San Diego State has quietly built their program into a consistent force. They've been to the NCAA tournament two years in a row including last year's 34-3 run all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. It'll be a tough job for veteran coach Steve Fisher to sustain that level of success after losing NBA 1st-rounder Kwahi Leonard and three other starters.
Despite starting a new point guard transfer from WSU and a whole new frontcourt, the Aztecs are far from toothless. They're 7-2 including a close win over U$C, and an upset of #21 Arizona at the Lute Olson Center. Their sole losses have been to #12 Baylor and #22 Creighton. This is not a team that we're going to intimidate, over-power, or run out of the building.
If we start sluggishly like we did against Missouri or McNeese State, it's going to be a long night. After the jump, let's look at the starting lineups and projected matchups:
G Xavier Thames(So), 6'3, 195 lbs, 11.7 ppg, 5 apg
G Chase Tapley(Jr), 6'3, 195 lbs, 16.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 50% 3P%
G James Rahon(Jr), 6'5, 210 lbs, 10.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
F Tim Shelton(Sr), 6'7, 240 lbs, 3.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg
F Garret Green((Sr), 6'11, 240 lbs, 7.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg
The Aztecs use a guard-oriented attack and heavily rely on their lone returning starter, Chase Tapley. He's been touted as a "first-round talent" and has thus far lived up to his billing by being an all-around terror on both ends of the court. Xavier Thomas is a transfer from Washington State. He's been an effective distributor, although can be prone to turnovers when pressured. Third-guard James Rahon is their streak shooter who will put it up anytime from anywhere. He's shooting a very low percentage(15% from 3), so be prepared for a career night. Sixth man Jamaal Franklin has been outstanding off the bench. He's a slasher with some serious hops. Although they're not a great shooting team, the Aztecs use their athleticism to crash the boards and grab a lot of steals. Cue ominous music.
It's the frontcourt where SDSU isn't quite as strong. Tim Shelton has battled knee injuries, and Garrett Green is a transfer from LSU. Neither one is a dominant scorer or shot-blocker. But, they do play defense and help control the glass.
The Aztecs like to force them and we've been a bit generous with the ball. I suspect that ball movement will be a major point of emphasis in the week leading up to this game. We are the better shooting team across the board, but that counts for nothing if we can't run our offense.
2) Guard Play
It'll be strength on strength when you look at Smith/Jorge/Crabbe/Cobbs matched up against Thomas/Tapley/Rahon/Franklin. We'll need to do a better job of denying dribble penetration. As long as Jorge doesn't get into foul trouble, we should be solid here. If it comes down to a close game, we have a significant FT% advantage.
3) Winning the Glass
SDSU doesn't have a lot of frontcourt depth. But with Richard Solomon unavailable for this game, neither do we. Harper Kamp is as solid as they come, and David Kravish looks like he'll be up to the challenge of more minutes. The big question is what happens when we need to bring Thurman and Bak off the bench. Will they be able to keep SDSU's athletes off the glass and hold it down defensively? Or will Monty be forced to go with four guards and one big? In a microcosm of the season, the outcome of this game may depend on the health of Harper's knees and his ability to stay out of foul trouble.
Tip-off: 2pm PST
TV: MountainWest Sports Network (MTN)
Radio: KNEW 910 AM
Online Stream: Calbears.com/allaccess (audio only)
Other streams: Please post below.