Long Beach State entered the Diamond Head Classic with experience against premier teams like Pittsburgh, Louisville, Kansas and UNC.
However, while those tough tests will undoubtedly make the 49ers stronger for Big West play, one win—over Pitt—could only bolster their resume so much, especially considering Casper Ware and Co. couldn't beat Montana or San Diego State.
Dan Monson's squad finally capitalized on another resume-builder by beating the depleted Xavier Musketeers in the tournament's opening round.
As punishment for their participation in the Crosstown Shootout brawl, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells didn't dress Thursday night. So, yes, Long Beach caught a break as Xavier had to fill a void of about 27 points per game.
However, that void would have made a loss to the shorthanded Musketeers all the more devastating for the 49ers' at-large hopes. In other words, unlike their 84-78 loss to UNC, a narrow loss to Xavier wouldn't have settled positively with the selection committee.
A down-to-the-wire defeat was never really a possibility, though—at least not after Long Beach erased Xavier's early 9-6 lead. The 49ers took an eight-point lead into the locker room and led by as much as 18 in the second half, ultimately winning by 10.
Long Beach entered the game at No. 27 in RPI, so beating No. 21 Xavier should enhance the 49ers' rating. With a potential Diamond Head Classic championship tilt with Kansas State, Long Beach could very well have a top 25 RPI at the start of Big West play.
The 49ers have the talent, confidence and experience to steamroll their conference foes, but they'll be challenged by two-time defending champ UC Santa Barbara.
Of course, the 49ers still have plenty of work to do—they need to dominate their conference—and of course, they would prefer to secure a NCAA tournament berth via the Big West's automatic bid.
But if the Gauchos, or some unforeseen opponent, knock off the 49ers in the Big West championship, Thursday's win over Xavier coupled with the upset of Pittsburgh could sufficiently preserve Long Beach's at-large status.
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