Even the experts don’t always get it right.
All the way back in October, the annual Big West media and coaches polls were tallied, and both camps picked Cal State Northridge to finish sixth in the league. The Matadors ranked in the bottom half of the conference, and not one member of the roster was picked to the preseason all-conference team.
The preseason snub must have motivated the squad because today the Matadors (12-3 overall, 4-0 in the Big West) are sitting solidly atop the Big West standings. Their wins haven’t been a fluke against the bottom teams either, as they went on the road and knocked off the two teams picked to finish first and second two weeks ago. CSUN first demolished Cal Poly, originally picked to be number two, 80-59 and followed the win up with an 88-84 stunner of UCSB at the Thunderdome two days later.
“This team is a little bit further ahead than I expected us to be at this time, to be honest with you,” Head Coach Bobby Braswell said. “With so many new guys and guys learning our system, they’re playing with a lot of heart and a lot of courage.”
Northridge has ridden to victory on the shoulders of their very potent offense. The Matadors are averaging 80.1 points per game – good for second in the league – and they outscore opponents by an average of 10 points. They have also been able to take solid advantage of second chances, leading the league in rebounding and turnover margin. Combined with the league lead in assists, the Matadors have a powerful offensive unit that Big West defenses have yet to figure out how to contain.
Leading the Northridge scoring barrage is an unlikely player, junior guard Deon Tresvant, who has not started a single game this season. However, Tresvant is averaging 13.3 points in just over 24 minutes per game. He is also second in the league, with 43 three pointers, 2.87 per game.
Tresvant is one of four Matadors averaging double figures in scoring, and he isn’t the only player to give Northridge strong contributions off the bench. Junior forward Tremaine Townsend has also yet to start a game, but he is close to averaging a double-double. Townsend averages exactly 10 points a game, yet his biggest contribution is on the glass. Despite being a reserve, he leads the entire Big West with 8.5 boards per game.
“One of the areas that we’ve tried to improve is our depth, and we feel like we’ve got three or four [bench guys] that could probably start no problem, and that’s the unique thing about this group,” Braswell said. “Obviously [Deon Tresvant] is a guy that could start for a lot of teams in our conference, but I think he likes coming off the bench and we like bringing him off the bench because he brings a bit of a punch after the starters are out.”
Leading the starting lineup for the Matadors are senior forwards Calvin Chitwood and Jonathan Heard. The two have been big producers for CSUN since they entered the program, and they both want to finish their careers with excellent seasons. Chitwood is having a great year so far, averaging 11.9 points per game and leading the league in blocks with 1.73 a game. Heard is second on the team in scoring, with 12.7 points per game. Junior guard Josh Jenkins rounds out the Matador offense with a runaway league lead in the assists category, averaging 6.6 per game, a full two assists higher than the second-highest competitor.
The weak point in the Northridge game is their defense. The Matadors are next to last in the league in points allowed, although they are solid in most defensive statistics. Despite limiting their opponents to the worst shooting percentages in the league, CSUN still finds ways to give up points. The team gives up the second most rebounds in the Big West, and the extra chances have translated into more baskets for their opponents. However, the team leads the league in blocks, steals and turnover margin. With players like Townsend down low, Northridge is a very tough team to get inside on, and opponents simply don’t get quality shots against them.
“I don’t worry about our offense; I think we have enough guys that can score, so I worry about our defense,” Braswell said. “I won’t allow them to lose focus defensively. We spend 60 percent of our practice on defense.”
As it stands, Cal State Northridge looks to be a Big West heavyweight for most of the season. With their high-powered offense, it will be a tough task for any of the teams in the conference to simply try to outscore them, especially considering their inside defense. With the balance of offensive power being spread between the starting core and the bench, the team is too deep for visitors to just double-team one threat, and their ability to shoot well from anywhere on the court has spread defenses in all of their games. Until another team in the Big West can find a way to consistently slow down the Matador offense, they will continue to be the team everyone else is gunning for.