Aztecs vs. Aggies: Mountain West Tournament Championship Preview

Credit: CBS

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Credit: Go Aztecs

Mountain West Championship

#1 SDSU Aztecs vs. #2 Utah State Aggies

Game time: 3 pm Pacific

Television: CBS

Las Vegas, Nevada

The top two seeds in the Mountain West Tournament square off in the finals Saturday.

San Diego State, the top seed, defeated  No. 9 Wyoming 69-66 in the quarterfinals on Thursday before dispatching  No. 5 Nevada Friday in the semifinals 77-70.

No. 2 Utah State took care of tournament host No. 7 UNLV 74-53 on Thursday and downed No. 3 Colorado State 62-50 in the late game Friday. The Aggies game against the Rams did not end until after 11:30 pm. Postgame, Utah State coach Craig Smith said his team would get to bed about 1:30 am.

Smith took over at Utah State three years ago and has yet to lose a MW tournament game. He is 8-0. SDSU’s Brian Dutcher took over four seasons ago. He is also undefeated in the tournament against every conference team except the one from Logan, Utah. Smith led the Aggies to wins over the Aztecs in the finals each of the past two seasons.

SDSU was swept by USU in their regular-season series.

The trip to Logan was a low point in the year for the Aztecs. They have not lost since and come into Saturday’s game, one of the hottest teams in the country.

Three Keys to Success

1. Mountain West Player of the Year

Utah State’s Neemias Queta was named conference player of the year by the media members who cover the Mountain West. Matt Mitchell was named conference player of the year by the coaches. While Mitchell’s honor is the official one recognized by the conference, the tournament championship provides an opportunity for the players to settle it on the court.

Queta and Mitchell have been tremendous in the first two rounds. Queta was one block short of a triple-double against Colorado State. In the tournament, he is averaging 18 points, 13.5 rebounds, and six blocks while playing all but eight minutes in the two games. Mitchell meanwhile poured in 24 in the semifinals, including 19 in the second half. He is averaging 16 points and six rebounds for the tournament while averaging 33.5 minutes a game.

The player whose team comes out on top Saturday will not only be taking home the conference tournament trophy but will decide whether the media or the coaches were correct in their player of the year selection.

2. Defense

The matchup Saturday pits two of the best defenses in the country against each other. According to Kenpom, SDSU ranks 13th in adjusted defensive. USU ranks 8th. Their regular-season series was predictably low scoring. Utah State won the first game, 57-45, and the second 64-59. Scoring should also be at a premium Saturday as well.

Credit: SDSU

Playing three games in three days tires the legs, making jump shots fall short and finishing around the rim more challenging. It is very possible, perhaps, even likely the game will be in the ’50s or low 60’s which magnifies every basket. The team who can score on the offensive glass, off a careless turnover, or otherwise scratch-together points will come out on top.

3. Matching Utah State’s size

Following the Utah State series, coach Dutcher and his staff made a change to the starting unit.  It was one of the catalysts to the team’s winning streak. Terrell Gomez replaced Aguek Arop in the starting lineup. SDSU went from a more traditional lineup size-wise to employing a small-ball unit.

Playing small has not cost the Aztecs because the other teams on their schedules played a similar style. Utah State does not, and how SDSU matches up will be interesting to watch. If Matt Mitchell can contain Justin Bean on the offensive glass and the other guards can help SDSU’s centers keep Queta off the boards, the Aztecs will be able to employ the more offensively minded unit they have had success with.

On the other hand, they might have to play Aguek Arop or Keshad Johnson alongside Nathan Mensah or Joshua Tomaic to control the glass, which would give them more of a traditional feel, but might limit their offensive potency.

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