In some minds, the Cal State Northridge men's basketball team exceeded expectations in finishing with an 8-20 record in its first season of NCAA Division I basketball.
Certainly, the program made its Division I debut with several strikes already against it, including 10 new players and two new assistant coaches, five fewer scholarships than the NCAA maximum of 15, less-than-adequate funds for recruiting--it's not even budgeted--no conference affiliation and an outdated gymnasium.
During the season, Northridge also suffered from a top-heavy road schedule, including a stretch in January when the Matadors were away from home 20 of 25 days, and the late-season absence of Coach Pete Cassidy.
Cassidy missed the last eight games because of an intestinal condition that required surgery and without him CSUN went 1-7.
While injuries and illness are part of the game, the Matadors were hit unusually hard late in the season.
Swingman David Keeter re-injured his ankle, swingman David Swanson missed a game with the flu, forward Shelton Boykin was limited to short stints in two games because of the flu, swingman Keith Gibbs missed three games and parts of two others because of a fainting spell caused by dehydration, and center Todd Bowser, who was second on the team in scoring and rebounding the majority of the season, missed five of the last eight games and was restricted to a minor role in the other three because of a shoulder injury.
Moreover, the development of 6-foot-7 Brian Kilian, one of CSUN's few frontcourt players, was stalled by a nagging back injury that forced him to miss seven games.
The financial limitations of the program, the lack of continuity in terms of players and coaches, and injuries and illness all considered, there are those who still feel Northridge should have won more games.
In particular, the games at Idaho State, Weber State, Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington, and U. S. International, and the Weber State and Cal State Los Angeles games at Matador Gymnasium stand out as frustrating losses.
Wins in those games would have put Northridge above .500 at 15-13.
"I think we came up short of our expectations," said Gibbs, a junior. "We are a better team than we showed. As for everyone else's expectations, we did better than many people thought we would."
If the Matadors, 12-15 last season in Division II, are to gain credibility at the Division I level, they will have to: miss fewer layups, take fundamental shots off the glass as opposed to finger rolls, be more careful with the ball (they averaged 20 turnovers a game), play better defense and hurdle what appears to have become a psychological roadblock about road games.
"Our experience on the road and a year of playing together should help next year," Gibbs said. "I don't see how we could do much worse."
Next season will be equally dismal recordwise if the returning players don't learn from their 15 road losses. Northridge performed poorly in an eight-point loss at Weber State, a two-point loss at U. S. International (two weeks after a 123-91 victory over the Gulls), and in a 22-point loss at Eastern Washington in which the Matadors committed 29 turnovers.
"The losses, there are so many, you get used to it," said Andre Chevalier, CSUN's freshman point guard.
"But you don't want to get used to losing games."
The following is a look back at Northridge's initial foray into Division I:
* A 90-76 victory at Loyola-Chicago, in a hostile environment against a traditional power. Northridge hit a season-high 60% of its shots.
* Staying within five points of USC until five minutes remained in an 86-69 loss (the Trojans scored nine points in the last 47 seconds to make the game appear more one-sided than it was).
"We showed that on a given night we can compete against teams of that caliber," Gibbs said.
* The school-record 123 points scored in a 32-point triumph at home over U. S. International.
* Kyle Kerlegan's school records for three-point field goals attempted and made with a 10-of-21 performance in a season-opening 113-89 loss at Colorado.
* Kerlegan's seven-of-10 three-point shooting effort against Northeastern Illinois in a 109-82 win.
* A team school record for three-point field goals attempted (44) and made (16) against Colorado.
* A season-high home crowd of 1,274 that turned out to see the Matadors play Weber State.
* Gibbs' school-record 15 assists in his debut at point guard against Colorado. His performance was even more remarkable in light of his unfamiliarity with the position. Only three weeks earlier, returning senior point guard Eugene Humphrey quit the team to concentrate on his studies.
* Gibbs' seven steals against Northern Arizona.
* The fact that Cassidy missed the final eight games.
* A 64.2% season mark from the free-throw line, including 11 misses on 16 attempts at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
* Shooting 42.3% for the season, including a 30% effort in a 64-48 loss to Boise State at Matador Gymnasium. CSUN missed 12 of 14 attempts from three-point range.