The Aztecs enter the first land mine portion of their conference schedule. A loss to Nevada and their 146 ranking in the NET would undo much of the resume building SDSU made in the non-conference schedule. Such is life in the Mountain West.
The remaining schedule includes a couple of resume building opportunities – on the road against Utah State next week, at home against Boise State to end the season, and possible matchups with the same teams or Colorado State in the Conference Tournament. The rest of the schedule offers little, and even wins will negatively impact their NCAA hopes. A couple of unexpected losses could leave the Aztecs in need of a tournament championship to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Three Keys to a Series Sweep Over the Wolf Pack
1. Guarding the Dynamic Duo
Steve Alford is a veteran coach in the Mountain West. He knows the secret to many of the successful teams in the conference: transfers. San Diego State, of course, was the trendsetter for the conference and the nation with their success of bringing in players from other programs. Nevada’s leading two leading players are both transfers.
Sophomore Grant Sherfield was originally signed with UCLA out of high school when Alford coached there but asked for his release when the coach was fired. Sherfield signed instead with Wichita State but transferred to be reunited with Alford at Nevada. He is averaging 17.2 points a game.
Sherfield’s backcourt running mate is Desmond Cambridge. A transfer from Brown University, Cambridge, is not a stranger to the Aztecs. He led his former school to blowout an 82 – 61 victory over SDSU at Viejas Arena in 2018. SDSU’s loss to Brown was easily one of the more shocking results for the proud Aztecs’ program during the past decade. Cambridge scored 25 in that game. For the Wolfpack, he is averaging 15.4 points a game.
If the Aztecs can contain one or both of these players in the series, it should go a long way to securing an SDSU sweep of the series. It obviously will not be easy. In attempting to stop some of the elite guards they have faced, they had to focus on only one guard and could play their best defenders on that player. With two perimeter players to focus on, SDSU’s defense will be able to offer less help for one of Nevada’s stars. Sherfield is the engine that drives the Wolf Pack’s offense, so expect him to get the most attention. Can the other defenders stop Cambridge when they have to play more one on one?
2. Nathan Mensah in the post.
Nevada’s frontcourt is long and relatively athletic. Two of their four leading bigs are San Diego products. Starting center Warren Washington prepped at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, and Robby Robinson played at Kearny High and then San Diego City College. They are joined by Zane Meeks and KJ Hymes.
On paper, Nathan Mensah is a mismatch problem for all of these players. Listed at 230 pounds, Mensah should be able to establish a post presence against the lighter frontcourt players. Meeks, Washington, and Hymes are listed 215, 215, and 210, respectively. Robinson, their heaviest post player, is still smaller than Mensah at 225, and he is their shortest frontcourt player at 6’8”. Against bigger players this season, Mensah has used his strength to his advantage. Likewise, Nevada has been burned by post players often this year.
Nebraska’s Dalano Banton, University of San Francisco’s Josh Kunen, New Mexico’s Rod Brown, and Grand Canyon’s Alessandro Lever all found success against the Wolf Pack, and all are frontcourt players. Of those, only Alessandro profiles like Mensah with height and size. Nevada had no answer for Lever. He was able to bully his way for entry passes deep in the lane most of the night.
One final aspect to look at is fouls. Warren and Hymes rank first and second in fouls committed this season for the Wolfpack. Meeks and Robinson are fourth and fifth, respectively. Will Mensah and Tomaic get Nevada’s post players in foul trouble?
3. The Three Ball
SDSU is coming off a series where they were unbelievable from beyond the arc. While their attempts were not a dramatic increase from previous games, their emphasis on ball movement is shifting this team to being more perimeter-oriented. They only shot 23 free throws against Colorado State, including only 11 on Monday, their lowest total of the season. The payoff for SDSU being perimeter oriented is huge. If they are able to shoot as they did against Colorado State, they can defeat any team in the country. On the other hand, like any perimeter-oriented team, a poor shooting night can lead to a defeat by a weaker team—a team like Nevada.
Nevada, likewise, needs a strong shooting night to hang with the Aztecs. When they have shot greater than 30% from three, they are 6-1. When they shoot less than 30%, they are 2-2.
Getting to know the Wolf Pack
Player Minutes Scoring Rebounds Assists
#25 Grant Sherfield 6’2” 189 33.6 17.2 3.9 5.4
#4 Desmond Cambridge 6’4” 180 29.6 15.4 4.1 2.5
#15 Zane Meeks 6’9” 215 23.8 10.1 6.6 0.8
#5 Warren Washington 7’0” 215 20.5 8.9 5.7 0.7
#42 K.J. Hymes 6’ 10” 210 15.9 5.3 3.5 0.5
#11 Kane Milling 6’4” 180 21.3 4.8 2.0 0.8
#14 Tre’ Coleman 6’ 7” 185 23.7 4.5 2.3 1.6
#3 Alem Huseinovic 12.2 2.8 1.2 0.7
#1 Robby Robinson 13.4 1.0 4.3 0.5
November 25 North Dakota State (Neutral) W 62 – 48
November 26 Nebraska (Neutral) W 69 – 66
November 30 Pacific W 70 – 58
December 2 San Francisco L 85 – 60
December 7 William Jessup W 86 – 64
December 11 @ Grand Canyon L 87 – 77
December 14 @ San Diego W 79 – 72
December 18 Air Force W 74 – 57
December 20 Air Force L 68 – 66
December 31 @ New Mexico W 68 – 54
January 2 @ New Mexico W 84 – 74
January 7 @ San Diego State 7 pm/CBS Sports
January 9 @ San Diego State 6pm/CBS Sports