3 Keys for an Aztecs victory over Air Force

Aztecs

Credit: EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

1. Force turnovers and score in transition

Matt Bradley is riding a hot streak that is carrying the San Diego State Aztecs to victories. He has scored 20-plus points in five of the last eight games, including a season-high 28 points against San Jose State.

Bradley is providing much of the scoring while others struggle to find their shot.

“Matt is playing great basketball,” remarked Brian Dutcher to the media post-game on Wednesday night. “We have to continue to find guys to play alongside him.”

With no one on the rest of the team chipping in more than eight points against the Spartans, SDSU must create scoring opportunities through their defense. Dutcher has preached throughout the season that they have to generate enough offense to edge out opponents, and easy buckets in transition have given life to the Aztecs of late. San Diego State recorded 13 fast break points compared to San Jose State’s six.

“It is frustrating when we miss a couple of layups here and there, [but] we can’t dwell on that,” said Dutcher. “At the end of the day, we force 22 turnovers and we had nine…and shot at a pretty good percentage.”

SDSU should be licking their chops as they study the tape and prepare for Air Force. The Falcons give up the most turnovers in the Mountain West at an average of 14.1 times per game, likely due to the inexperience listed at the Academy –the Falcons start three freshman, a junior, and one senior.

If the home team can rally to create turnovers and score on fast breaks, it could mean a track meet on the court come Saturday. Air Force will do their best to wear them down, but jumping into passing lanes and getting Keshad Johnson more opportunities for easy dunks should be a large component of their game plan.

2. Outrun Air Force’s Princeton Offense, the triple-option of basketball

Air Force (10-12, 3-8 MW) has lost four of its last five contests, including Tuesday’s defeat to UNLV in Las Vegas, but enters Viejas Arena with rested legs. The Falcons own three conference wins over Utah State, San Jose State, UNLV and look to defeat their hosts on Saturday. Coach Joe Scott is in the second year of his second stint at the position. His first go as the head honcho of the Falcons came in the early 2000s before leaving to coach at his alma mater Princeton.

The cadets are one of the shorter and skinnier teams the Aztecs will face – four starters are under 6-foot-5 and none weighs over 205-lbs. Their speed and agility make them adept at challenging three-pointers, allowing 30.6 percent made three-points which ranks 57th in NCAA and third in the Mountain West.

Their leading scorer is senior A.J. Walker, averaging 14.9 points per game with a 47.7 shooting percentage from the floor. He excels in their Princeton offensive system, where plays consist of heavy ball movement while each player looks for a baseline cutter or spacing advantage. This style of basketball, much like football’s triple-option, eats up time. Each possession takes an average of 20.3 seconds before attempting a shot. It is methodical but gives short-handed teams, like Air Force, a puncher’s chance every night out.

Defending this system means every Aztec must keep up with a quicker guard-type and not allow open lanes to the rim. In two of their three conference wins, at least two different Falcons scored 10-plus points. For San Diego State to win, they must focus on individuals moving in a coordinated system. It’s not Walker they need to worry about it; it’s anybody who has a good look. The Falcons already beat a UNLV team that was carried by a 32-point performance by Bryce Hamilton. If the Aztecs act haphazardly, Air Force can swoop in and win, disregarding any stellar performance from Bradley.

3. Give Joshua Tomaic extra minutes off the bench

Joshua Tomaic averages 13.3 minutes per game this year, slightly under his 15.6 minutes last season. Despite the reduction of minutes in his final season in college basketball, the one-time Maryland Terrapin has kept working and has earned more minutes recently. His minutes increased to an average of 19.0 minutes over the last two games, recording 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

“Josh Tomaic has played great back-to-back,” complimented Brian Dutcher. “We need him to continue to do that and grow his game. If he does, we will continue to play well.”

Going into the season, quotes from the coaching staff painted a picture of the Canary Island-born player operating as a stretch-four with ample opportunities to play on the wing. His perimeter shot hasn’t materialized, only shooting 6-of-20 with the last attempt at Colorado State, and done enough to challenge Diabate’s backup role in the paint. Yet, as his minutes increase, opportunities are presenting themselves for Tomaic to succeed.

The bench is starting to solidify and provide additional offense. Against San Jose State, they provided 19 points, with Tomaic and Chad Baker-Mazara both putting up eight and Adam Seiko contributing three. Before that, the bench contributed 12, with eight coming from Tomaic. Now is the time for a consistent scoring big to show up, and the trend for Tomaic looks good.

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Erwin Mendoza
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.
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