On Thursday afternoon, San Diego State will play their first game in the 2018 NCAA tournament. They will play nationally ranked University of Houston, in what should be a very entertaining game.
The Aztecs earned their way into this tournament by going on a nine-game winning streak. The streak included a couple of wins over Mountain West Conference regular season champions Nevada. Over that stretch, the Aztecs have found the right rotation of players in order to maximize their chances of winning.
But the “Big Dance” is unique because it’s do or die for both teams. This may be an advantage for the Aztecs because an argument could be made that all of their games have been do or die for the last month.
In this piece we will focus on what SDSU needs to do in order to advance to the round of 32.
Ride the hot hand
During the Mountain West tournament, coach Brian Dutcher did a very good job of running the offense through the player that was hot at the time. In order to beat a very good Houston team, coach Dutcher will need to continue with that strategy and move the ball around.
Feed Malik Pope
Aztec fans have been waiting for the talented senior to play up to his potential for years. During the winning streak, he’s been one of the most important pieces out on the court. If SDSU is going to pull off the upset, Pope has to play big on the inside. He has to score down low and rebound on both sides of the court in order for the Aztecs to control the tempo of the game.
Shoot 40% from three
During the semifinal game against Nevada, SDSU shot over 50% from three-point range and the Aztecs won that game going away. Obviously you can’t expect to shoot like that every game, but the blueprint should remain. If you can hit consistently from the outside, you can give Malik Pope and Jalen McDaniels room to work on the inside. The Aztecs must make it rain from the three-point line.
Limit Rob Gray
The Houston offense will go as far as their talented senior takes it. He’s not only a great scorer, but he’s also a terrific playmaker. He is always setting up his teammates with easy shots. Coach Dutcher would be wise to get the ball out of Gray’s hands in order to put the game in the hands of his teammates.
Get on the defensive glass
Thursday’s game is expected to be a very close matchup. It could come down to the little things, like effort plays. The Aztecs shouldn’t lose the game because of effort and rebounding. They should be prepared to do the little things. Look for coach Dutcher to preach that on defense. The Aztecs should also try to limit the Cougars to one shot per possession if they can.
Defensive basketball is all about being in front of your man and paying attention. Houston runs a lot of different packages on offense and SDSU needs to know where their opponents are all of the time. They must do this in order to limit their wide open shots.
Houston is very talented and disciplined team. They also just went toe to toe with 8th ranked Cincinnati. SDSU will need it’s “A” game in order to win the contest.
Over the last month and a half, SDSU has played its best basketball of the season. It could be said that they’ve found their best form at the right time. All things considered, I think SDSU pulls off the upset in a very competitive game by the score of 77-72. Go Aztecs!