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Long Beach State’s basketball hopes are riding on four seniors

Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson knows how much Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps have accomplished. They have combined to start 303 of the 382 games in which they have appeared for the 49ers, scoring 4,384 points.

But Monson is also very much aware of what his four senior starters haven’t accomplished: They have never made an NCAA tournament appearance.

The 49ers lost to UC Santa Barbara in the Big West Conference tournament championship game the last two years, one game away from gaining an automatic bid to March Madness.

The loss was particularly painful a year ago, when Long Beach was 14-2 in the Big West regular season, two games better than anyone else in the conference.

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“We’ve got four kids in the fourth year that have never been in the NCAA tournament,” Monson said. “We’ve got to get Santa Barbara out of our way.”

Ware is the star of that senior class.

The 5-foot-10 guard has been put on the Wooden Award preseason watch list, the first 49er so honored. Last season, he averaged 17.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals in becoming an honorable mention All-American and the first Big West player selected player of the year and defensive player of the year in the conference.

Knowing he has so many talented veterans, Monson scheduled aggressively in the hopes of sneaking off with an upset or two that might earn the 49ers an NCAA tournament at-large bid if they falter again in the conference tournament.

Pittsburgh and San Diego State, regional semifinalists last season, are on the schedule along with North Carolina, Louisville and Kansas.

Long Beach also will play Xavier in the opening game of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, where the 49ers might also play Kansas or Clemson.

The Southland’s other Division I men’s basketball teams at a glance:

Cal State Fullerton

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2010-11 record: 11-20 overall, 7-9 in Big West

Top returners: Orane Chin, F, 6-7, Sr., 12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg; Andre Hardy, F, 6-6, Sr., 10.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg; Perry Webster, G, 6-1, Sr., 7.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg.

Top newcomers: Omondi Amoke, F, 6-7, Sr., transfer from California; D.J. Seeley, G, 6-4, Jr., transfer from California; Kwame Vaughn, G, 6-3, Jr., transfer from San Francisco.

Outlook: The Titans bit the bullet last season knowing that much of their top talent were redshirts in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. Amoke, Seeley and Vaughn were the three top scorers in a recent intrasquad scrimmage.

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Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

2010-11 record: 15-15 overall, 10-6 in Big West

Top returners: David Hanson, F, 6-5, Sr., 15.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg; Will Donahue, C, 6-8, Sr., 8.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg; Maliik Love, G, 6-2, So., 5.7 ppg.

Top newcomers: Will Taylor, F, 6-7, Sr., academic redshirt; Amaurys Fermin, G, 6-3, Sr., injury redshirt; Chris Eversley, F, 6-6, So., transfer from Rice.

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Outlook: The Mustangs had one of the nation’s top defenses last season, giving up an average of 58.9 points per game and holding four opponents to 41 points or fewer.

Cal State Northridge

2010-11 record: 14-18 overall, 9-7 in Big West

Top returners: Vinnie McGhee, G, 5-10, Sr., 6.7 ppg; Josh Greene, G, 6-0, So., 6.5 ppg.

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Top newcomers: Allan Guei, G, 5-9, Fr., from Compton High.

Outlook: The Matadors, who are ineligible for postseason play because the program didn’t meet minimum NCAA academic requirements, have only one senior in the playing rotation.

UC Irvine

2010-11 record: 13-19 overall, 6-10 in Big West

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Top returners: Michael Wilder, F, 6-2, Jr., 9.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg; Daman Starring, G-F, 6-3, Jr., 7.4 ppg.

Top newcomers: Adam Folker, F-C, 6-9, Jr., injury redshirt; Aaron Wright, G, 6-3, Fr., from Cerritos High; Will Davis II, F-C, 6-8, Fr., from Sacramento High.

Outlook: The Anteaters claim to have the youngest roster in Division I basketball with eight freshmen, no seniors and an average of 0.71 years of college experience per player.

UC Riverside

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2010-11 record: 12-19 overall, 6-10 in Big West

Top returners: Phil Martin, G, 6-4, Sr., 14.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg; Kevin Bradshaw, F, 6-8, Sr., 7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg; Kareem Nitoto, G, 6-1, Sr., 9.8 ppg, 3.6 apg; BJ Shearry, F, 6-7, Sr., 6.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg.

Top newcomers: Robert Smith, G, 6-1, Jr., transfer from Santa Clara.

Outlook: The Highlanders have a modest basketball history, having advanced as far as the Big West tournament semifinals for the first time last season. Riverside also has four senior starters returning and six of its top seven scorers.

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UC Santa Barbara

2010-11 record: 18-14 overall, 8-8 in Big West

Top returners: Orlando Johnson, G, 6-5, Sr., 21.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg; James Nunnally, G, 6-7, Sr., 16.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg; Jaime Serna, F, 6-9, Sr., 7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg.

Top newcomers: Nate Garth, G, 6-2, Jr., transfer from New Mexico; Keegan Hornbuckle, F, 6-7, So., transfer from Colorado.

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Outlook: The Gauchos have been to the last two NCAA tournaments because of consecutive Big West tournament championships. Johnson has been the league player of the year and tournament most valuable player. He and Nunnally are a formidable 1-2 punch.

Loyola Marymount

2010-11 record: 11-21 overall, 2-12 in West Coast Conference

Top returners: Drew Viney, F, 6-8, Sr., 17.2 ppg; Ashley Hamilton, F, 6-7, Jr., 9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg; Anthony Ireland, G, 5-10, So., 9.1 ppg, 3.0 apg.

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Top newcomers: C.J. Blackwell, F, 6-5, Fr., from Woodlands Hills Taft High.

Outlook: Coach Max Good hopes Viney, who suffered a foot injury in the preseason, can stay healthy and provide star power to a roster with 11 returning lettermen.

Pepperdine

2010-11 record: 12-21 overall, 5-9 in West Coast Conference

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Top returners: Taylor Darby, F, 6-8, Sr., 7.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg; Joshua Lowery, G, 6-3, Jr., 5.6 ppg, 2.8 apg.

Top newcomers: Ramon Eaton, F-C, 6-8, So., from Sacramento Sheldon High; Nikolas Skouen, G, 6-4, So., transfer from Pratt (Ka.) Junior College.

Outlook: New coach Marty Wilson played at Pepperdine and had been associate head coach the last three seasons under Tom Asbury. He inherits an experienced roster, but one that lost Keion Bell (transferred to Missouri) and Lorne Jackson (injury), its top two scorers with remaining eligibility.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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mike.hiserman@latimes.com


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