SAN DIEGO — Visiting teams in rebuilding seasons usually play one of two roles at early-season basketball tournaments. They are matched against the strongest of the other visiting teams to provide first-round fodder or sent out to play patsy for the host team.
This season, San Diego State gets to do both.
The Aztecs (2-1) play host Arizona State (2-0) in the first round of the Kactus tournament tonight at 7 PST in Tempe, Ariz.
"It shows you where our program is," said Kevin McLeod, SDSU assistant coach, "that we have to go to a tournament and play the host school in the first round."
Last week, the Aztecs drew the other assignment. They were matched against Kansas State in the first round of the Sun Met tournament in Fresno. But instead of playing the meek opposition, SDSU led by two points at halftime and kept pace with the Wildcats much of the way before losing, 79-68.
But drawing Arizona State is probably the best the Aztecs could hope for in the first round. The Sun Devils finished only 11-17 last season and are starting four new players.
The alternative might have been to face Tulsa, which returns two starters from a 22-8 team that lost to Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That assignment instead went to Richmond, which will play Tulsa in the first game at 5 p.m. PST.
Arizona State is led by Arthur Thomas, a 5-foot 9-inch senior guard who is averaging 24 points per game. The other four Sun Devil starters are new.
Arizona State started the season with victories against Texas Tech, 83-68, and at Northern Arizona, 82-75. SDSU also defeated Northern Arizona, 78-73, in the consolation game of the Sun Met tournament.
Jon Baskin, a 6-8 sophomore forward from Steamboat Springs, Colo., quit the San Diego State team and will transfer to Mesa College, an NAIA school, in Grand Junction, Colo., Coach Jim Brandenburg said in a news release. Baskin had not played in the Aztecs' first three games. He played in 16 games last season, averaging 1.3 points and 1.4 rebounds. Brandenburg said the decision was "amicably reached by both parties." Under National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics rules, Baskin will be eligible to play for Mesa starting next season. . . . Senior forward Rodney Hawkins has been slowed by the flu but should start tonight. . . . SDSU and Arizona State last played in the 1978-79 season with the Sun Devils winning, 80-73.