While their game at No. 16 Kansas on Sunday afternoon represents a major opportunity for both No. 21 San Diego State and the Mountain West given the league’s low number of marquee non-conference victories, the fact of the matter is that from an importance standpoint that game isn’t as important as a conference matchup.
The Aztecs opened Mountain West play with a tough matchup, playing on the road against a Colorado State team that makes up for its lack of depth with sheer effort. Ultimately the difference between the two teams was their production in an area that measures 15 feet long and 12 feet wide.
Xavier Thames scored 23 points and Winston Shepard III added 17 for the visiting Aztecs, who outscored the Rams 40-16 in the paint on their way to the 71-61 victory. San Diego State shot just 12-for-21 from the foul line compared to Colorado State’s 18-for-25, but the missed opportunities from the charity stripe were nullified by the Aztecs’ ability to get into the paint. San Diego State, which entered the game shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc, shot just 5-for-16 against Colorado State but that wasn’t an issue in the end as the Rams shot 3-for-14.
Colorado State scored just four of its 16 points in the paint in the first half, with San Diego State closing the period on an 11-2 run to establish a nine-point lead at the intermission. San Diego State’s length proved to be an issue for the Rams, and many of the good shots that Larry Eustachy’s team did manage to find missed the mark.
San Diego State may have some good numbers when it comes to perimeter shooting, but they refuse to settle for those shots. That three-point percentage cited earlier? The Aztecs shot that well while attempting the fewest three-pointers in the Mountain West. If Steve Fisher’s team remains committed to getting the ball inside by way of the pass or the dribble, they’ll be in good shape offensively.
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.