X-Factors for SDSU vs. Syracuse
Key players for Aztecs
Who does SDSU need to step up?
The No. 6 seeded San Diego State Aztecs are matching up with the No. 11 seeded Syracuse Orange on Friday night. As always, to win players need to play well. That’s so boring though. Let’s look at the X-Factors. The things that the Aztecs need to do in order to win, and more specifically, the things they can do but don’t always do.
1. Matt Mitchell’s decision making:
The way to beat a zone is to get the ball into the middle of it. Matt Mitchell will likely live at the foul line this whole game. When he has the ball there, the Syracuse big will step up to contest any shots. In that crucial moment, Mitchel will need to decide whether he can get the ball to Mensah/Tomaić down low, kick it out to a shooter, or hit a midrange jumpshot. These are all things Mitchell is capable of, but he can be turnover prone when he tries to force things. If Mitchell makes the right decisions in the middle of that 2-3 zone, everything else should fall into place.
2. Nathan Mensah’s hands:
Nathan Mensah is a great player. He’s been in a bit of a cold slump lately, but he showed what he’s capable of in the Mountain West Championship game, where he flustered the Media’s Player of the Year Neemias Queta all game.
On top of his defense, Mensah is capable of scoring a lot of points. He has had multiple games this season where he’s scored 15+ points. This may be another game where that happens. When the Syracuse big steps up to contest Mitchell, Mensah will be open for an easy dunk for a split second. When Mitchell passes him the ball, he needs to catch it and get it up very quickly. Catching it has been a lingering problem all season. Should Mensah secure the ball, he can score a lot of points in this game.
In addition to catching passes, corralling offensive rebounds behind the 2-3 zone will be crucial as well. The more Mensah secures, the more likely the Aztecs will win.
(All of this applies to Tomaić too, who has struggled to catch pick and roll passes from Pulliam in the last few games.)
3. Pulliam’s shot making:
Trey Pulliam has had an interesting season. All season he has been a good defender, but his offense has been iffy at best. That all changed during the Mountain West Tournament.
Who would’ve thought that the guy we all wanted to bench in January would put up these numbers in the conference tournament?
12.7 pts, 2.3 rebs, 3.7 asts, 2.3 stl, 59% from the field.
— Aztec Breakdown (@aztecbreakdown) March 14, 2021
If Pulliam continues to play the way he has been over the last 3 games, this team’s ceiling raises considerably. Should he regress this is still a good team, but will be hard pressed to beat Syracuse. When Pulliam is on his game he thrives in the middle of the defense. Does anyone remember where the zone is weak?
In the middle, correct.
If San Diego State gets these things, they will win the game against Syracuse, and maybe even another game or two. If not, it will be a long plane ride home.