The Mountain West Conference had drawn criticism over the first few days of this NCAA tournament, with member schools going 1-3 through Thursday. That mark includes a major upset of No. 3 New Mexico at the hands of No. 14 Harvard.
But No. 7 San Diego State worked Friday to change the Mountain West’s fate, staying in the driver’s seat against No. 10 Oklahoma on its way to a commanding 70-55 victory at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
San Diego State junior Jamaal Franklin scored 21 points on 6-of-13 and made all seven of his free throws while adding eight rebounds. While Franklin and James Rahon made an impact on the perimeter, Deshawn Stephens was a force on the interior that this Aztec team often lacks. He finished with seven points and 11 rebounds.
For all of the failings of the Mountain West in the first few rounds of this tournament, San Diego State is poised to be in a very good spot. They move on to play Florida Gulf Coast, a No. 15 seed, for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16. FGCU is no cake walk (you can just ask Georgetown about that) but San Diego State has the ability to get out in transition with Franklin and counter what the Eagles bring to the table when running the floor.
San Diego State and Colorado State are the remaining hopes for a conference that had such high expectations coming into the tournament. But the Aztecs will have to end a potential Cinderella’s run to advance.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.