Aztecs welcome Cardinal to Viejas Arena

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs are gearing up to play the Stanford Cardinal on Thursday night. In their last game, the Aztecs beat St. Katherine 91-57, but it wasn’t a game without losses. Darrion Trammell (ankle) and Jay Pal (nose) were injured against the Firebirds. After the game, head coach Brian Dutcher was uncertain of their availability for Thursday’s game. 

The Cardinal are 5-4 on the season and beat the University of Idaho last Sunday. They have yet to defeat a team in the top 150 of KenPom, but teams have been playing up against SDSU all season. Fans can expect another close game. 

General Observations

Stanford likes to play fast on offense but slow things down on defense. They are very efficient scorers, owning the 28th-best eFG% in the nation. Their size is well above average nationally, but despite that, they don’t grab many offensive rebounds or force many turnovers. They play fundamental basketball, where they take good shots and force tougher shots without fouling. 

Guarding Stanford

Defending the Cardinal starts, as it does with so many teams, in transition. The Cardinal like to play fast on offense and aren’t afraid to shoot threes in transition. Limiting transition opportunities and preventing easy baskets is the first priority.

In the half-court, Stanford moves the ball from side to side quickly, shifting the defense to create driving lanes. They are led by one of the best passers in the nation in, Jared Bynum, who currently ranks 10th nationally in assist percentage. 

As a team, they excel at beating help defense. Wing players routinely back-cut if their defender steps away to help on a drive, which is something SDSU defenders are expected to do. The Aztecs will either need to help less than they’re used to, or their backside rotations will need to be superb. It’s a dangerous spot because even if the backside rotations are good, it can result in an open three, as in the clip below.

Another thing to notice from the above clip is how the Cardinal big man reset his screen at the top of the key. Despite how fast they play, Stanford is patient enough to wait for the look they want. If defenders go under a screen, the big man simply pivots and resets. They will do that over and over until the defender goes over the screen. When that happens it forces the defensive big man to make the decision of stepping up defend the ball handler, opening up the back cut from the wing, or sitting back and giving up an open jumper. I’d expect Aztec big man to sit back more often than not, but mixing up the looks will be important.

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Attacking Stanford

The defensive priority for Stanford is to force all drives toward the baseline. A dribble drive towards the middle of the floor is the worst thing that can happen to them, so much so that they occasionally let ball handlers drive by uncontested towards the baseline because they’re selling out so hard to stop the drive toward the middle. 

Ice defense is the primary tool on the Cardinal’s tool belt. Ice defense occurs on a side ball screen toward the middle of the floor. The point of attack defender deny’s the ability to use the screen, and forces the ball handler toward the baseline, and a defensive big man waiting to swat a shot. The below clip shows two examples of ice defense, both on the far side relative to the camera

The Aztecs don’t run many side ball screens. They prefer to run Chicago action. It’s much harder to execute an Ice defense against a Chicago action, although it’s not impossible. If the Cardinal do successfully execute an Ice defense, the Aztecs will have a couple of options.

First, a basket cut by the player who starts in the corner of the action. If the Cardinal defender is overselling their position, the cutter will have an open line to the basket. 

The second option is for the Aztecs’ big man to create for themselves or others. If the Cardinal want to deny the ball on the perimeter and sit their big man in the paint, Jaedon LeDee can create for himself and take a mid range pull up he loves or try to drive all the way to the basket. It would be similar to when BYU played ball denial, and LeDee had 21 points.

As for the high pick and rolls, the Aztecs run more often; expect the Cardinal big man Maxime Raynaud to sit back in the paint. He is not the most mobile, and his block numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he has the length to contest shots and disrupt offense. Stanford doesn’t give up many easy baskets around the rim. If guys like LeDee and Reese Waters can have success from the midrange the way they have all year, the Aztecs will be able to pick apart the drop defense. 

Play to watch for- weakside stagger series

This play works because of the way Arkansas was over playing the passing route. The Stanford player curled the first screen, and Arkansas wasn’t ready for the switch, resulting in an open layup. If the Arkansas defender isn’t as aggressive, the Stanford player comes off a stagger screen and likely has a wide-open catch-and-shoot three-point opportunity. 

Players to watch for

Maxine Raynaud, #42, 14.6 points. 9.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists

Raynaud stands at 7’1” and is a monster down low. He’s not the most agile or fleet of foot, but he has the size and length to be disruptive. The extent to which he can bother LeDee down low will be very influential as to which team wins the game.

Jared Bynum, #1, 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 7.1 assists

Bynum is a very fast player who excels at breaking down a defense and finding the open man. With Trammell likely missing this game, Butler is going to have his hands full defensively. 

Brandon Angel, #23, 13.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists

Angel, a San Diego native, is a highly efficient scorer who also contributes on the glass as well as defensively. He spends most of his time playing power forward, and with Jay Pal likely missing the game, Saunders will have a larger role in trying to contain Angel and his ability to score from all three levels.

X-factor- Lamont Butler

Butler will be key for a number of reasons. With Trammell likely out, he’ll have to pick up a larger load on each end of the floor. The way he plays defense and his ability to contain Bynum and prevent penetration without much help will be crucial, given how proficient Bynum is at dissecting defenses. Butler also has yet to live up to expectations on the offensive end this season. A breakout game here would go a long way towards an Aztec victory. 

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