By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., November 21, 2016 – If CSUN wants to make an early impact on the college basketball season, they have the perfect opportunity this week in the Wooden Legacy tournament that opens Thursday.
All the Matadors have to do under Coach Reggie Theus is take on one tall challenge when they face Texas A&M in the opener in the event honoring legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who guided his teams to 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year span.
Once that kick-starts the event, New Mexico’s promising campaign will be tested by Virginia Tech, which is venturing outside of Blacksburg’s Cassell Coliseum for the first time in the 2016-2017 season.
CSUN (2-2) can make considerable strides in a program that has forever been overshadowed in Los Angeles. This week’s challenge is with the Aggies, who had as fine a season as the school has ever enjoyed in 2015-2016 when they went 28-9, tied for the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and won two NCAA Tournament games before falling to Final Four participant Oklahoma.
Oh, by the way, the Aggies lost to the Sooners just down the road in Anaheim in that West Regional semifinal. But A&M (2-1) has reloaded with a team that is as tall as it is talented, even if Coach Billy Kennedy has to replace four starters.
The Aggies are anchored in the middle by 6-foot-10 270-pound Tyler Davis, a returning All-SEC first team performer. Around him are six players 6-8 or taller among the first seven players in the rotation. That guard-oriented team will likely playing more zone defense with wingspans denying passing lanes.
“We’ve been a man team and a guard-oriented team, but this year we’re going to have to be a grinding team,” Kennedy said. “We’re totally different, and that’s a good thing, because that’s who we have.”
CSUN’s optimism overrides the fact that the Matadors finished in a tie for sixth place last season in the Big West Conference. In the preseason media poll, they were picked to finish third in the conference this time around. Not only is that the highest CSUN has been picked in the conference since 2009, but the squad picked up two first-place votes as well.
New Mexico, which is off to a 3-0 start, has two All-MWC first team performers returning for the first time. Elijah Brown, a 6-4 junior guard, was selected as the preseason conference Player of the Year and he’s joined by 6-8 senior forward Tim Williams, who has come out of the gate averaging 23 points, 8.7 rebounds and is shooting 66.7 percent from the field.
Four Virginia Tech players are averaging in double figures, led by 6-7 forward Zach LeDay, who is averaging 18.3 points and 7.9 rebounds. He’s made 20 of 32 shots from the field in three games.