Aztecs Set to Battle Against Much Improved Spartans

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San Diego State returned from their road trip to some home cooking Wednesday night against Utah State in an 85-75 victory. Adam Seiko buried the Aggies with a career high 25 points on 7-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

Keshad Johnson had one of the most memorable blocks of the college basketball season when he snatched the ball out of the air from 7’1 behemoth Trevin Dorius en route to another double double. 

The second leg of the home stand begins Saturday when the Aztecs take on an improved (13-8) San Jose State squad at 6pm. The game will be televised on FS1. 

When Aztec fans would see this game on the schedule in years past, they checked it off as a given win. Aside from a road loss in 2017 and a game winning Malachi Flynn 3 pointer in 2019, the Aztecs have dominated the head to head series.

The Spartans have not had a winning season since 2010-2011 and only 2 winning seasons since 1994. This San Jose State team is led by a familiar face but they are anything but like previous year teams.

Spartans coach Tim Miles who led Colorado State to the NCAA tournament in 2012 before cashing in and crashing out at Nebraska is back in the Mountain West and looks to be on the verge of turning around the perennial doormat of the Mountain West.

San Jose State started off the season at 11-4 and 2-0 in conference with an OT win at home vs UNLV and a road victory at Colorado State. Then the Spartans ran into the teeth of their conference schedule dropping 3 away games to Boise State, New Mexico and Utah State and a home game to Nevada.

Two of the losses were nail-biters showing that this Spartans team is not afraid of anyone in the Mountain West.

San Jose State’s last win may be their most impressive: a 30 point demolishing of an Air Force team the Aztecs struggled to put away last weekend. It was their largest margin of victory over a conference opponent since they joined the Mountain West. 

On paper, San Jose State is the tallest team in the conference. They also have 8th best rebounding margin in the country. A weakness the Aztecs have shown this season is how to play teams with superior length. 

The Spartans have size in their front court and on the perimeter. 6’6 guard Omari Moore is a mismatch for most teams and the Spartans’ best pure scorer. He averages 15 ppg with 5 assists to 3 turnovers and is dangerous slashing to the basket.

7 foot 220 lb. center Ibrahima Diallo plays a role very similar to Nathan Mensah. 6’8 Temple transfer Sage Tolbert is a pure stretch 4: he’s one of the best rebounders in the conference with 7.6 per game while also hitting 41% of his 3s on 39 attempts. 

San Jose State usually has one or two guys who could hurt you but Coach Miles is a salesman and he’s brought depth to this squad. 6’4 guard Trey Anderson from San Diego, 6’9 Arizona transfer Tibet Gorener, 6’8 245 lb. Robert Vaihola and 6’1 Alvaro Cardenas are all significant contributors to a team that ranks a very respectable #77th in offensive efficiency according to KenPom. 

This doesn’t include guard MJ Amey who dropped 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on the Aztecs in 2022. He has missed several games due to an ankle injury and it is unknown if he will return to the lineup on Saturday. 

3 Keys to Victory

Push The Pace

San Jose State plays at a slow pace comparable to Air Force. They are a really good defensive rebounding team and with their height advantage, the Aztecs can’t expect to get many 2nd chance opportunities in this game.

The Aztecs, on the other hand, have a speed advantage. Darrion Trammell, Lamont Butler and Matt Bradley should look to push the pace to get easy buckets in transition before the trees can plant themselves in the paint. 

Move The Rock

San Jose State doesn’t defend the 3 really well. With 2nd chance possessions in short supply, it’s important that SDSU takes good open shots and not settle for contested ones against a tall team. In order to do that, they will need to move the defense out of position by passing the ball frequently against a Spartans team that has been terrible at forcing steals and turnovers.

Getting Adam Seiko, Lamont Butler, Darrion Trammell, Micah Parrish and Bradley open for 3 point shots will improve their chances of a victory. 

Hack a Big 

The Spartans have great free throw shooting guards. The 4 bigs in their rotation, however, are abysmal at the line. The Aztecs need to be physical going for blocks or even hacking San Jose State’s bigs instead of allowing them to get easy layups or short jumpers.

This strategy is likely going to end a San Jose State possession with less than 2 points and possibly 0. It would be a good time to give Elijah Saunders extra minutes as a menace in the paint and foul buffer to keep Mensah, Johnson, Aguek Arop and Jaedon LeDee out of foul trouble. 

Final Thoughts

The Aztecs have an opportunity to keep their winning streak going. The Aztecs currently sit alone at the top of the Mountain West at 7-1. Big games loom ahead but SDSU can’t afford to look farther than what’s directly in front of them. A loss to San Jose State at home would be one that stings in terms of potential NCAA seeding (Quad 3 loss in the NET rankings).

A win would bring more confidence before heading to Reno for a rematch with Nevada on Tuesday. The Aztecs must take care of business at home first and make sure the San Jose State Duck goes to bed hungry without any bread on Saturday night. 

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