Matadors visit 16th-ranked Aztecs to tip off season

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:29 PM San Diego, CA ( - As part of the Maui Invitational on the mainland, the 16th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs open up their 2014-15 schedule by hosting the Cal State Northridge Matadors.

A favorite among many experts to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament this season, the Aztecs are entering their 16th campaign under head coach Steve Fisher. The squad has made it to the Big Dance in each of the last five years, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2014 after winning the Mountain West Conference regular season title outright. The squad ended up an impressive 16-2 in league action and 31-5 overall.

As for the Matadors, members of the Big West Conference, they find themselves in the unenviable position of facing both SDSU and second-ranked Arizona in the first two games of the season, both on the road, in a span of barely 48 hours. Reggie Theus, now in his second year as head coach, took his first group of players to their first appearance in the Big West Tournament Championship since 2009, but still CSUN finished with a record of just 17-18 overall.

Finishing fifth in the Big West standings, the Matadors won seven of their 16 conference bouts in 2013-14, and while they were an impressive 11-3 overall at home, their record in true road games was a feeble 2-14.

Considering these two teams hail from the same state, it should come as no surprise that this is actually the 25th all-time meeting between them, with the Aztecs having won 18 of the previous encounters. San Diego State has won three straight over CSUN, including a 72-56 victory in San Diego in the most recent meeting six years ago.

The Aztecs enter this game with several lengthy streaks to uphold, having won 41 straight meetings against opponents from the Golden State, 14 consecutive home games, and 48 straight versus unranked, non-conference foes.

The Matadors have a mixed bag when it comes to their current roster as it is comprised of a several experienced players, but far more newcomers than coach Theus would like. Unfortunately, turnover is an issue for all college teams, so now is the time for CSUN to deal with part of that transition.

Senior Stephan Hicks is one of the more recognizable contributors ready to take the floor for the Matadors after averaging 17.2 ppg, second most on the team and sixth-highest in the Big West in 2013-14 when he was named not only All-Big West Honorable Mention, but also to the 2014 Big West Conference All- Tournament Team.

Stephen Maxwell also brings plenty of game experience with him as he was named 2013-14 All-Big West First Team as well as to the 2014 Big West Conference All-Tournament Team. Maxwell was responsible for both a team-best 17.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg, the latter ranking him second in the league. Joining Maxwell in the paint will again be Tre Hale-Edmerson who may not have been a huge offensive threat, but at least he was intimidating enough to scare off some opposing offenses.

Coach Fisher has lost the quarterback of his team in Xavier Thames (17.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.2 apg), not to mention a devastating rebounder in Josh Davis (10.1 rpg), but there are still three starters that San Diego State can again build around as it shoots for postseason glory once more.

Junior forward Winston Shepard is the top returning scorer who put up 11.6 ppg and while that may sound disappointing, it needs to be pointed out that the Aztecs were again one of the top defensive programs in all of Division I as they limited opponents to only 57.0 ppg (second only to Virginia, 55.7 ppg). Not having a lot of scoring punch is not the main concern for Fisher and the Aztecs, rather it is how well they defend opponents at the other end of the floor.

When it came to defending 3-point shooters, SDSU was one of the best in the business, limiting snipers to only 28.8 percent (fifth nationally). In terms of overall field goal defense, the Aztecs ranked eighth as they allowed just 38.6 percent success. As long as defense is the main focus, a player like Dwayne Polee II (the 2013-14 MWC Sixth Man of the Year) will be able to give a little more attention to his own offense. The same goes for Skylar Spencer (4.8 ppg), Matt Shrigley (5.2 ppg) and Aqeel Quinn (5.0 ppg).

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