Dan Monson isn't shy about the motivation behind his Long Beach State program's aggressive non-conference scheduling this season.
"I wanted us to get in the conversation for an (NCAA tournament) at-large bid with it — That was our No. 1 goal," he said Sunday over the phone from Honolulu.
The 49ers' gauntlet of a pre-Big West schedule came to a close in the title game of the Diamond Head Classic, where they were dropped by Kansas State, 77-60.
With a win, they could have further solidified that standing as a legitimate at-large contender. Without it, you could argue that Monson's club should still be in that conversation here in late December.
Quick recap …
The 49ers started off the fireworks with a shocking 86-76 win at No. 9 Pitt on Nov. 16. They would lose five of their next seven, but four of those came at San Diego State, at Louisville, at Kansas and at North Carolina — to four likely NCAA tournament teams. Peppered in between were a few gimme home wins over Idaho, Boise State, BYU-Hawaii and Eastern New Mexico. They started this weekend in Hawaii with a 68-58 victory over shorthanded-yet-14th-ranked Xavier, then blitzed through Auburn en route to Sunday's championship game.
They now take a much-deserved week off before opening Big West play at UC Irvine on Jan. 2.
The 49ers only played four of their 13 non-conference games at home, but came away from the brutal stretch with plenty to show for it.
Their schedule strength will likely take some hits once the Big West season gets rolling, but right now, they rank first in the nation in that category. The same will likely go for their RPI, but it currently has a lofty perch in the Top 10 nationally. And not only will the Pitt and Xavier triumphs hold up as quality wins, but they'll likely continue to get credit for also playing Kansas and North Carolina back-to-back on their home floors within single-digits.
Plus, obviously, there's the fact that they've developed leather skin from taking on powerhouse after powerhouse, building a library of lessons that should come in handy moving forward as they regularly assume the role of Goliath rather than David.
"The thing with it is we have a veteran group, and I didn't think our group would ever lose confidence — I wasn't ever worried about that," Monson said. "We went 14-2 in league last year, so it wasn't like we had a lot of takers (while scheduling) other than the higher-end people who wanted us for their RPI, too. We kind of took who we could get and who would give us the opportunities.
"The at-large bid, we won't talk about that again until March. Hopefully, it won't even be an issue if we continue to get better. As disappointed and frustrated as we are with how we played today, this week helped us."
The chances are pretty good that the at-large subject could be moot down the road.
Many would agree that LBSU is the toast of the Big West this season, and it could easily end up matching last season's 14-win total in a conference that is currently has an RPI of 20. They are anchored by a senior trio who remembers the pain of last year's upset loss to UC Santa Barbara in the Big West title game all to well in guards Casper Ware and Larry Anderson and forward T.J. Robinson.
Even when those three are gone and Monson faces seasons in which his teams won't be as ready for as many challenges early on, he said he'll continue to schedule aggressively.
After all, he knows first-hand that this is one way for programs go from obscurity to national prominence, having helped Gonzaga move from Cinderella story to perennial power in the late 1990s.
"Did we get what we wanted out of it? No," Monson said looking back on the last two months. "What we wanted was to go 13-0. But I think we put ourselves on the map. We had eight nationally-televised games out of 13. I think to go to that next step, you've got to put yourself out there.
"We did the things (the selection committee) asks you to do, and we had some success at it."
Barring a collapse in Big West play, that should be enough to, at the very least, keep Long Beach in the at-large conversation until the finish line.
Follow Ryan Greene on Twitter: @ryanmgreene