Arizona Wildcats vs. Long Beach St. 49ers Pick & Prediction MARCH 21st 2024

An intriguing coaching matchup is at the center of Thursday’s first-round clash between No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 15 Long Beach State in the NCAA Tournament West Region in Salt Lake City.

It’s Tommy Lloyd and the Wildcats (25-8) against Dan Monson and the Beach (21-14). Monson first believed in Lloyd’s potential as a basketball coach back in the late 1990s at Gonzaga, and now Lloyd runs one of the premier college basketball programs in the nation.

Monson, meanwhile, has been told he will not return as head coach next season and the two sides agreed to a mutual separation. That happened before the Big West tournament after the Beach had lost five straight games. Long Beach State then won three straight in Henderson, Nev., to win the tournament unexpectedly.

So Monson, 62, remains at the helm until Long Beach State’s season is over.

“To their credit, they let me coach,” Monson, whose contract expires after this season, told the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of schools wouldn’t let you coach because something like this could happen. But obviously they didn’t think we had a chance to do that and that’s a motivation I used with our kids. … ‘They didn’t just quit on me, they quit on you guys, they don’t feel like you can win this tournament,’ you know? And it’s certainly no hard feelings because the most gratifying thing is to see how my players reacted.”

Marcus Tsohonis leads Long Beach State in scoring at 17.8 points a game.

The Wildcats are coming off a Pac-12 tournament semifinal loss to eventual champion Oregon on March 15. Arizona won the conference regular season title and blew out Southern California in the quarterfinals before bowing out the next day.

That cost them a possible No. 1 seeding, but this is the sixth time in the last 10 NCAA tournaments that the Wildcats have earned a top-two seed.

Arizona has a good history with NCAA tourney games in Salt Lake City. The Wildcats are 9-2 in 11 games in the Utah capital.

“No matter who you play in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be a team that’s playing well and is very deserving,” Lloyd said. “So Monson and I go back a long way, but we’re both professionals so we’re going to prepare our teams the best we can this week and look forward to going out there and competing.”

Lloyd said he and Monson are family friends and that Monson is “one of the funnest people that I know.”

Arizona is led by Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love, who averages 18.1 points per game. The Wildcats also feature big man Oumar Ballo, who averages 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and has made 64.9 percent of his shots this season.

Arizona has lost as a No. 2 seed to a 15 seed twice in program history, including last year to Princeton and in 1993 to Santa Clara.

–Field Level Media

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