1. Overcome short preparation
San Diego State planned for two teams on their schedule after coming home following their first conference win last Saturday. The pandemic – and subsequently the Mountain West Conference – had different ideas for the Aztecs this week.
On January 2, news came out that Fresno State had COVID-19 issues within their program and that the Wednesday night matchup would be postponed. This left SDSU with only one opponent for the week, Nevada, on Saturday.
“It is just the nature of basketball right now,” said Dutcher in Thursday’s virtual press conference. “You look at the ticker, and half the games being played around the country are either postponed or canceled.”
On Wednesday afternoon, San Diego State had already ended practice, preparing for Nevada, when reports broke that Nevada also would need to pause due to health protocols. In Thursday’s press conference, Dutcher expressed his preference for making up the postponed Fresno State game, but the following hours only spiraled for Mountain West basketball.
Colorado State was scheduled to face off against Boise State on Friday, but the Broncos, too, had to pause because of virus-related concerns. The Rams were linked to scheduling Arizona or UCLA, both of which had unforeseen openings in the middle of Pac-12 play. With games disappearing before their eyes, league officials overruled SDSU and CSU and moved their February date to Saturday, securing their marquee intra-league game before national TV.
CSU at Arizona was an option for this weekend if Boise State game got canned. But when Nevada-SDSU got shut down, it became a natural fit for the Mountain West to get a league game played and put a marquee matchup on national TV.
— Kevin Lytle (@Kevin_Lytle) January 6, 2022
“We do not have the luxury (of time) now,” remarked Dutcher about facing Colorado State. “We have to be connected and together at Viejas to get a big win. We will do everything in our power to make that happen.”
Winning on short notice is doable yet not ideal. The Aztecs have, after all, made do with their opponents in March Madness.
“Normally what happens (for preparation) is whatever assistant coach is in charge of that scout has already spent two weeks getting ready for those two days of practice,” said Dutcher. According to the team, when abrupt scenarios like this occur, every coach, including the head coach, dedicates a long night dissecting film for their players. Then when they reconvene with the entire team, they pass down enough vital information to help them win.
The Aztecs will have had two full practices before tip-off on Saturday afternoon. Between now and tomorrow, each member of the Aztec staff needs to focus on beating the clock and the Rams.
2. Slow down Roddy and the Rams
Going into the season, Colorado State knew how they were going earn a March Madness invite in 2022. Head coach Niko Medved used a formula San Diego State is familiar with – keep all five starters.
In a time where the transfer portal has been a hot commodity across college sports, Medved opted to preserve his team. Their 11-0 start and growing national recognition proves their success and places them in the driver’s seat for a tournament bid.
“They are one of the top offensive teams in the country,” said Dutcher about his opponent. “They have been together this group for three years now. They know where each other is at…, and they are extremely dangerous at the offensive end.”
The Aztecs hold a 46-41 all-time advantage over the Rams but split last year’s contests with a 78-65 win and a 70-67 loss. David Roddy was a big part of the Rams’ victory, where his double-double in the comeback win earned him Mountain West Player of the Week honors.
The 255-lb junior from Minnesota secured four double-doubles this season and is averaging 19.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game, and 2.4 assists per game.
“[Roddy] can step out and shoot it, drive it, post it, and pass it,” Dutcher vocalized how his skill and frame impact opponents. “He is just a dangerous threat at all levels on the floor.”
Defending Roddy will come down to Keshad Johnson’s aggressiveness. Because the Ram forward is shooting 50.6% from the field, his every shot needs to be contested, especially in the paint. Johnson has that unique ability to defend every position on the floor, so disrupting Roddy’s game has to be key.
“He is the top four-man in the league,” commented Keshad Johnson at Thursday’s press conference. “So that’s a great challenge for me. He’s a physical forward, [but] I can be physical too. I’m just looking forward to that matchup.”
3. Let Keshad Johnson loose on offense
After a rare double-double on a nationally-televised CBS game, Johnson received honors as the Mountain West player of the week.
“Our system is set up to be able to do what you do (at any position),” said Johnson after Saturday’s victory over UNLV. “I was able to fly around and get more rebounds playing the three. (Playing the three) is a mismatch for the opposing team. It is harder for them to box me out.”
The Oakland product fits the mold of a prototypical San Diego State player, defending point guards to 7-foot centers while grinding away on the offensive end of the floor.
But after scoring 10+ points in back-to-back games, it feels like he is turning the corner.
Over the past four games, he’s been an accurate shooter. Of the starters, Johnson has a field-goal percentage of 59.1%, which ties him with guard Adam Seiko 59.1%. Comparing percentages, Matt Bradley is at 37.1%, Nathan Mensah at 39.0%, and Keith Dinwiddie at 23.1%.
The offense does not run through Johnson, but when he puts the ball in the basket, it sparks the team and Viejas Arena. Johnson alone has a highlight reel full this year of fastbreak and acrobatic dunks, reinvigorating the atmosphere.
He’s only averaging 7.8 points in that time frame, but if the Aztecs can continue to score in transition and get Johnson open lanes to the basket, it might be enough for the team to overcome any deficiencies on Saturday.