1. Manufacture offense.
In Monday’s press conference, SDSU Aztecs’ coach Brian Dutcher reiterated that “at some point, some of those looks have to go in so that we can manufacture enough offense to get a victory instead of a defeat in a game like that.”
Through the first few games against UC Riverside, BYU, and Arizona State, the defense shined and overshadowed some of their offensive misgivings. The hope was for their elite defense to carry this team until their shots consistently fell in. As the season progressed and the players grew more comfortable with each other, the offensive would pick up, perhaps by the time they tipped off in Anaheim.
“We have to get better,” said Dutcher leading off in his weekly press conference. “We have to clean up our offense…and we have to rebound the basketball. So those are getting our full attention right now as we prepare for a Long Beach State.”
Unfortunately, the buckets have yet to drop consistently. Against USC, the Aztecs shot 18-of-56, 32.1% from the field. In the two games in the Paycom Wooden Legacy, they shot at 40.5%, which comes close to their season percentage of 40.2% per game.
“We’re running the same sets we ran a year ago. We just have to be more efficient in running them in,” remarked Dutcher when asked about offensive adjustments. “Like I said, when you lose Jordan Schakel [making 46%] on threes and Terrell Gomez [from] 40%, that’s what we’re lacking.”
Matt Bradley, who leads the team in scoring, is shooting 38.8%. The biggest critique of this team was losing seniors who could carry the Aztec offense and stretch out opposing defenses. Bradley has to make his shots to find success Tuesday night, and role-players need to seize on their scoring opportunities.
SDSU has proven they can win with an elite defense, but they need the offense to do more than it has to date.
2. Control the paint
Long Beach State is coming off the Naples Invitational, playing three games in three days over the Thanksgiving holiday. The team dropped two of three to Murray State and Missouri State. Their lone victory came against Wright State of the Horizon League.
In their 85-76 win, 40 points came from inside the paint as forward Joe Hampton recorded his first career double-double, putting up 22 points with ten rebounds.
The 6’8″ forward from Washington DC, Hampton was featured on the Netflix series Last Chance U: Basketball during his time at East Los Angeles College.
Hampton often comes in off the bench, but his presence was a big lift to a team that was blown out by 30+ points in consecutive games.
Getting points in the paint was an afterthought for San Diego State against USC. The Aztecs allowed the Trojans to score 32 points in the paint, with USC Forward Isaiah Mobley putting up a double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds) against Mensah and Arop.
“[Long Beach State] can score the basketball,” said Dutcher of Tuesday night’s opponent. “So we have to slow them down and manufacture enough points to come away with a victory against them tomorrow night at Vegas Arena.”
To right things again, the Aztecs have to get their bigs defending in the paint and grab more rebounds. Despite Hampton’s rise against Wright State, San Diego State has an opportunity to close out more rebounds and defend better against the bigs. This has to be another stepping stone for the team to accomplish and improve upon.
3. Chemistry is still not there yet.
SDSU again went with a 10-man rotation on Friday night and would have likely gone to 11 had Adam Seiko been fully available. The Trojans went with eight.
Not only do fundamentals have to strengthen, but it’s also the improvement of other teammates.
The Aztec coaching staff is still trying to find their scorer behind Matt Bradley and has not found a lineup that gets the job done offensively and defensively. Bradley had a season-low of a -17 plus-minus on Friday, and only Aguek Arop had a positive plus-minus and +1.
Over time, Brian Dutcher has praised the age of his team, often including multiple transfers and 4-5 year players at the program. But with his starting lineup comprised mostly of underclassmen, the youth of this team shows.
No one player scored more than four field goals. Butler stepped up offensively against Georgetown but was held out to 4-of-14 from the field and nine total points. Pulliam led all scorers against USC with 11 but shot 4-of-10 from the field and 2-of-4 from the charity stripe.
Mensah scored eight points in Friday’s contest, but he is mostly missing from the offense this season. Through six games so far, Mensah has shot at 60% and averages 9.5 points per game. Compared to the first six games last year, he was shooting 55.6% and averaging 8.8 points per game.
The 6’10” forward from Ghana leads the team in Kenpom’s true shooting percentage at 59%, meaning he makes most of his field-goal attempts and free throws.
Brian Dutcher is going to continue tinkering with lineups and bench moves until the buckets drop in and play more like the team that blew out Georgetown on Thanksgiving night.