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San Diego State’s size, versatility makes them more dangerous than a year ago


San Diego State lost their second game of the season on Christmas night, falling to Arizona in one of the more thrilling finishes you’ll see this season.

If you missed it, after a second half that saw both teams exchange haymakers, Mark Lyons hit a pair of free throws to put the Wildcats up 68-67 before Nick Johnson saved the win by coming out of nowhere to block a would-be game-winning layup by Chase Tapley.

The only other time that the Aztecs have played an elite team this season was when they lost to Syracuse in their season-opener, although the fact that that game was played outside on a windy day should discount that game. But it does create a bit of concern; last season, SDSU put together an impressive record, but a lack of impressive wins — especially outside of conference play — led to some concern heading into the NCAA tournament.

That concern was proven correct, as the Aztecs got smacked around by NC State in the opening round of the Big Dance.

And while this year is trending in the same direction, watching SDSU in the Diamond Head Classic only made me believe that this group will be better than last season.

For starters, Chase Tapley has slowly but surely developed into one of the nation’s most underrated players. He’s a deadly jump-shooter that thrives in the clutch. I’m not sure there are five players in the country that I would want taking a big three more than Tapley. It doesn’t hurt that Xavier Thames is also shooting the ball much more effectively than he did last season as well.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this group, however, is that they are much longer and more athletic than they were a season ago. Jamaal Franklin has not been as effective as he was a season ago, as his shooting numbers are down and his turnover numbers are up. Part of the reason for that is because he’s spending more time at the three than he did a year ago, when he played the Kim English-esque, undersized four role.

And while that may make Franklin’s stat lines a bit uglier at the end of the day, it should be a good thing for SDSU as a whole. Franklin is still going to be a tough matchup for small forwards across the country — especially with his ability to rebound the ball — and having versatile four men like Winston Shepard, Dwayne Polee and JJ O’Brien lining up alongside better-than-we-thought bigs like Deshawn Stephens and Skylar Spencer will allow SDSU to better matchup with some of the bigger front lines.

My concern?

Whether or not Franklin will be able to buy-in to the fact that SDSU will be better with him playing a small role.

But if it wasn’t for a ridiculous play made by Nick Johnson, I don’t think that this would be a discussion that we needed to have.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.