1. The Aztecs Need to Understand Urgency
In his game presser against UT Arlington, Brian Dutcher emphasized this point: “We have to understand the urgency, I have to find ways to try to get it going faster for us and to put these guys into positions where they’re comfortable.”
Through the first ten minutes of Saturday’s game, the Aztecs were tied with the Mavs, 11-11. The clanks off the rim and the squeaks of shoes scrambling after turnovers felt very much like a trap game for San Diego State. The slow start and inefficiencies on offense kept the game close until the second half with 8:38 to play when the Aztecs went on a 9-0 run.
Now San Diego State will travel on Thanksgiving to Anaheim in the Paycom Wooden Classic to play against Georgetown on Thursday and then either USC or Saint Joe’s Friday night.
The Big East team is returning only two players from their 2021 NCAA tournament team, sophomore Dante Harris and super-senior Donald Carey. The core of Patrick Ewing’s team moved on from the program. Like the Aztecs, the Hoyas are still learning to play together. Georgetown opened their season with a loss against Dartmouth, who did not have a 2020-2021 season due to the Ivy League canceling fall and winter sports.
“Patrick Ewing has done a great job with that team. He’s got a lot of new pieces like we all do this time of year,” remarked Dutcher at his Monday presser. “I know they dropped their opener. They’re playing better basketball (now).”
Georgetown features listed 7-foot centers Timothy Ighoefe, Malcolm Wilson, and Ryan Mutumbo, son of former Hoya and NBA legend Dikembe Mutumbo. Igohefe has been the starter, but Wilson and Mutumbo have had 10+ minutes each of the past few games.
“They shoot the ball, and they have good point guard play, and obviously, Georgetown with Patrick, you’re going to have good bigs,” Dutcher explained. “They’re very balanced, and they can hurt you a lot of different ways.”
The urgency has to be there for these Aztecs not to fall behind. Georgetown plays with a quick tempo similar to Arizona State. Failing to get in a rhythm early could easily put SDSU in a hole away from the friendly confines of Viejas Arena. The Aztecs are 5-1 in the history of the Wooden Legacy Tournament since 2013.
“We’re excited to head to Anaheim,” Dutcher said. “Hopefully, we get a great Aztec following, where we can fill the building with Aztec fans, and that will obviously give us our best opportunity to win the game.”
2. Containing Aminu Mohammed
Aminu Mohammed was named the preseason Big East freshman of the year. The 6’5” 210-pound guard was a McDonald’s all-American who averaged 23.3 points and ten rebounds in his senior year at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield, Missouri. Recruiting services listed him as a five-star recruit going into Georgetown. He has the ability to score off the dribble and is not afraid to drive in the lane.
In the opener against Dartmouth, Mohammed put up 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor. Mohammed’s 17 points were a record-high for a freshman scoring on opening night during Ewing’s tenure. Through the first three games for the Hoyas, he is averaging 14 points a contest.
Opposing guards have not fared well shooting from the field against San Diego State’s defense. Trey Pulliam and Lamont Butler were able to shut down previous stars Arizona State’s DJ Horne (3-of-8 from the field) and UT Arlington’s David Azore ( 5-of-16).
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3. Win the battle for second-chance points
On Saturday night, the Aztecs had six fewer offensive boards than the Mavs.
“Every day, we’ll spend time on it: rebounding, boxing out, keeping the other team from hurting us on the offensive glass,” responded Dutcher when asked about how the Aztecs will prepare for the Wooden Legacy.
Nathan Mensah currently leads the team with offensive boards but only hauled in two against UT Arlington. Joshua Tomaic led with three offensive rebounds on Saturday night. While the Aztecs are cleaning up on the defensive end, they are not giving themselves second chance opportunities.
SDSU shoots 40.1% from the field and 24.6% from outside the arc. The Aztecs have to manufacture easy scoring opportunities. Boxing out and securing more offensive rebounds should lead to some high percentage shots.
Erwin Mendoza grew up a SoCal kid, but now is raising a family in the Pacific Northwest. Besides covering San Diego State basketball, he loves lamenting the lack of sports championships from San Diego — minor league teams don’t count— while drinking the local stout on nitro.