Tonight the ball tips for San Diego State’s opener as they host the Toreros of San Diego in the City Championship. The Aztecs get an early opportunity to avenge their worst loss of last year, a 53-48 defeat at Petco Park.
The big story coming into the game is the injuries. San Diego State will be without three players, Matt Shirgley (ankle), Malik Pope (knee), and Max Hoetzel (knee).
Shrigley hurt his knee during the second exhibition game when he went up for an aggressive offensive rebound and landed on someone’s foot. He stayed down for a while and immediately called for the bench. While it’s something that he should be able to bounce back from, it may take some time. Pope has been dealing with a knee injury sustained at practice and seemed set to make a start on Tuesday against CSU San Marcos, however he tweaked the knee during warm ups and the Aztecs staff has decided to play it safe with him. Finally Hoetzel is dealing with a hyperextension on his twice surgically repaired knee and his timetable to return is uncertain. Expect his absence to be lengthy as the coaching staff errs on the side of caution.
Turning to the game itself, the Aztecs will be looking to integrate four new guys into the roster, or could it be three? Mark Ziegler from the San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that the Aztecs are thinking about redshirting freshman Jalen McDaniels, but since the team is so nicked up he may be pressed into action.
Tonight will also be the debut of Washington State grad transfer Valentine Izundu. Izundu has been dealing with an ankle injury that caused him to miss both of the exhibition games. He is expected to be a defensive presence in limited minutes for the Aztecs against San Diego. Nolan Narain and Montaque Gill-Caesar play in their first regular season games for San Diego State, both sat out last season. Narain had a dominating night on the boards against San Marcos with 12 rebounds and will look to continue his impact on the glass. Gill-Caesar showed his offensive prowess, averaging 15 points in the exhibition games. He will look to carve out his role in the offense in tonight’s game.
Adding those new pieces to the players returning should make for an exciting Aztecs team. Trey Kell comes in as the team leader and Jeremy Hemsley joins him in comprising the best backcourt in the Mountain West. These two will look to lead an Aztecs offense that hopes to improve on stagnant performances that have plagued San Diego State the last few years. The emergence of Zylan Cheatham’s jumper will be something to watch, it makes him an X-factor in this game.
San Diego State should continue their hard-nosed defensive ways. Tonight you may see some missteps as players try to implement Coach Justin Hutson’s intense defensive assignments during a real game, however defense will continue being the Aztec staple. Dakarai Allen leads the team as the defensive stopper. The San Diego State defense should still be fine, although it will likely lack the full-court press due to being short-handed.
The Aztecs should be able to defeat the Toreros based on their talent alone, however as Aztecs fans know from last year that is not always the case. San Diego has a raw roster, with three of their four top scorers from last year gone. Stepping into Viejas Arena will be a daunting task for a young Toreros team. Heading into a hostile environment that should be jumping with anticipation for the season to start will test their young nerves. If the Aztecs bring their "A game", their effort, and their intensity they will come out with a victory.
Tip-Off: 8 PM PST
TV: ESPNU/Watch ESPN
Radio: The Mighty 1090