San Diego State lost a lot in Saturday night’s defeat at home to New Mexico. Gone for now are the national ranking, 1st place standing in the Mountain West, undefeated record at home and 3 game winning streak vs. New Mexico.
SDSU will lick its wounds and try to rebound as they travel to Colorado State for a 7:30pm Wednesday night game that will be televised on FS1. Early reports are that Fort Collins, Colorado is receiving a heavy dose of snow leading up to tip-off.
The last time the Aztecs played in Moby Arena, they lost a thrilling, heartbreaker 58-57 to the Rams. After the lead changed twice on a Lamont Butler 3 and a David Roddy mid-range jumper, Matt Bradley was clearly fouled on a shot just before time expired but the refs swallowed their whistle.
Though SDSU would eventually get their vengeance in the Mountain West Conference tournament against the Rams, this game served as a catalyst for an impressive run the rest of the season.
Roddy, the Mountain West player of the year, left early for the NBA and was drafted in the 1st round with the 23rd pick by the Memphis Grizzlies.
His departure is still being felt by CSU as the 10-9 Rams have limped out of the gate in Mountain West play with a 2-4 conference record. They are showing signs of improvement however, after upsetting a slumping UNLV team 82-81 in OT on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Most crucial in that OT victory for the Rams over the Rebels was Isaiah Stevens incredible playmaking in the most clutch times.
Point guard Isaiah Stevens was hobbled by an injury early in the season but is now returning to his All Mountain West form. He leads the 55th ranked most offensively efficient team in college basketball according to KenPom rankings. Stevens averages almost 19 points and eye popping 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
Guards John Tonje, Isaiah Rivera and transfer forward Patrick Cartier are the other major contributors on offense for the Rams. As a team they shoot the 3-ball really well at 37%.
Besides not having Stevens for a handful of games, the Rams have been mediocre in 2023 largely because they lack the grit and toughness they couldn’t replace when Roddy left town. The Mountain West has a reputation of being a physical league and soft teams like Colorado State will get bullied.
CSU is getting killed on the boards night in and night out. They rank 320th out of 352 teams in Division 1 in rebounding margin. The Rams interior of Cartier and James Moors only produce 7 rebounds per game combined. Now that’s what we at Sons of Montezuma like to call, Charmin soft.
Rebounding is not the Rams only weakness also. The Rams are a below average defensive team. They give up 78 points per game and opponents in the Mountain West are hitting 3s at a high rate against the Rams (41%).
3 Keys to an Aztec Victory
1. Play Bully Ball
Aztecs center Nathan Mensah was on his way to having quite the fine night against New Mexico last weekend. He was perfect from the field shooting percentage wise and was a consistent force defensively and on the boards.
All this until he was ran out of the game by a phantom 4th foul, leading his frustration to a quick whistled technical foul and 5th personal foul.
One way Nathan Mensah can forget about what happened vs. New Mexico is to take out his frustration and anger on an undersized Colorado State front-court. Along with Keshad Johnson and Jaedon LeDee, the Aztecs have the muscle and toughness to push around the Rams in the paint.
It is unknown if Aguek Arop will return to the lineup for this game after sitting out the New Mexico game but if he is able to go, the front court depth which also includes freshman Elijah Saunders should wear down CSU’s bigs and possibly get them into foul trouble since the Rams foul a lot.
2. Board Man Gets Paid
With CSU being a terrible rebounding team, the Aztecs should be able to own the glass on both ends. This should result in many one & done possessions for the Rams while giving the Aztecs more offensive possessions.
Two players that should be able to assert their physical dominance in the front-court on the boards would be Keshad Johnson and Jaedon LeDee. If the Aztecs can out-rebound the Rams by at least 10, they should cruise to a comfortable win.
3. Keep ‘Em Fresh
Nathan Mensah has had his struggles playing at altitude. To keep him from fatiguing in the 2nd half, the Aztecs should dip deeper into their bench for this game. This may become a necessity especially knowing they will be playing in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy just 3 days later.
The Rocky Mountain road trip while convenient for travel purposes in the same week, is also very taxing on the lungs for sea-level teams. An Aztec reserve player like Elijah Saunders, who is a grown man in a freshman’s body, could see extended minutes in this game rather than just simply a few minutes for a breather kind of scenario.
Overall this game should be one the Aztecs dominate. Colorado State has shown themselves to be a scrappy bunch under head coach Niko Medved, but ultimately without David Roddy and no comparable replacement, SDSU must target in on this.
Coach Brian Dutcher’s Aztecs now find themselves back among the rest of conference where one slip-up too many can put a strain on a team’s resume. Good for them, this opportunity appears like the perfect rebound.
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