In Hollywood, we hear pretentious actors say that it’s an honor just to be nominated for an award. In the case of the Cal State Northridge Matadors basketball team, with a record of 17-13, it is truly an honor as well as a major accomplishment being invited to the Big Dance, and it deserves respect and congratulations.
But let’s be honest; Cal State Northridge was not on anyone’s Final Four list. If it weren’t for winning the Big West Conference, they wouldn’t have even been on anyone’s bracket at all.
The Matadors were not expected to win their conference tournament after going through the season they experienced. Between head coach Bobby Braswell almost being killed in a car accident last summer, having multiple players arrested (including Braswell's son) and removed from the team, starting the season 1-7 after a brutal road trip, and a season ending injury to a key player, it would be hard to imagine a team going through more adversity. And now, as their reward, they get the unenviable task of being the first to play the Memphis Tigers.
The Matadors are led by reserve point guard Rodrigue Mels, who was named MVP of the Big West tournament. Like Memphis’ Tyreke Evans, Mels had never played point guard before having to step up this year to replace All-Big West point guard Josh Jenkins who was injured a month ago in a car accident.
Mels’ supporting cast includes a rebounding machine in 6’ 9” center Tremaine Townsend who is the Matadors’ leading scorer at 10.9 points per game. The Matadors also have a three-point shooting specialist in 6’ 4” guard Rob Haynes who shoots an impressive 44 percent from behind the arc.
Rob Haynes will likely be guarded by Memphis’ defensive lockdown specialist Antonio Anderson. Haynes will be at a disadvantage when he comes up against the 6’6” Anderson and will likely struggle getting off good shots. In fact, the entire CSUN team will struggle handling the second tallest team in the NCAA, as they are smaller at every position.
Memphis is long, athletic, and are the best defenders in the country. Much of their offense is generated from their stifling defense. However they have become much more effective operating out of the half court in the last two months as they have amassed the longest win streak in the country at 25 consecutive wins. These wins include victories over No. 9 seed Tennessee and No. 4 seed Gonzaga.
The Tigers are led by freshman phenom Evans, who has already been named Freshman of the Year by many media outlets. Evans averages over 16 points per game.
Evans is backed up by a very talented and experienced group that went to the National Championship game last year. In addition to Anderson, Shawn Taggart at 6’10” and Robert Dozier at 6’9” provide a very powerful one-two punch in the frontcourt, providing excellent scoring, rebounding, and shot blocking abilities.
Cal State hasn’t had much success against highly rated teams this year with their best win coming against Pacific who are No. 112 according to Pomeroy Ratings. They have only had one game against a team close to Memphis’ talent level—UCLA—who beat the Matadors by 18 points.
It’s likely they will suffer the same fate with Memphis, if not by an even larger margin. Welcome to the dance Matadors, but a word of advice. Pack light.
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