San Diego State vs Utah State Preview: 3 Ways the Aztecs win in the Mountain West Conference Championship
San Diego State returns to the MWC final on another improbable run.
The Gritty Little Aztecs are back in the championship game
San Diego State enters the final game of the Mountain West Post-season with another improbable entrance to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Much like last year, these guys might still be green behind the ears. They have blown out by 16+ in 6 games this season, most recently a 28-point dud a week ago in Reno. Maybe seniors Jeremy Hemsley and Devin Watson knew all along that all it takes is three games in Las Vegas. Maybe lopsided losses against Duke, Iowa State, Brown, Nevada, and Utah State were only growing pains.
How would San Diego State win against Utah State?
This is the 9th time in an 11-year span that San Diego State makes the Mountain West Championship game. With that, some nuances fall into favor with the Aztecs.
San Diego State claiming the 4-seed meant that they haven’t played the late game on the slate. Historically, San Diego State playing in the late games meant that by next day’s tip-off their dead legs lead to flat shots and defensive struggles.
2017: Played the late Thursday game, loses to Colorado State on Friday.
2015: Played the late Friday game, only puts up 43 points in a loss to Wyoming in the championship game.
This year follows a familiar path to victory.
- Win 2:30pm opening game on Thursday
- Win 6pm game on Friday over Nevada
- Play at a reasonable 3pm tip on Saturday
- Win 6pm opening game on Thursday
- Win 830pm game on Friday
- Play with dead legs at 3pm on Saturday
For this crop of Aztecs, they have another opportunity to upset the setup at their…
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
San Diego State rents out the Thomas & Mack Center during Mountain West Conference play. Despite the branding of the floor and the arena, the host school and an ad-hoc array of teams have lost to the gritty little Aztecs. Take into consideration San Diego State’s record at the Thomas & Mack going back to 2015:
2018: 3-0 in MW tournament play + 1 loss @ UNLV
2017: 2-1 in MW tournament play + 1 win @ UNLV
2016: 2-1 in MW tournament play + 1 win @ UNLV
2015: 2-1 in MW tournament play + 1 win @ UNLV
That’s a combined 12-4 at the Thomas & Mack since 2015. Compare that to Utah State’s 5-6 during the same time frame.
The Aztecs lead the all-time head-to-head at 11-3. The Aztecs have owned all 11 victories since Utah State joined the Mountain West. The only Mountain West victory Utah State has claimed over San Diego State was a few weeks prior in Logan, UT. There was nothing special about the snow, but San Diego State seemed shook in front of The Hurd.
Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel were the only productive shooters that night and defensive was shoddy. Utah State was able to put 42.9% from the field, carried by their 2-point percentage at 54.8%. To no surprise, but Sam Merrill lead the way with 19 points.
San Diego State has a blueprint to stop Neemias Queta, but this time they can’t let Sam Merrill beat them. The Aztecs have to keep Utah State’s shooters in foul trouble and lock Merril and Able Porter under 38% field-goal shooting.
Not only is it going to be on the defense to stop them, but it’s also going to take a proper…
Senior Sendoff (+ Jalen McDaniels)
This is the official last game for San Diego State. Their school getting called on Sunday night is negligible without the auto-bid. This team ranks in the low-100s in KenPom and in NET. There is no shot of earning an at-large bid. Utah State has a better shot than San Diego State of being an at-large bid. As of publishing, Jerry Palm of CBS has Utah State in as 8-seed and Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Utah State as a 10-seed.
Yet the Aztecs can pull off another incredible championship heist. Not only would that put Utah State on the bubble, but the squeeze would be felt across the D-1 basketball.
Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley comprise a strong defensive backcourt. Even stronger is their ability to keep their cool and be positive in the face of adversity. San Diego State gave up their 13-point lead on Friday, but senior leadership got them back into the game and got them to a tip-off on Saturday.
Yet, it’s been Watson and McDaniels who has carried this team offensively during Mountain West play. McDaniels recorded another double-double against Nevada, and he has to be the guy to get going for this team to win this afternoon. In their prior matchup in Logan, McDaniels recorded 7-points, with a 30% FG. That stat line will not cut it today. Not only does McDaniels’ pride on the line, but a stellar performance here earns him more looks on CBS next week.