09 Dec 2021 | 06:53 | Basketball
NORTHRIDGE, Calif.—CSUN Men’s Basketball officially opens its 64th season this week on the road. The Matadors kick off the regular season against USC on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network before hitting the road once more on Saturday afternoon to face Notre Dame at noon on the ACC Network Extra. Ghizal Hasan and Alan Zinsmeister will be on the call in audio broadcasts at GoMatadors.com/Radio.
Under interim head coach Trent Johnson, the Matadors return eight returners with only one letterwinner, Darius Brown II, starting more than 10 games last season. CSUN though have added eight newcomers to the program including five Division I transfers. While fielding a relatively new team, Johnson has assembled a roster that has nine players with four or more years of experience in college. Six student-athletes also have competed in 50 or more games at the Division I level while three are graduate students.
Senior point guard Darius Brown II returns for his fourth season at CSUN and with the most experience on the team with 88 games played. The Pasadena native earned All-Big West Second Team honors last season and was selected to a spot on the Preseason All-Big West Media Team this season. Brown set new personal bests in points (10.5 PPG), assists (5.3 APG), rebounds (4.8 RPG) and steals (1.9 SPG) last season while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from 3-point range.
Brendan Harrick was one of four players last season to play in all 22 games as he averaged 4.0 points and connected on 20 3-point shots. Entering his second season, Atin Wright played in 21 games as a true freshman in 2020-21 where he registered 4.7 points per game. Another sophomore, Fidelis Okereke, started seven of 21 games a season ago, averaging 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds to go with a team-high 16 blocks. Graduate students Miles Brookins (4.4 PPG in eight games) and Lance Coleman II (13.9 PPG and 3.8 RPG in eight games) missed most of the Big West Conference season last year.
CSUN has added experience with five Division I transfers joining the ranks this season. A 6-3 guard from Carbondale, Ill, Darius Beane has played in 78 career games with Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. This past season, Beane averaged 9.7 points and 4.5 rebounds for NIU. Onyi Eyisi brings size with his 6-9 frame as the Nigerian native played in 67 games at Fordham, averaging 4.4 points and 4.1 rebounds. Hailing from Oakland, Elijah Hardy has lettered at Washington and most recently Portland State where he averaged 7.1 points in 2020-21. A 6-6 graduate student, Christian Gray spent three seasons at Fresno State and would register 5.3 points and 3.0 rebounds a year ago. Rounding out the transfers, 6-6 forward Miles James played in 32 total games in two years with East Carolina.
Johnson enters his first season at CSUN and his 18th overall as a Division I head coach. Over his extensive career, Johnson has led three programs to the NCAA Tournament while he guided Nevada and Stanford to the Sweet 16 rounds. Johnson has also been named Coach of the Year in the WAC (2002-03), Pac-10 (2007-08) and SEC (2008-09).
The Matadors lost eight letterwinners in the offseason including Big West Newcomer of the Year and All-Big West First Team selection TJ Starks. Last season, Starks led the Big West in scoring at 21.7 points per game, which ranked sixth-best in the nation. He also topped the league in field goals made (156) and free throws made (84). Alex Merkviladze, Amound Anderson and Festus Ndumanya are also among the letterwinners that departed in the offseason.
CSUN makes its eighth trip to USC this week and its first since 2015. The Trojans are 7-1 all-time against CSUN and have won the last three in the series. In the teams’ last game in 2015, the Trojans prevailed 96-61. The Matadors picked up their only win over USC on Nov. 20, 2005 in overtime, 81-75. Mike Efevberha scored 20 points in the Matadors’ OT victory. CSUN has not defeated a Pac-12 Conference team since beating Utah in Dec. 2012.
Notre Dame and CSUN will face off for just the second time in men’s basketball. The Fighting Irish won the only meeting on Jan. 31, 1994 by a 76-58 decision in South Bend. The Matadors have played three games against ACC opponents in their history, going 0-3 in those contests. CSUN also faced Virginia Tech in 2010 and Louisville in 2014.
A Closer Look at USC
The Trojans went 25-8 last season and enjoyed a memorable NCAA Tournament run that culminated in the Elite Eight Round in 2021. The team was picked to finish third in the Preseason Pac-12 poll by members of the media. The Trojans received votes in both the AP and Ferris Mowers Coaches Preseason top-25 polls in October. Head coach Andy Enfield is in his eighth season leading USC.
A total of 11 players have returned from last season’s Elite Eight team. Isaiah Mobley was named to the Preseason Pac-12 First Team after averaging 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Mobley was also named to the watch list for the Lute Olson Player of the Year and Karl Malone Award. Earning Preseason Pac-12 Second Team recognition, Boogie Ellis transferred from Memphis where he averaged 10.2 points per game last season. Senior guard Drew Peterson also has returned after averaging 9.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in 2020-21.
A Closer Look at Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish finished 2020-21 with an 11-15 overall record and 7-11 mark in the ACC. The team was picked to come in ninth place in the ACC this season. Notre Dame has returned much of its same lineup from last season with eight returners including four starters. Mike Brey is entering his 22nd season leading the program.
Senior guard Prentiss Hubb is the team’s top returning scorer at 14.6 points per game from a year ago to go with averaging 5.8 assists. Hubb was picked All-ACC Third Team last season. Two other returners scored in double figures last season, which include Nate Laszewski (13.3 PPG) and Dane Goodwin (11.8 PPG). Laszewski posted 7.3 rebounds per game while Goodwin grabbed 5.2 per game. Yale graduate transfer Paul Atkinson Jr. previously was the 2020 Ivy League Player of the Year.