San Diego State And New Mexico Will Be Playing For A Spot In The NCAA Tournament
The Aztecs crushed Nevada while New Mexico handled Utah State
The winner of Saturday’s title game will compete in the NCAA Tournament
Friday’s doubleheader at the Thomas & Mack Center didn’t share as much late-game excitement as Thursday, but there was no shortage of quality performances from the game’s winners. San Diego State demolished Nevada in stunning fashion, advancing to the conference title game for the first time since 2016. New Mexico came back from down eight to beat Utah State and keep its unforgettable season alive. Without further adieu, my takeaways from Friday night’s semifinal matchups are below.
Defense Is A Cause For Concern For Nevada
The shots haven’t been falling like they usually do for the Wolf Pack, but it’s Nevada’s defense that has been lackluster the past few games. In the first half, San Diego State’s dribble drives killed Nevada, allowing the Aztecs to either get gimmes at the rim or open perimeter attempts. In addition to defending, SDSU completely controlled the boards over Nevada, picking up a number of second-chance buckets that allowed the Aztecs to put the game out of reach. The Wolf Pack has allowed opponents to pick up offensive rebounds on 40.8% of shot attempts over the last four games after allowing just 26.9% in its first 30 games this year. Nevada finished with more offensive boards, but SDSU paired its hot shooting early with its dominance inside, and it created a hole that was too big for Nevada to recover.
Nevada Will Be Nervous, But Will Hear Its Name Called On Selection Sunday
Nevada was torched by San Diego State on Friday night, leaving its NCAA Tournament hopes in the hands of the selection committee. Musselman stated after the game that he is confident that the selection committee will favor Nevada’s quantity of road wins, consistency, and challenging non-conference schedule. Falling from 11th to 16th in RPI, Nevada is still in great shape to make the NCAA Tournament. No team ranked in the top 20 in RPI has ever missed the NCAA Tournament. Seeding, however, could be an issue for the Wolf Pack. Nevada owns just two Quadrant I RPI victories and has losses to UNLV and San Francisco, both of which are under the team sheet’s third quadrant. The Wolf Pack will likely be a double-digit seed on Selection Sunday.
Backcourt Production Has Returned For San Diego State
Much of San Diego State’s early season struggles were predicated on its inability to receive consistent backcourt production. Through two games in the Mountain West Tournament, the trio of Devin Watson, Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley are 19-46 from the field (41.3%). In Thursday’s win over Fresno State, Trey Kell came through with a number of momentum-gathering baskets for the Aztecs, finishing 5-12 for the game. On Friday, Devin Watson took over the scoring load, pocketing four first half three-pointers to put San Diego State out ahead of Nevada. It might have taken San Diego State some time to act as a cohesive unit, especially due to the infusion of Matt Mitchell and Trey Kell returning from injury, the Aztecs are streaking at the right time. A lot of the credit has to go to the backcourt for making key plays on the offensive end.
New Mexico Is Not Even Close To Satisfied Yet
Slotted ninth overall in the Mountain West preseason media poll, many expected the Lobos to have a transition year under the first season of Paul Weir. Instead, New Mexico is forty minutes away from its first NCAA Tournament appearance under the new head coach. For many programs, what has ensued over the past few months for New Mexico would be cause for celebration. Weir won’t allow his guys to let up, though, as he ensured in the postgame press conference that his players will (again) be forced to run before Saturday’s title game. The reason? Allowing five Utah State offensive rebounds. “We’re not done, we have to give it everything we’ve got tomorrow afternoon,” Weir said.