Mountain West Basketball: San Diego State vs. Utah State–Preview, Prediction, Odds
Aztecs, Aggies meet with first place on the line
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What: San Diego State Aztecs (18-5, 9-2) @ Utah State Aggies (19-5, 8-3)
When: Wednesday, February 8th – 8:00 MT, 7:00 PT
Where: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum; Logan, UT
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: Utah State -1 Over/Under 147
As we head for the stretch run, Wednesday’s night’s affair in Logan is one that has massive ramifications on the regular season Mountain West Conference championship. With three imposing road trips still on the docket, current first-place resident San Diego State has some work to do if they want to secure the title. Utah State on the other hand has just been going along, minding their business, and waiting for the opportunity to pick off the other contenders at home. They jumped all over their first chance a week ago, and drilled New Mexico in the Spectrum by 11. A repeat performance here, and this race truly is up for grabs.
Of course, a repeat performance will be impacted by what the opponent brings to the table, and the last time we saw SDSU, they were letting the rest of the league know that the championship runs through San Diego. For sure Boise State would have been more competitive with veteran point guard Marcus Shaver in the lineup, but a consistent 40 minute intense defensive effort was there, unlike the Aztecs last game, a road loss in Reno. Facing probably the most explosive offense in the Mountain West, that commitment to defense better be there from start to finish in this one.
What the Aggies did offensively on Saturday was remarkable. Colorado State coach Niko Medved had little choice but to play zone as he was down to six scholarship players, and had foul trouble to his two leading scorers. It won’t matter on Wednesday, as the Aztecs are going to play in-your-face man to man, but zoning Utah State is a bad idea. After getting their road legs in the first half, they came out in half number two and put video game numbers on the board. 17 of 29 from the floor (59%) and 9-11 from the foul line are good, not great. But they made 12 of 21 three point attempts, scored 55 points, and assisted on an absolutely insane 24 of 29 made field goals for the game (Sean Bairstow had 10 assists and Max Shulga 6). Those two are correlated; they shot such a high % because they got good shots. They got good shots, because they were unselfish and made the extra pass to find an open teammate. It was an incredible half of offensive basketball.
As for the other end of the floor, let’s just say it was enough to get the job done. Isaiah Stevens struggled to a 4 point first half, and then erupted for 21 in the final 20 minutes. As a team, Colorado State scored 47 of their own and made 19 of 27 shots. Imagine shooting 70% for a half, making 7 of 9 free throws and getting outscored by 8 points. The main difference was really the fact that the Rams traded 2’s for 3’s virtually every trip down the floor. It’s unlikely the Aggies will score at the same pace against San Diego State, so they’ll have to tighten the screws a bit defensively.
These teams did just meet two short weeks ago at Viejas Arena, an 85-75 SDSU victory. The threes were flying both ways in a game Utah State fell behind early in and never seriously threatened. The Aztecs showcased their balance and depth in that one, with leading scorers Matt Bradley and Lamont Butler held to 4 and 8 points respectively. The frontcourt of Nathan Mensah and Keshad Johnson each reached double figures, while super efficient big man sub Jaedon LeDee shot 4-4 in tallying 9 points. Mensah and Johnson just happened to be the leading scorers in Friday night’s win over Boise State as well, shooting a combined 9-9 for 27 points. When CSU went bonkers in the 2nd half Saturday, they made only 2 of 8 three-point attempts. Doing the math, that tells us that on two point shots, the Rams made 17 of 19 (yes that number is correct). That is borderline impossible to do against a good team. There may be a bit of luck involved there, but the point is, at times this is a vulnerable interior defense. And Brian Dutcher and his staff will look to attack that with a frontcourt that has been scoring the ball at a fairly high clip. Interesting game within the game right there.
In that first meeting, 54% of the Aggies shot attempts were three-pointers. Part of that is because it’s how USU plays, and it was partly dictated by the way the game started, with SDSU jumping out to a big early lead. Mainly though, the physical, athletic lineup of the Aztecs presented problems for Utah State, making it difficult for them to run the free-flowing motion offense they excel at. After the little resistance they encountered in Fort Collins over the weekend, the Aggies will need to be prepared for the increased defensive intensity.
Normally when you have a quick rematch of a conference game like this you give the edge to the defenses, because of the adjustments by good coaching staffs. Not sure that will be the case here. There are advantages for San Diego State offensively, and while they stifled the Aggies O at Viejas Arena, they did that same thing to Nevada early on in conference play, only to have the Wolf Pack turn the tables and shoot 65% in the second half when they played 2 weeks after their initial encounter. Also, the Aggies role players should feel more comfortable in their home gym.
This is the night Utah State has been waiting for. They have beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, and they dropped a few games on the road to upper echelon teams, and there is no shame in that. This is their chance to firmly plant their flag in the league championship chase. A win will do that, basically creating a four-way tie at the top. A loss however, all but eliminates them from contention. Expect to get the Aggies best effort. After watching San Diego State dismantle Boise State, you know why they were the preseason choice to claim the conference crown. But the Mountain West is so good at the top, and there are landmines everywhere, including Logan. The feeling here is that Utah State continues their top-notch offensive play and scrapes out a huge win in a thriller.
Prediction: Utah State 76 San Diego State 73