The 49ers are not deep, and when one of their four perimeter/wing players goes out, their first sub off the bench is freshman point guard Mike Caffey. Caffey has had an okay first few college games as a role player, but he was not ready for the speed and pressure of the Louisville defense. His entrance into the lineup also requires that Casper Ware -- the team's best scorer, ballhandler, and playmaker -- play off the ball more, because Caffey can't.

Caffey's struggles and the ball being out of Ware's hands allowed Louisville to build a double-digit first-half lead, even as their point guard, Peyton Siva, sat on the bench with two fouls. The Cardinals are a lot deeper than the 49ers and can handle foul trouble to one of their players, even with some of the injuries they've suffered.

In the second half, though, Louisville found itself with foul problems of its own.

With the 'ville up comfortably with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game, Gorgui Dieng picked up his fourth foul. Kyle Kuric got his fourth a minute and a half later, and Siva got hit with his fourth two minutes after that. And thus, even with James Ennis on the bench with his fourth, Long Beach State had life. Within minutes, they cut the lead to five.

In the end, Louisville prevailed. LBSU missed a couple decent looks, and the Cardinals made the shots they needed to. But the game was a microcosm of why it's so difficult for mid-major programs to consistently beat the power conference schools. Long Beach State is a very good team (they won at Pittsburgh, remember) with a lot of experience, but they can't afford an injury or a player getting into foul trouble the way a team like Louisville can. That can be mitigated some by building a program that is successful year after year, allowing the coach to bring in a stable of blue-chip recruits. And Dan Monson, the former Gonzaga architect who is now the 49ers coach, is a good guy for that job. But for now, for this season, while LBSU has the talent to beat a lot of the very good teams on that brutal schedule they're playing, their margin of error is razor-thin.


One note on the way Long Beach State broke the Louisville press (at least when they were successful doing so): Most teams have their guards bring the ball up on the press break, with a big man flashing back across mid-court and posting up in the middle to get the ball. The 49ers used Ware in that big man role, and unlike a power forward or center, his speed and ballhandling ability allowed him to attack the remaining pressure, rather than having to turn and look for someone to pass the ball to. That saved second, combined with Ware's excellent passing ability, led to a number of easy layups that they wouldn't have otherwise gotten.

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