Game Preview: San Diego State vs BYU and three keys to victory

Credit: AP Photo

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Credit: AP Photo

San Diego State welcomes Brigham Young University to the Viejas Arena on Friday for a 2 pm tipoff.

The Aztecs are 5-0 and coming off one of the most impressive victories anywhere in the country. SDSU’s victory over Arizona State on Thursday is one of only seven wins in true road games for teams currently in the Top 25. Victories over two ranked Pac-12 teams have catapulted SDSU to 18th in the Associated Press Poll.

A win over BYU Friday should see another substantial jump for Brian Dutcher’s team. Currently, two voters – Lauren Brownlow and Jesse Newell – still do not have them ranked at all, and 23 of the 62 voters have SDSU ranked outside of the top 20. If State is able to string together a few more unblemished weeks, they will likely sit around tenth by the start of conference play.

BYU from the West Coast Conference enters the game with a 6-2 record but without a marquee win on its NCAA resume.

Their best win of the season was an 82 – 64 victory at home Saturday over Utah. Three days earlier, the Cougars saw their 16-game home winning streak snapped at the hands of Boise State. Not only does Friday’s game represents the last opportunity for the Cougars to impress the selection committee before they start their conference season, but it also the marquee game of BYU’s non-conference schedule.  This will be their only game thus far against a ranked opponent.

Three Keys to Victory

Will yet another star lose its luster against SDSU’s defense?

SDSU is making a habit of stopping the opponents’ star player. Will that continue Friday? BYU’s Alex Barcello is far and away the most important player for the Cougars. His 17.8 points per game average are eight points more than the team’s second-leading scorer, Matt Haarms. He is the only player for BYU averaging more than 30 minutes a game. He has been amazingly efficient this season. He is averaging only 10.3 attempts a game, but his scoring average is so high because he is shooting a staggering 61.4% from the field and 62.2% from the three.

The Aztecs coaches have proven adept at designing a game plan for the opposing team’s best player. Most recently, ASU’s Remy Martin fell victim to SDSU’s schemes. If any reminder of Martin’s brilliance was needed, he went for 31 points, including a go-ahead three with nine seconds left, to lift his team to a road victory over Grand Canyon just three days after he finished with nine points against the Aztecs.

In some ways, though, the coaches and players are facing their toughest challenge not because Barcello is better than the others they have faced this year but because of his style of play. Barcello is a selective assassin who picks and chooses when he will impact the game. Will the Aztecs effectively game plan for Barcello’s unpredictability?

Can the Aztecs stop the hot hand?

Six out of the eight games, Alex Barcello, has led BYU in scoring. The second-leading scorer in those games has been any number of players. Brandon Averette, Kolby Lee, Connor Harding, Gideon George, Caleb Lohner, and Matt Haarms have all played Robin to Barcello’s Batman. BYU is a balanced offensive team, and it is anyone’s guess who will be the supporting player to step up behind Barcello. Will the Aztecs be able to contain that player when his hot hand develops?

Credit: NCAA Logos

In the past two games, SDSU has keyed on stopping the clear leader on Pepperdine and Arizona State. Part of the consequence of paying so much attention to one player is it puts his teammates in one on one situations. Against the Waves and Sun Devils, it was unsurprising who took advantage. Pepperdine’s Kessler Edwards and Arizona State’s Alonzo Verge play second fiddle on their team’s most night. Who steps up for the Cougars on Friday; however, is a mystery.

What SDSU can feel confident about is, unless that player is one of BYU’s centers, Matt Mitchell will rise to the challenge of stopping whoever emerges from the pack of potential scores. It was Mitchell who caroled Edwards and exasperated Verge, and cooled their hot shooting. The senior leader’s importance to this team on both ends of the court cannot be underestimated. Can Mitchell continue playing the best defense of his career?

Can SDSU exploit the pick and roll?

It will be interesting to see how BYU matches up against the Aztecs on Friday. They have the personnel to play big or small depending on the opponent, so it would be a surprise to see too many minutes played with two of their big men on the court at the same time. SDSU has a clear quickness advantage and should be able to use that to create their own shot at times. On the other hand, how the Aztecs attack the 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, 6-foot-11 Richard Harward, and 6-foot-9 Kolby Lee in the pick and roll will be telling.

The Cougars’ big men like to hang back in the key on the screens, and the Aztecs have shooters to make them pay if they do. Additionally, Nathan Mensah and Aguek Arop are adept at rolling to the basket following a screen, so if BYU extends their defense, can SDSU find its big men rolling to the basket for easy scores?

When BYU brings a help defender, can SDSU move the ball to find the open shooters?

Undoubtedly, BYU will try and force SDSU’s least seasoned players to beat them from the perimeter. Can Adam Seiko, Tre Pulliam, Lamont Bulter, etc., hit enough open shots to keep the Cougar defense honest?

Getting to know the Cougars

Roster/ Rotation Players

                        Player                      Scoring      Rebounds      Minutes       AST/TO 
#13 Alex Barcello          6’ 2” 180         17.8                  4.6                 30.5                  1.94

#3 Matt Haarms            7’3” 250          9.7                   3.2                  22.6                  0.38

#44 Connor Harding   6’6” 185          8.6                   2.6                  25.3                   1.88

#4 Brandon Averette    5’11” 185         8.3                   3.4                 25.0                   1.09

#25 Gavin Baxter          6’9” 210          6.5                    4.0                14.0                   2.0

#42 Richard Harward  6’11” 255         5.9                   4.6                 14.3                   1.13

#20 Spencer Johnson  6’5” 175           5.8                   2.1                  13.1                   1.29

#21 Trevin Knell            6’5” 190          5.5                   2.6                  17.0                  1.86

#33 Caleb Lohner          6’8” 230         5.1                   6.8                  19.4                  0.75

#40 Kolby Lee               6’9” 240         4.9                   2.3                  11.7                   1.86

#5 Gideon George          6’6” 190         4.3                   4.0                  12.5                  0.33

Schedule and Results

November 25                   Westminster                    W 108 – 89

November 26                  New Orleans                    W 86 – 61

November 28                   Utah Valley                      W 82 – 60

December 1                     USC (Neutral)                  L 79 – 53

December 2                     St John’s (Neutral)        W 74 – 68

December 5                     @ Utah State                   W 67-64

December 9                     Boise State                       L 74 – 70

December 12                   Utah                                  W 82 – 64

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