California Golden Bears vs. #14 San Diego State Aztecs Gamethread

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The California Golden Bears face their second stiffest test of non-conference play when they face the potential Mountain West Champs for the 2010-11 season, the San Diego St. Aztecs (they'll be competing neck-and-neck with UNLV for this position). They're led by 65 year old head coach Steve Fisher, the former leader of the Fab Five at Michigan. In his 12 years as Aztec head coach, he's led San Diego State to the tournament three times and won 20 games six times. Robyn Norwood of the USA Today with the story.

"When Steve got to San Diego State, there wasn't good talent," Frieder said. "There were too many Division II players on the team, and you're a Division I program. There was a lot of apathy. The crowds had dwindled to nothing, maybe 1,500."

Last season, the Aztecs averaged 7,227, with two sellouts.

"He built it a little at a time. He didn't try to cut corners and he didn't try to do it with bad kids early," Frieder said. "I even talked to him about that. I took too many chances at Arizona State. He didn't."

By his third season, Fisher had guided the Aztecs to the 2002 NCAA tournament. They got back in 2006, and again in 2010.

"Every four years," Fisher said. "I hope it's not '14 before we go again."

Time: 7:30 PM PT/10:30 PM ET
TV: CSN California
Radio: KNEW 910 AM, listen to Audio with All-Access ($)

Stream: Post links in comments
Line: SDSU by 5
Injury report: Markhuri Sanders-Frison (questionable, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis in left Achilles)

After the jump, more info on the Aztecs.

San Diego State Primer: Ranked 14th by the media, ranked 20th by Pomeroy
Current Record: 8-0

Signature games: Winning 79-76 at #44 Gonzaga, 69-55 vs. #40 St. Mary's, 83-69 vs. #56 Wichita St.

All numbers courtesy of Pomeroy. Numbers indicate national rank in D-I

Offensive efficiency: 14th; Defensive efficiency: 34th
Tempo: 289th
Effective FG%: 55.5 (18th); defense--47.1 (122nd)
Turnover %: 18.6 (67th); defense--21.6 (141st)
Offensive rebound% 40.7 (17th); defense--30.3 (96th)
FTA/FGA: 31.0 (288th); defense--29.7 (51st)

Jump to conclusions: SDSU appears to be a very solidly coached team that runs good half-court sets and executes properly. Good length on the board to not only get extra opportunities but also keep opposing offenses from extra opportunities. Don't get to the line often, seem to rely heavily on nailing jump shots, which they seem to be very good at. Cal's defense will have to shut-down SDSU's offense, although with MSF's limited ability, we could be in for a long night at Haas Pavilion.

Alpha dog

Sophomore Kawhi Leonard (6'7", 225): Offensive rating of 122.4 (159th in the nation), 26.9 defensive rebound rate (24th in the nation), 9.1 turnover rate (79th in the nation), 3.8 steal rate (157th in the nation), 78.8% of minutes played (300th)

Leonard is projected to go at the end of the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, and there's even some talk he could be a lottery pick if the Aztecs have the season they expect to have. Mark Zeigler of Sign On San Diego with more.

About the only person who seems completely unmoved by the hype, to the realization that at this time next year he could be a millionaire, is Leonard himself. He is quiet, shy, unassuming, humble, reserved. He speaks in almost a whisper and he quickly changes the subject from three letters (NBA) to four (SDSU).

"I’m just out here focusing on the team every day," he says. "That’s all I’m worried about. Those scouts aren’t in my mind at all."

...

"He doesn’t pay too much attention to the media or all the NBA talk," says his roommate, Aztecs forward Malcolm Thomas. "There was one time he was on the cover of something and I told him, ‘Hey, Kawhi, did you see this?’ He had no idea.

"He just wants to get better."

SDSU vs TCU: Kawhi Leonard steal and dunk (via greatgazzoos)

Leonard will clearly be a step above everyone on the court. While Monty has been known for dealing pretty well with future NBA wings (see how Cal dealt with Quincy Pondexter and Landry Fields), San Diego State's role players will also be a cut above the normal pack. They give the Aztecs the edge they need to win on any given night.

Sidekicks

Malcolm Thomas (6'9", 215): 55.6 eFG% (336th), 9.8 offensive rebound rate (382nd), 18.0 defensive rebound rate (377th), 8.7 block rate (59th), 51.9 FT rate (300th)

Thomas provides the big man presence that should give Sanders-Frison and Kamp fits. If Cal's defense is forced to double down with Allen Crabbe and maybe a hedging big man or Gutierrez, look for Leonard to sneak it in down to Thomas, who is pretty effective in the low block. Thomas also can rebound and block, which could mean nightmares for Harper Kamp to try to get his offense going.

Billy White (6'8", 235): 128.2 offensive rating (83rd), 12.8 offensive rebound rate (151st), 3.2 steal % (327th)

With Thomas, White and Leonard, San Diego State has some great length and strength to get those extra boards. This could make all the difference. Kamp and Sanders-Frison are going to have to be ready to bang and stay out of foul trouble; the drop-off between those two and the Bak Bak & Richard Solomon duo defensively is precipitous.

Role players

D.J. Gay (6'0", 167): 117.7 offensive rating (272nd), 56.9 eFG% (279th), 58.0 true shooting % (389th)

Although the Aztecs have no primary ball-handler (again, all about the half-court passing for these guys), Gay is pretty much the guy responsible for taking the ball down the court. Look for Brandon Smith to try and use his size to bother Gay.

James Rahon (6'5", 202): 135.1 offensive rating (24th)

Rahon will probably draw Franklin since he seems to be San Diego State's version of a pull-up jump shooter. They'll want their primary defenders on Gay and Leonard, I'd guess.

Chase Tapley (6'2", 205): 4.0 steal rate (142nd)

***

This will be a very tough matchup for Cal. They can't take advantage of their size because the Aztecs are just as talented down in the box. This means the wing players are going to have to nail and make shots for Cal to get anything going, or utilize the high-low set to draw big men away from the basket and keep Sanders-Frison from doing too much without hurting himself. It's going to be a very tough grind for Cal during a fairly difficult home stretch that sees them play Southern Miss on Sunday and Kansas in two weeks.

A victory here could mean a lot to Cal's postseason chances. GO BEARS!

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