Steve Fisher

San Diego State’s underwhelming offense

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There are a few highly-ranked teams this season that thrive on defense but have so far left much to be desired on the other side of the ball. One such squad San Diego State. Despite their overwhelming victory against San Jose State tonight — 90-64, a game in which the Aztecs scored 1.20 points per possessions — SDSU truly struggles executing their halfcourt offense.

Other than Arizona, there isn’t another team this year that can lock up an opponent like Steve Fisher’s group. The Aztecs have defensively stymied opponents, holding teams overall to .91 points per possession — that OPPP is still a robust .95 in Mountain West play — but the Aztecs are an offensive mess. Of the handful of teams that could compete for the national title this year, a group that includes SDSU, no other squad possesses a lower offensive efficiency rating than SDSU (1.06 PPP). They don’t have a perimeter outlet since SDSU doesn’t take, or make, many threes, so the majority of their scoring has to come from within the arc or at the bucket, but that offense, specifically their two-point shooting, has suffered, hovering around 45 percent in conference play.

One would think a team with Xavier Thames, however, one of the country’s most dynamic guards, would field at least a somewhat competent offense, but Fisher’s squad simply has trouble getting easy baskets. The reason is surprising — SDSU is way too dependent on one-on-one and isolation possessions. The team’s assist rate is one of the lowest in Division I, a shocking 38.4 percent; nearly three-quarters of SDSU’s field goal attempts come in the halfcourt and the team’s effective field goal percentage for a non-transition attempt is under 50 percent. Taking the numbers deeper, and a troubling pattern is further fleshed out: a majority of the shots in those halfcourt sets are twos, and the Aztecs’ field goal percentage is just 32.5 percent.

A significant problem for the Aztecs is ball-watching: both Thames and Winston Shepard have usage rates of more than 25 percent, but no one Aztec who plays significant minutes has a rate over 20 percent. The team relies too heavily on both guards to create and distribute that the offense suffers when an opponent does manage to contain the backcourt.

This offensive stagnancy was evident in this weekend’s loss to New Mexico, managing only four assists and posting one of their worst offensive efficiency ratings this year (.75 PPP). San Diego State’s top 25 ranking is largely attributed to their defensive fortitude, but if the Aztecs fall early in the NCAA tournament, a large factor will likely be this inability to score.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)