At the end of January, San Diego State traveled to Logan to face Utah State, a newcomer to the Mountain West Conference. Stew Morrill’s squad introduced the Aztecs to their style of play, one that had helped USU notch eight consecutive 20-plus win seasons in WAC. The Aggies converted 54 percent of their two-point field goals, and made a whopping 50 percent of their threes, but San Diego State somehow managed to win.
Fast-forward to tonight’s SDSU-USU rematch, and there was little to suggest the Aggies could replicate that late January feat. Steve Fisher’s team committed seven turnovers in the second half, had Xavier Thames make just one field goal, underwent two scoring droughts of various lengths, posted an efficiency rating of only one point per possession, and still won by 15 points. The Aztecs are arguably the most athletic team in the conference; there isn’t another team that can match the lineups Fisher can field. When that athleticism is combined with the defensive tutelage of Fisher and assistant coach Justin Huston, the Aztecs justify their top ten poll ranking.
San Diego State held USU to .74 PPP, which is the third time the team has held a conference opponent below .80 PPP this season. Consider the squad’s defensive effort on Preston Medlin, Utah State’s most efficient offensive option: Medlin made just one of his seven field goal attempts, and was hounded whenever he touched the ball or came within it’s vicinity. SDSU can switch each of their five positions, a skill the team showcased in tonight’s win; whether it was Josh Davis switching onto a USU guard, or Thames switching three times before forcing Medlin into a turnover, the Aggies seemed surprised when they had an unimpeded look at the basket.
What is also fascinating about SDSU’s defensive prowess is their lack of fouls. Utah State attempted just eight free throws tonight, and because the Aztecs are so defensively balanced, a player is hardly ever caught out of position and compelled to reach or swat at an opponent to make a play. The Aztecs know where their help is on the court and how to steer the offensive player in that direction to force a bad shot.
No. 10 San Diego State flexes defensive muscle against UNLV
One of the greatest attributes of Steve Fisher’s San Diego State Aztecs is their length, and its something the nation’s tenth-ranked team has put to good use on both ends of the floor for much of this season. Offensively, with guard Xavier Thames and forward Winston Shepard III leading the way, San Diego State consistently attacks the paint and more often than not creates a quality look as a result.
Defensively they’re an incredibly difficult team to crack, with their length and shot-blocking ability resulting in many teams looking downright inept in their quest to score points. And with San Diego State struggling on the offensive end against UNLV, who had won the last three meetings in the series, it was their defense that made the difference in the 63-52 victory.
The Aztecs shot just 34% on the night but UNLV was even worse, shooting 30% for the game with their first-half performance digging a hole that proved too deep to crawl out of. The Runnin’ Rebels, fresh off of their best outing on the season (a win at New Mexico on Wednesday night), opened the game shooting 4-for-27 from the field and trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half.
UNLV may not always have the best shot selection regardless of the opponent, but the fact of the matter is that they were kept from doing anything comfortably by San Diego State’s aggressive half-court defense. Dave Rice’s team managed to pull within five points with just under six minutes remaining, but two consecutive exchanges served as a reminder of the difference in offensive discipline between the two teams.
With a chance to pull even closer UNLV forced bad shots on consecutive possessions, only to have San Diego State go to the other end and get dunks from Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis (14 points, 14 rebounds). The Aztecs rebounded 46.2% of their misses and scored 19 second-chance points, which helped make up for their poor shooting night. San Diego State may not have the “prettiest” offense at times, but their commitment to doing what they do best (attack the paint) more than makes up for that.
That’s something UNLV is still struggling with, although they did show greater effort in their two games this week than in disappointing losses to Air Force and Nevada the week prior.
Thames scored 18 points but he struggled from the field (3-for-14 FG), and Shepard accounted for just six points on 2-for-6 shooting. But due to their ability to make things incredibly difficult for opponents with their defense, the Aztecs are built to survive off nights on the other end.
No. 13 San Diego State’s trip to Colorado Springs to play Air Force on Sunday afternoon was a tougher game than some may have realized, and not solely because of the fact that the Falcons entered the game 2-1 in Mountain West play. Dave Pilipovich’s Falcons had won the last two meetings between the programs at Clune Arena, with one of those victories being a 58-56 triumph during a 2011-12 season in which Air Force won just three league games.
With Tre Coggins rolling offensively Sunday’s game set up to be a difficult one for the Aztecs, but Steve Fisher’s team won 79-72 due in large part to their offensive balance. J.J. O’Brien, who thanks in part to an injured hand failed to score in double figures for five straight games, led the way with 18 points to go along with 11 rebounds. The wrap that covered his right hand was gone on Sunday, and it was clear that not having to deal with the bandage made a difference for the versatile forward.
In total five San Diego State players scored in double figures on the day, including Xavier Thames (16 points, five assists), Winston Shepard III (14 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Josh Davis (13 points, 11 rebounds). That balance helped to offset the 29 points scored by Coggins, who through four Mountain West games is averaging 21.0 points per game. Now up to 17.8 points per contest, Coggins has been the most improved player in the Mountain West after averaging 2.4 points per game as a freshman.
Air Force, whose offensive system can be difficult to defend, shot 51.9% from the field. But they were unable to approach that percentage from three, shooting 7-for-20 from distance with San Diego State (7-for-14 3PT) scoring as many points on those shots. Matt Shrigley hit three three-pointers for SDSU, and despite being last in the Mountain West in three-point attempts the Aztecs rank second in percentage.
With their conviction to get into the paint offensively, San Diego State’s able to create quality looks from distance when there’s a need to kick the ball out. That’s been a key all season long, and that was once again the case on Sunday afternoon. The Aztecs certainly have some headliners, most notably Thames and Shepard, but they’re also a group with multiple players capable of making teams pay on any given night. And that’s one reason why they’re 14-1.
Xavier Thames was the hero for No. 21 San Diego State.
He’s the guy that hit a big three with three minutes left to push SDSU’s lead to 55-48 with three minutes left. He’s the guy that hit four straight free throws in the final minute to ice SDSU’s 61-57 win over No. 16 Kansas, the first time in 68 games that the Jayhawks have lost at Allen Fieldhouse. He was the leading scorer with 16 points.
Thames played his role as Steve Fisher’s closer, but he wasn’t the guy that won the game for San Diego State.
That title goes to Skylar Spencer, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien.
Kansas has become a team that is built around their post play. Lacking a true point guard and without the benefit of a killer in their perimeter attack, Bill Self has had to rely on the services of Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis on the interior to build his offense around. They’ve become the most reliable weapons offensively for the Jayhawks.
And on Sunday afternoon, they were dominated by San Diego State’s front line.
Ellis finished the night just 1-for-9 from the floor with four points and five boards. Embiid was 3-for-5 from the floor which is respectable until you consider the number of times that San Diego State’s big-to-big double teams nullified a post touch. Spencer, Davis and O’Brien finished the night with 30 points, 32 boards and seven blocks.
The key stat? Of those 32 rebounds, 16 came on the offensive end of the floor, with the trio combining for 13 of San Diego State’s 14 second half offensive rebounds. That led to 12 second chance points (19.7% of SDSU’s scoring) in the second half, many of which came on critical possessions down the stretch as Kansas was trying to complete their comeback. They were backbreaking, momentum-changing baskets.
And, in the end, that’s what won SDSU the game, because, for as poorly as Kansas played, they still had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds when Perry Ellis missed the second of two free throws.
All told, SDSU’s defense was stifling in this game. Kansas shot just 29.8% on the night, remaining below 25% from the floor until the later stages of the second half. It’s that defense that is going to win them games in Mountain West play. It’s that defense that is the reason they are probably the favorite in the MWC with league play having begun this week.
Xavier Thames was 1-for-9 from the floor in the second half. Winston Shepard was 2-for-7 from the floor in the second half. Those are SDSU’s two most potent offensive weapons.
And they still beat Kansas at Kansas.
Think about that.
One other thing to note: this wasn’t just a huge win for San Diego State, it was a huge win for the Mountain West Conference as a whole. The league did not do great during the non-conference portion of the schedule which could cause problems for the computer numbers. Given how strong the schedule is that Bill Self put together this season, this win is going to look really, really good for SDSU all year long.
And if it makes SDSU better, it helps the computer numbers for the league.
More and more, transfers are becoming an integral part of college basketball.
As such, figuring out precisely how a player will fit in with his new team is becoming an integral part of the preseason prognostication process.
And as you might expect, someone smarter than your average writer as tried to figure out an answer. Ken Pomeroy, founder of KenPom.com and writing for ESPN’s Insider, developed a formula to try to determine exactly how effective these transfers will be at their new schools.
What KenPom found was that Memphis transfer Michael Dixon, Missouri transfer Jordan Clarkson and San Diego State transfer Josh Davis will be three of the newcomers likely to have the biggest impact. That’s not a surprise, as those are three names that every expert has managed to come up with simply by looking at a box score. Dixon was one of the best players on a 30-win Missouri team, Clarkson averaged 16.5 points at Tulsa and Davis was a contender for Conference USA Player of the Year a season ago.
The two names that KenPom dug up that most haven’t discussed ad nauseum? Richie Edwards, who is heading to Arizona State from Valpo, and Four McGlynn, who joins Towson after a year at Vermont. McGlynn would make sense. He’s a shooter that will spread the floor for a talented Tigers team. Edwards, however, is a bit of a weird pick seeing as he’s the third-most notable transfer that Arizona State brings in and likely to find himself playing limited minutes this year.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
1. Rodney Hood, Duke (via Mississippi State): Jabari Parker isn’t the only Duke forward that being considered an All-American candidate this preseason. After sitting out last season, Hood joins Parker and Rasheed Sulaimon to give Duke one of the best perimeters in the country. The 6-foot-8 Hood suffered an Achilles injury this summer, but has completely recovered. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a freshman at Mississippi State.
2. T.J. McConnell, Arizona (via Duquesne): There has been buzz around newcomer Aaron Gordon, and rightfully so. But those in Tucson should be excited for T.J. McConnell’s debut in a Cats uniform. McConnell is a true point guard Arizona needs, and Sean Miller has given the junior one of the best front courts to create for. McConnell averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists in his final season at Duquesne in 2011-2012. The pass-first point guard is also a pest defensively (2.8 spg) and may be the best deep threat on the Wildcats.
3. Michael Dixon, Memphis (via Missouri): He had to wait it out, but Michael Dixon got cleared to play this season at Memphis in last month. Dixon was named Big 12 All-Defensive team in 2012 and also averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists for a 30-win Mizzou team. He gives Memphis one of the nation’s best back courts, and his addition allows Josh Pastner to go with a four-guard set against opposing defenses this season.
4. Mike Moser, Oregon (via UNLV): Dana Altman has benefited from one-year transfers before and that’s what he’s hoping for with Moser, who left Las Vegas for Eugene for his final season of eligibility. He averaged averaged 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds a game two seasons ago with the Rebels. He decided not to jump to the NBA, but injuries and an overcrowded front count caused his numbers to dip this past season. A healthy Moser should thrive with the Ducks.
5. Jordan Clarkson, Missouri (via Tulsa): Jordan Clarkson is making the move to the SEC from Conference USA where he averaged 16.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists points per game in 2011-2012. The 6-foot-5 Clarkson will be the lead guard this year, playing both point and off-the-ball, since Phil Pressey declared for the NBA draft.
6. Josh Davis, San Diego State (via Tulane): Josh Davis will be eligible immediately after graduating from Tulane. The athletic forward, who averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds last season, will help make up for the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the Aztec’s top two scorers a season ago.
7. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State (via Marshall): Iowa State lost its top guards to graduation, and last month Bubu Palo who was dismissed from the team. Once again Fred Hoiberg went to the transfer wire, this time landing DeAndre Kane, a 6-foot-4 lead guard that averaged 7.1 assists per game last season to go along with his career average of 15.6 points per game in three seasons at Marshall. He’ll join a team that brings back forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang but was sorely lacking in back court playmakers.
8. Josh Smith, Georgetown (via UCLA): John Thompson III lost Otto Porter to the NBA and, in all likelihood, Greg Whittington for the season with a torn ACL. Ex-UCLA big man Josh Smith will be eligible for the second semester if he doesn’t get a waiver to play immediately. JT3 knows that Smith has the ability to be an all-league player, but his impact for the Hoyas depends on his conditioning.
9. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse (via Duke): Gbinije transferred out of an ACC program and into a Big East school, now in its first season of ACC play. The Orange are without Brandon Triche or Michael Carter-Williams, meaning their back court is made up of freshmen Tyler Ennis and Ron Patterson and sophomore Trevor Cooney, who is coming off a disappointing season. At 6-foot-6 Gbinije will be solid on top of the 2-3 zone, can add depth to the small forward position, and has even worked on his point guard game during his redshirt season.
10. Tarik Black, Kansas (via Memphis): Tarik Black didn’t average more than five rebounds per game in his last two seasons at Memphis, but his role at Kansas will be important. It’s a young team headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, and Joel Embiid. He’ll be valuable as a physical, veteran low-post presence.
10 more guys that should be in for a big season
Antonio Barton, Tennessee (via Memphis): Barton filled a void for the Vols at the point when Trae Golden transferred. His shooting and defense gives the Vols even better chances of getting back to the NCAA tournament.
Gerard Coleman, Gonzaga (via Providence): Coleman averaged 13.2 points and five rebounds a game at Providence in 2011-2012. Will fit in nicely alongside Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell.
Alex Dragicevich, Boston College (via Notre Dame): Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan have reason for hope in Chesnut Hill. Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich can add more long-range shooting for Steve Donahue’s team.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida (via Virginia Tech): Chris Walker isn’t enrolling this semester, and Will Yeguete is still recovering from a knee injury. Finney-Smith, along with fellow transfer Damontre Harris, are that much more important for front court depth alongside Patric Young.
Derrick Gordon, UMass (via Western Kentucky): The Minutemen have a good shot at the NCAA tournament this season, and Derrick Gordon has that postseason experience after his freshmen year at Western Kentucky. He and Chaz Williams can help UMass hang with the top teams in the Atlantic 10.
Lasan Kromah, UConn (via George Washington): Kromah averaged 10.1 points last season and only improves the UConn back court of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun.
Jermaine Marshall, Arizona State (via Penn State): Adding Jermaine Marshall from Penn State helps negate from the loss of Evan Gordon. He averaged 15.3 points per game last season.
Four McGlynn, Towson (via Vermont): The Tigers will contend in the CAA, and add Vermont transfer, who averaged 12.0 points in his lone season with the Catamounts.
Rayvonte Rice, Illinois (via Drake): The Illini lose Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson from last season, but Rayvonte Rice, who averaged 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and almost two steals per game in 2011-2012, should help fill the void.
Matt Stainbrook, Xavier (via Western Michigan):The former Western Michigan big man is reportedly an inch taller and down 40 pounds since last playing during the 2011-2012 season, where he averaged 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.