San Diego State escaped Fresno with a 45-43 win last Wednesday night over the Bulldogs. It wasn’t pretty but the win kept the Aztecs (21-5, 12-2) in sole possession of 1st place in the Mountain West with 4 games to play. Matt Bradley hit some big shots and the Aztec defense held the Bulldogs to 2-25 from 3 point range.
After a much needed bye this weekend, SDSU (#22 AP/ #20 Coaches Poll) returns home to face Colorado State tonight at 8pm. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network but you’re guaranteed to not miss the first 10 minutes of the game if you watch it in-person at Viejas Arena.
Is this a trap game for the Aztecs? On paper, the Aztecs should win easily. SDSU are 10.5 point favorites over CSU with big road games against New Mexico and Boise State next up that will have conference title and post season tournament seeding implications.
The Aztecs can ill afford to look ahead, instead of squarely focusing on a Colorado State squad they narrowly beat in overtime 82-76 in Fort Collins in January.
The Rams (12-15) are coming off of a 60-57 win on the road at Fresno State on Saturday. Guard John Tonje hit 2 clutch free throws to take the lead with 4 seconds to go and held on for the victory.
A team that I called out as being soft in the last Aztecs vs Rams preview article showed their physicality by out rebounding Fresno State by 4. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were plus 4 in rebounding margin vs. the Aztecs.
Keys to Victory
At Moby Arena, SDSU fell behind early and had to claw their way back against a team and crowd that was charged up to beat them. The Aztecs need to flip the script on the Rams and get out to a fast start like they have the past 4 home games at Viejas Arena.
On the road in conference play, CSU is 3-0 when leading and 0-4 when trailing at halftime. Put the Rams in a deep hole early and the Aztecs should cruise to a victory.
Screens for Seiko
In conference play, the Aztecs rank #2 among Mountain West teams in 3 point shooting percentage at 38.4%. A major reason why is the emergence of Adam Seiko hitting a scorching 53% from deep on 4.5 attempts per game. That number needs to be higher like 8-10 3 point shots per game.
Against Fresno State, the Aztecs ran an elevator screen for him early in the game- a great play that resulted in an open shot he missed. It was his only attempt in 19 minutes. The Bulldogs switched most basic ball screens which didn’t give Seiko any open shots.
CSU is giving up 39.1% on 3 point shots in conference. The word is out that you must defend Seiko close. The Aztecs either need to get more creative on offense to give Seiko better shots or hope the other Aztec guards can knock down 3s against a poor perimeter defensive team.
Defend the 3
In round one, the Rams shot 37.9% (11-29) from deep mainly thanks to Jalen Lake who cooked the Aztecs hitting 5-7 of his 3 point shots. The Rams live and die by the 3 point shot. In CSU’s worst conference margins of loss (21 points at Boise State and 19 points at New Mexico), the Rams shot a combined 23% from behind the arc.
The Aztecs need to do a better job this time around of closing out on CSU’s shooters and communicating switches on defense to force the Rams to take contested shots. At Moby Arena, the Aztecs also gambled and lost when trying to force steals by pressing full court and helping off of perimeter shooters who made the Aztecs pay. Straight up man to man defense may be a more effective strategy for the Aztecs in the sequel.
Colorado State is a landmine the Aztecs want to avoid stepping on heading into the final stretch of the season. On Saturday, the NCAA tournament selection committee revealed their current top 16 seeds. It appears the committee is favoring teams with more NET ranking Quad 1 victories and less bad losses. Here is the Aztecs’ current NET rankings.
The Aztecs have no bad losses which would change if they stumble at home against CSU or Wyoming. SDSU currently is 2-4 in Quad 1 games: a stat that is likely going to push them down a seed line or two.
Coach Brian Dutcher’s team will have 3-4 more Quad 1 opportunities before Selection Sunday. Every game is must win if the Aztecs want to secure the Mountain West conference title and improve their seeding for March Madness.