CSUN begins their 2014-2015 season against 15 non-conference opponents.
Some opponents hope for NCAA Tournament glory, some hope for a bid and others just hope.
The Matadors will use the early tests to see where they stand.
“I don’t compare us to the Big West. I compare us to the rest of the country,” said Reggie Theus, head coach. “As a person, I’ve never compared myself to my equals, it was always someone above me.”
Three early road contests will give the Matadors the opportunity to do just that.
At San Diego State – Nov. 14
The Matadors open against the No. 16 San Diego State Aztecs.
The Aztecs enter the season without last year’s leaders in assists, free throws, rebounding, scoring, steals and three-pointers.
To make up for the losses, head coach Steve Fisher will look for promising junior forward Winston Shepard to emerge as the type of versatile, game-changing leader that his talent forecasts.
Last year’s squad was led to Sweet 16 under the steady leadership of guard Xavier Thames, and with an alarming near 1:1 assist (74) to turnover (80) Shepard starts the season in stark contrast to the team’s former lead guard.
Thames was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets this spring, and Fischer has yet to settle on a replacement.
Junior forward Dwayne Polee II is a Westchester High School alum.
The former Los Angeles City Section Player of the Year and reigning Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year are regarded as one the Aztecs’ best athletes since Kawhi Leonard, 2014 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
Under Fisher, the Aztecs have traditionally showcased a sound defense, while relying on offensives, rebounds, fast breaks and hustle plays to make-up for an offense prone to stall in the half-court.
The Matadors will look to exploit the Aztecs’ question marks and out execute their frenetic opponents in the half court.
“They pressure the ball, they score off their turnovers and they grab offensive rebounds,” said Theus. “If we rebound and don’t turn it over, we’ll have a chance to be in the game.”
At Oregon – Dec. 17
Oregon is ending its most tumultuous offseason in program history.
Rape accusations led to the dismissal of three players in May.
Two have since transferred, while the other two were arrested for shoplifting and another pair of recruits were unable to enroll in the university.
Despite returning only four players, the Ducks ranked eighth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.
The Ducks were buoyed by the return of senior point guard, Joseph Young, after forgoing the 2014 NBA Draft. The sharpshooting guard led the Ducks with 18.6 points per game and shot 41 percent from deep, though barely averaged more assists (1.9) than turnovers (1.1).
Projected starting center junior Michael Chandler has yet to practice after a July knee scope. Without Chandler, neither of the projected front court starters stand above 6-foot-7.
“Their backcourt is quicker. Our size is about the same,” Theus said. “The thing about our team is that we’re not going to run into teams that are bigger than us now.”
At Louisville – Dec. 23
In familiar surroundings, Theus will give his young team its greatest test.
“The thing about college that I like, is that you can really muck the game up. You can do things as a coach that make the game really ugly,” said Theus. “I’m issuing baseball bats.”
Theus coached at Louisville under head coach Rick Pitino from 2003-2005.
“I know Pitino’s style,” Theus said. “I know what kind of players he has. You’re walking into a brawl. You’re walking into an alley fight. You have to be prepared.”
Despite losing All-American Russ Smith, center Stephan Van Treese and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Luke Hancock, Louisville sets out with an experienced starting five led by sophomore guard, Terry Rozier.
As a reserve playing just under 19 minutes a game, Rozier averaged 7 points on 40 percent and turned the ball over less than once a game.
Louisville’s strength is in the back court, and the presence of two capable guards will test the Matadors tendency to hide junior point guard Landon Drew on defense.
Conversely, prolific Matador junior guard Stephan Hicks at six-foot-seven-inches will have a decided height advantage over either Cardinal guard, Rozier, the taller of the two, is six-foot-one-inches.
Beyond recognition and respect, the Matadors hope success out of the conference increases the likelihood that future Big West Conference team makes the NCAA Tournament.
“If you don’t win the [Big West] conference tournament you don’t get into the [NCAA] tournament. You want to have at least a two-bid conference. One of the ways to do that is to raise the profile of the conference by playing bigger schools,” Theus said.