Expectations were sky-high entering the 2022-23 season for San Diego State Aztecs Men’s Basketball, possibly higher than ever.
Against Ohio State, during long stretches against top-10 Arizona and Arkansas squads, with their backs against the wall versus BYU, and in a demolition of Kennesaw State, Aztecs fans saw the team that warranted those lofty predictions.
But more often than not, an Aztecs team that looks more like one that drags hopes of maybe making the tournament is the one found on the court this season. As they roll into Mountain West Conference play with a massive target on its back, SDSU must regain its form from early in the year and find a new height to justify such strong pre-season respect. Here are some resolutions for the Aztecs to consider:
Get Ball Handlers in Space
This Aztecs’ team has some of the most prolific scorers in program history, or so at least we were told. Matt Bradley has games where he is a dominant scorer. There are times when Darrion Trammell cannot miss, Lamont Butler takes over a ballgame on both ends of the floor, Adam Seiko looks confident stroking three-pointers, Jaedon Ledee scores at multiple levels, and Keshad Johnson changes the energy of the game with a thunderous slam.
Other times, the Aztecs look to solve San Diego’s housing shortage with all the bricks they throw at the basket. An easier way to get better shots is by creating more space.
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) December 29, 2022
San Diego State is 154th in the nation in effective field goal percentage, according to KenPom. This is largely because the Aztecs are shooting just 32.1% on three-point shots, which ranks 235th in the nation. The more possessions where Matt Bradley is not hoisting deep two-pointers at the end of the shot clock or Darrion Trammell is not shooting a step-back three; the more efficient the offense will become.
Micah Parrish and Seiko are statistically the team’s best three-point shooters but are being out-shot from deep by Trammell and Bradley. Getting the former two more looks could help and possibly open up better ones for the latter.
Butler excels when he attacks the basket, as he is still developing his shot from the outside. When he drives, he draws defenders, which will not only open shooters on the outside but also create passing lanes for the SDSU bigs.
Slow the Offense Down a bit
In years prior, the Aztecs played a slow style of play, only once being in the top 25 in possessions per 40 minutes. At 70.6 possessions per 40 minutes, this is the fastest since Steve Fisher took over the program at the turn of the century.
The Aztecs still have a relatively good offense, ranking 61st in offensive efficiency on KenPom, but that mark ranks just third among Aztecs’ teams in the last four seasons. Fast play might be costing the Aztecs a couple of possessions per game, as opponents are stealing the ball on 10% of SDSU possessions. A slower pace will limit those stolen balls and likely result in better shots. Head coach Brian Dutcher acknowledged this following SDSU’s contest against UCSD, adding that one way to drop the pace of play a little is to throw it into the post.
Just Get Lucky
“Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good,” or so the old adage goes. KenPom measures luck, and its .016 rating for San Diego State means that chance has not had a positive or negative impact on the Aztecs this season. SDSU is good; now they just need some luck.
One way to look at how lucky a team is how opposing teams shoot at the free-throw line. This year, the Aztecs have helplessly watched 72.3% of their opponents’ free throws go in, which is well above the national average. As the season goes on, one can hope that number drops.
Also, the Aztecs were expected to improve from behind the arc this year with the additions of Trammell and Parrish. The 2022-23 Aztecs are making threes at just 32.1%, which ranks 234th in the nation.
— San Diego State Men's Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) December 21, 2022
At some point, the threes need to go in. Bradley may have turned a corner, making six of seven from deep against Air Force on Wednesday after starting the season shooting just 22% from that range. Once defenders start to respect Bradley shooting from the outside, more scoring opportunities will open for the Aztecs.
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Keep Mensah on the Floor
Nathan Mensah is the anchor of the Aztecs’ defense. He can guard all five players on the floor and makes driving guards think twice before trying to go inside. However, Mensah has not been able to stay on the floor for as long as the Aztecs would like, playing just over 20 minutes per game.
The big man fouled out late in two of the three losses and has also battled an illness throughout December. Expect Mensah to see more playing time and the Aztecs to improve a bit on the defensive side.
San Diego State will play one more game in 2022 on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas against UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels are a good defensive team that loves to force turnovers and close out on shooters. It will be a good test for the Aztecs heading into 2023.
Dominic is a graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Journalism. He also is the producer and co-host of the “Padres EVT Podcast.”