Mountain West Quarterfinal Preview: #1 San Diego State vs. #8 Colorado State

Matt Mitchell drills a difficult shot against Colorado State (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Credit: Don De Mars

Path to the Quarterfinal 

The No. 20-ranked San Diego State men’s basketball team ended its regular season on a high note.

Fresh off a 66-60 road loss to Boise State, the Aztecs came into their final game of the regular season needing a win on home court against the Wyoming Cowboys on Senior Night to claim the outright regular season title. 

They did just that, getting a huge 21-point performance from Jaedon LeDee off the bench, who went eight-for-nine from the field, on its way to a 67-50 victory. The Red and Black’s defense limited the Cowboys to 34% from the field and 38.1% from beyond the arc. 

At the end of the game, Aztec fans crowded the court and watched each player and coach cut down a piece of the net to celebrate the regular season title. Head coach Brian Dutcher was the last one to cut the net and did a trust fall into the crowd.

Matt Bradley and Darrion Trammell celebrate a Micah Parrish three. (Don De Mars/EVT)

For the Aztecs to win the Mountain West regular season title and claim the No. 1 spot in the conference tournament, they did not have to rely on one scorer all season. Six players averaged seven points per game or higher, with Matt Bradley leading the way with 13 points per game.

On defense, they limited their opponent to 42% from the field and 29% beyond the arc. They had 221 steals, 105 blocks, and 746 defensive rebounds.

Quadrant One wins are the biggest resume builder for any team. SDSU’s Q1 record was mediocre this season. They were 4-5 in such games so far. They fare much better in the Q2 (5-1), Q3 (12-0), and Q4 (2-0) contests.  Overall, SDSU is 16 in the NET rankings. 

The upside for the Red and Black is that they were ranked in the AP Top 25 multiple weeks out of the season, have a guaranteed spot in the NCAA tournament, and have the best odds, according to Vegas Insider, to win the MWC Championship.

SDSU’s first opponent is the Colorado State Rams.

Yesterday, Colorado State defeated Fresno State to advance to the quarterfinals to play SDSU. They were up 36-29 at the half, but FSU kept within reach of the Rams in the second half. At the 2:32 mark of the second, Jemarl Baker Jr. nailed a three for the Bulldogs to tie the game at 62-62. Under a minute later, Isaiah Hill was fouled beyond the arc and went to the line to shoot three free throws. He made all of them, giving the FSU a three-point lead.

CSU’s Isaiah Stevens did all the work the rest of the way. He made an and-one layup, then made the free throw to tie it. With two seconds remaining, he sealed the victory for the Rams with a jumper in the paint. Final score 67-65.

How the Rams got to where they are, a 15-17 record and eighth place in the Mountain West, was playing well when key players were out.

They started their season on a four-game winning streak (without Stevens), then would have mini stretches of losses and wins throughout the rest of the season. Their only big win of the season came against New Mexico on March 3, when they defeated the Lobos 92-84.

Stevens was out for the first seven games of the season, and Jalen Lake missed four games in December and three games between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18. Both played 25 of the 32 games. Without Stevens, the Rams went 5-2, and without Lake, CSU went 2-5.

With key players missing at times throughout the season, it might have cost them some needed wins. They had a 1-10 Q1 record and had four Q3 losses.    

Darrion Trammell fades away. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Regular Season Meetings Between the Teams

The teams met for the first time this season on Jan. 18 in Fort Collins, CO. The Aztecs took the win, but it was not easy.

At the 1:32 mark of the second half, Lamont Butler made a jumper in the paint to increase SDSU’s lead to 63-57. Then, John Tonje nailed a shot beyond the arc to cut the Aztecs’ lead in half. After a free throw by Darrion Trammell, Lake cut it to a one-point game, with another three leaving Rams fans on the edge of their seats.

Bradley put the Red and Black up by two but with five seconds left, but Stevens sent the game to overtime with a fastbreak lay-up. The Rams could not keep up with the Aztecs in overtime, as they were outscored by six points and lost 82-76. 

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Butler led SDSU with 19 points, while Lake paced the Rams with 17 points.

In the second match-up, in Viejas Arena on Feb. 21, it was a different story. The Aztecs had 41 points on CSU in the first half. They cruised to an easy victory, never trailing after the Rams started the scoring off early in the first. SDSU won 77-58.

Tonje and Stevens combined for 33 of CSU’s 58 points, while Ledee led with 14 points, and four other Aztecs were in double figures. 

Player to Watch 

The player that the Red and Black will need to keep an eye on is Stevens. He averages 38% from beyond the arc, which is the fourth highest on the team but has played fewer games than the teammates in front of him. He also averages a team-leading 18 points per game.

Once he gets in rhythm, he is hard to stop regardless of where he is on the floor, but especially beyond the arc. He has a deadly stepback, and SDSU will need to guard him closely.

Key to Victory

The Aztecs’ key to victory is defending closely at the three-point line. In SDSU’s 77-58 win, the defense limited CSU to 21% beyond the arc. Once the Rams are in rhythm, their backcourt will make any team pay. SDSU can’t let them get any type of momentum. 

Late in the first match-up, in Moby Arena, Tonje and Lake went back-to-back from the three-point line. Both were big-time shots and helped send the game to overtime.

The Rams were 50% from beyond the arc in the first half, but Tonje and Lake’s late threes were the only shots beyond the arc that were made in the second half. The Aztecs limited CSU to 37% beyond the arc overall.

SDSU has the second-best three-point defense in the conference, 0.05% behind Air Force.  The Rams have the second-best three-point percentage in the conference (Utah State 40.1%), with the Aztecs 0.03 percentage points behind them.

The Aztecs will need to be at their best when they tip off at noon against the Rams.

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