I missed the two exhibition games. (Which makes me a bad season ticket holder) That said, Megan and I made it to the season opener last night at the Viejas Arena.
Bryant College wasn’t exactly a great opponent, which was good because the Aztecs weren’t really ready to play. The first half was defined by their lack of cohesiveness. That makes sense because Chase Tapley is the only returning starter. On top of that two other starters missed the game, James Rahon with an ankle sprain and Jamaal Franklin served a one game suspension for a suspected DUI arrest over the summer. Looking up at the halftime stats I thought the scoreboard was broken! They shot 39% from the floor including 25% from the free throw line. Somehow they still rallied to take the lead, 27-26 at the half.
But the Aztecs came out of the locker room with a new attitude– an attitude I expect them to express for the next 25 games. Unlike last years team everything isn’t going to work. In 2010-2011 it didn’t matter what the game plan was because they were better at every position than most of their opponents. This year is different. With only 8 scholarship players they are going to have to take advantage of what the opposition gives them. Last night, they were ice cold from the 3 point line. (0-12 at one point) So in the second half they crashed the boards and shot a very respectable 79% from the field.
Starless but not starproof
I couldn’t get over the fact that almost none of the players who got time on the court last night would have played significantly last year. There is no player as dominant as Kwahi Leonard was last year, not even close. (I wish he’d stayed another year, especially with the NBA lockout) But that doesn’t mean that they can’t play together as a team and win 25 games to win their conference. It will all come down to gelling as a team.
Last night the gelling of this basketball team happened during the second half. before our very eyes we saw a team go from gym scrubs to DI college basketball. Their non-conference schedule is substantially more difficult this year than last. (No one wanted to play them last year!)
They will enter conference play at 12-4. Overall I think they will go 22-8 in the regular season. Not good enough to get ranked, but good enough to get invited to the Dance for the third straight year.