Alex Kirk, Skylar Spencer

No. 10 SDSU uses 26-4 run to beat No. 21 New Mexico, win MWC title

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According to Synergy Sports Technology, No. 10 San Diego State played zone on just 2.6% of their possessions entering Saturday night.

Do the math, and in a 65 possession game, the Aztecs play, on averaged, less than two possessions were of zone. They’re a man-to-man team, so you can understand why No. 21 New Mexico prepared for what has been a stifling Aztec man-to-man defense this season.

And that’s why one, simple coaching maneuver changed the outcome of Saturday night’s de-facto Mountain West regular season title game. Down 41-25 midway through the second half and completely unable to contain the Lobo front line of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, SDSU head coach Steve Fisher threw on an extended, 1-3-1 zone that completely confounded the Lobos.

SDSU would ratchet up their transition game, turning turnovers into layups, and go on a 26-4 run to close out the game, taking home the MWC championship with a 51-48 win.

MORE: A closer look at New Mexico’s collapse

The Aztecs’ finishing kick was sensational, and the quality of Fisher’s coaching this season cannot be overstated, but it won’t change the fact that the Lobos were simply pounding SDSU. The Aztecs have some major issues scoring in the half court, and even after they switched up their defenses, SDSU had some trouble getting clean looks at the basket when going up against a set UNM defense.

They got lucky. New Mexico wasn’t expecting that 1-3-1 zone. They didn’t know what to do against it. The element of surprise is what won them this game, but you better believe that every single team that SDSU will play in the next month will be keenly aware that Fisher has that zone in his back pocket. It’s on film now. New Mexico head coach Craig Neal won’t be caught asleep at the wheel again. None of the teams that SDSU faces in the MWC tournament will. Their NCAA tournament opponents will certainly be prepared.

So while this win is great, and the title puts a much-deserved bow on what has been an outstanding season for the Aztecs, it does nothing to change my overlying opinion on this group.

They’re tough defensively, but their inability to create offense in the half court is a major, major concern.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman¬†that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.