Many thanks to SFN commenter Wufpacker, for putting together the following fantastic, comprehensive preview:
If you’re like me, you didn’t know a whole heckuva lot about the Wolfpack’s upcoming opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (sorry, second round) when the brackets were announced. Personally, while I knew they had a monster year in ’11, I didn’t know too much about their exploits this year, so I decided to find out.
Disclaimer of sorts: I am intentionally not going to talk about their schedule, their RPI, or how their successes or failures against their schedule measure up to ours. No need to re-hash all of that at this point. All you need to know is they’re the #6 and we’re the #11 so any expectations of an easy day should stop there. If you are one who wants to re-hash bracketology or seeding at this point, there are plenty of places to do that. No need to do it again here. This is meant to be more of a “Guide for the ignorant viewer” type of thing. Slanted toward the NCSU viewer, naturally.
So, who are the San Diego State University Aztecs?
SDSU is coached by former Michigan Head Coach (and fab five handler), Steve Fisher. For those who don’t recall, Fisher won a national championship while at Michigan, though it wasn’t with the fab five and it was, strangely enough, as an interim HC. He has been at SDSU for 13 seasons and was named the 2012 MWC COY.
The Aztecs are making their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. It’s their first however, as an at large invitee. After losing four starters from last year’s squad (34-3, MWC Champs, #2 seed in west region) which lost in the round of 16 to eventual national champion UConn, it was expected that they would be having major rebuilding pains in 2012 and would be on the outside looking in come March.
Instead, the Aztecs nearly won the MWC in what supposed to be a down year (regular season co-champs), and are a deserving #6 seed and facing our very own Wolfpack. So, how did that happen, you ask? Some guys stepped up big time. None bigger than Jamaal Franklin.
Jamaal Franklin (#21, Soph. G) is the Aztecs leading scorer (17.2 ppg) and rebounder (7.9 rpg). The 6’5” 195lb Franklin is a lanky and strong “tweener” who can both slash and battle bigger guys down low. He won the MWC conference POY award this year after having not started a single game last year as a freshman. That tells me he’s got heart. He can also step out and knock down the perimeter shot and will occasionally get streaky hot as a shooter. He’s very Hodge-like in his game, and fouling him is not a good option with his nearly 80% avg from the line. He is their guy that you can only hope to contain. You’re not going to stop him.
The only returning starter from last season’s squad is Chase Tapley (#22, Jr. G). More of a SG but can play the point perfectly well. Averaging 15.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 2.2 apg, he is a very balanced player. By far their biggest outside threat, he averages nearly as well from beyond the arc (43.3%) and he does overall (45.7%). If he’s hot he is very difficult to defend. Much like our own Zo Brown, Tapley has the ability to take over the game at times. He was voted 2nd team All MWC.
Their PG, Xavier Thames (#2, Soph. G), is in his first season playing for SDSU. He’s averaging 4.2 apg against 2.5 topg and is pretty steady with the ball, especially for a first year starter. Not as big a scoring threat as either Franklin or Tapley, he still averages double figures scoring (10.3 ppg) on mostly opportunistic buckets. He also averages 3.2 rpg.
James Rahon (#11, Jr, G) is a guy that’s also a tweener of sorts. He’s not great at anything, but he is very steady. He averages 8.8 ppg, and 2.7 rpg.
The most important big man for SDSU is Tim Shelton (#10, Sr, F/C). The 6’7” 240lb Shelton’s biggest value to his team is his interior defense. Named to the MWC all defensive team, Shelton is both very strong and a smart defender. He also rebounds well (4.7 rpg) and usually scores a handful of points (5.3 ppg), usually on second looks.
Garrett Green (#5, Sr, F/C) and Deshawn Stephens (#23, Jr. F) are both big enough to help Shelton gum up the works inside defensively. At 6’11” and 240lbs, Green has the size to battle down low with whomever he runs up against. He pulls down 4.7 rpg and scores 6.1 ppg, again mostly on clean up duty. Stephens doesn’t have Green’s size (6’8”, 215 lbs), but he’s still a good rebounder (5.0 rpg) and an above average defender. Like Green and Shelton, he scores a lot on putbacks (5.2 ppg).
SDSU is the very definition of a team.
They play very good team defense, they are very unselfish with the ball on offense. They make their opponents work to get good looks at the basket and despite their size they are good on the glass at both ends. Bottom line, this is a good team with balanced scoring and rebounding, and good leadership. They can cause a variety of damage (tip of the hat to Burgess Meredith there) against a team that is undisciplined with the ball or undisciplined on defense.
Despite using mostly a three (and sometimes four) guard offense, the Aztecs like to run and they are equally comfortable going to the hole or pulling up and shooting the 3 in transition. They don’t match our size but they are quicker than we are as a team.
That quickness could pose a big problem for us in getting open looks from the perimeter. Scott Wood, CJ Williams and Alex Johnson are going to have to work hard to get open looks, and one or two or (dare to dream?) all three of them are going to have to knock them down. It wouldn’t hurt if Zo Brown could step up and can a couple from the perimeter as well.
On the other end, our perimeter defense is going to have to be able to adequately slow down three and sometimes four guys. Aside from Tapley, no one on SDSU’s roster really burns it up from outside, but they are solid and occasionally get hot (Franklin more than occasionally) and we would do well to stick close.
In the paint, it will be the same old story it’s been all season. Fouls will be big for both teams. The Aztecs are no deeper than we are and cannot afford early fouls to dictate their game plan. They’ll rightly try to disrupt us on the perimeter, as well as the Zo to Calvin connection, but early fouls to their limited bigs would make that difficult.
We will also try to disrupt their perimeter flow, as well as keeping their bigs off the glass. Again, early fouls to Howell or Calvin will put a damper on that. If we’re forced to sit either one, especially Howell, their bigs will have a much easier time on the glass on both ends.
Over the years, I’ve learned to hedge my bets when it comes to NCSU, especially on the hardwood. Old habits die hard so I’m going to do that here, at least a little bit.
If we play to our (newly found?) potential, we’ll win. To do that, we need to play with intensity and confidence and stay out of foul trouble, especially early. Judging by what we’ve seen of the Wolfpack lately, I think the intensity and confidence will be there. If we can avoid getting our bigs in a hole early with fouls, I think we win.
Be warned, however. If we revert back to the team that lollygags back on defense (and reaches to defend rather than moving it’s legs), and lollygags around screens on the perimeter (Lollygaggers!!!), we will not only lose, but we’ll get smoked.
78-75 in OT, Wolfpack advances.
Quick and irrelevant facts
-Redshirt sophomore PG Xavier Thames transferred to SDSU from Washington State when Tony Bennett left to take the UVa job.
-Previous mascot names for SDSU athletics include the “Normalites”, the “Professors”, and the “Wampus Cats”. “Aztecs” was adopted officially in 1924 (though I think it was a mistake to move away from “Wampus Cats”).
-SDSU has a total enrollment of 31k. Founded in 1897, it is the third oldest university in the Cal State system.
-Former major league great and current SDSU head baseball coach Tony Gwynn leads his teams into battle in the stadium named for him.
-Other famous alumni include Cleavon “Excuse me while I whip this out” Little; Marion Ross of “Happy Days” fame; the voices of both Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) and Peggy Hill (Kathy Najimy); and Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers.