The Wooden Legacy did not go the way the Aztecs hoped.
They opened up with a win over Georgetown, but the offense fell apart against USC in the championship game. Here are the takeaways:
The shooting still has not shown up
A couple of weeks ago, the Aztecs were shooting 15% from three. It has since gone up to 26%. So it has improved. It is buoyed by two 40%+ performances against UT Arlington and Georgetown. They have finished below 25% in half of their games so far. The season is still young. The samples are still small, mathematically speaking. It is concerning that none of the shooters have found their rhythm yet.
Matt Bradley is shooting 15% from distance, despite leading the team in attempts. To make things worse, the offense still stalls at times when he touches the ball. Adam Seiko did not play against USC due to injury, but he is shooting 26%. Renowned sniper and fan-favorite Keith Dinwiddie is shooting 27% despite averaging 19 minutes a game in the tournament. Chad Baker shot 40% last season but is 0-6 so far this year and is struggling to crack the rotation. Trey Pulliam and Lamont Butler are the only players at 35% or better, but it is hard to trust those numbers this early, given their track record.
To be fair, there is too much talent between the other players that someone should find their shot at some point. How long it is taking is concerning. The lack of shooting has seriously hampered the offense, and the lack of points puts more pressure on the team to do everything else right. Another player needs to find their rhythm if this team wants to really compete for the Mountain West championship.
Rebounding has been an issue
Defensive rebounding specifically has been bad. The Aztecs gave up 18-second chance points against USC and ten against Georgetown. Granted, USC is one of the tallest teams in the nation, but UT Arlington is not. UT Arlington collected 17 offensive rebounds against the Aztecs. Offensive rebounds and second-chance points have been a growing problem as the season has gone on.
SDSU has had a better offensive rebounding rate than their opponent in just two of their games so far. They currently rank 246th in defensive rebound rate. A team built on a defensive identity cannot be bad at rebounding. Forcing a miss on the first shot does not matter if the team gives up an offensive rebound and gives up points on the second or third shot. Over the last five games, the Aztecs have given up an average of 15-second chance points. If the team can figure out its rebounding issues, they should once again be a top-10 defense in the nation (they currently rank 13th.) That will put less pressure on the offense to perform as well.
Matt Bradley’s performance thus far
Matt Bradley’s appeal coming into the season was that he was an efficient scorer from anywhere on the floor. He was a career 40% shooter from behind the arc, could finish at the rim and in the midrange, and held a career free throw percentage of 84%. Through six games this season, maybe two have been efficient. His True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is down about 9% from his career average at Cal. Bradley has looked like a player who is one-dimensional. If the shots fall, he looks good, but if not, there has not been much value in playing him. He currently has the lowest +/- on the team with a minus-21, meaning that opponents have outscored the Aztecs by 21 points when he’s been on the floor. To make things worse, the team’s adjusted offensive efficiency (the points they score per 100 possessions against an average defense) is at 90.8 when Bradley is on the floor. That mark is second-worst on the team. He also has the worst on-off differential (the difference between the team’s net rating when he’s on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor.)
The one thing he has done consistently well is defensive rebounding, which is good considering what the last takeaway was but is not enough to make up for all the poor play elsewhere. Hopefully, he finds some offensive rhythm soon. If he reaches the level of efficiency he had last season. This team will look much better. If not, a change in the rotation will be necessary.
The early schedule has not been as promising as was first hoped. Through six games, the hope was that there would be two quad-1 games and two quad-2 games. The quad-1 games came against BYU and USC, both losses. The quad-2 games were supposed to be Georgetown, and Arizona St. Georgetown is 2-3 with two losses to teams ranked worse than 200 in KenPom. Arizona St. is 2-5, and while they do not have any terrible losses, they did lose to UC Riverside at home. Early on, it is looking unlikely that Arizona St. will finish as a top-75 team, which is the minimum needed to be considered a quad-2 opponent at home.
The good news is, Michigan and St. Mary’s are still on the schedule, and both have looked good. Michigan has taken two losses, but they have both come against top-50 teams. St. Mary’s has only one loss, also to a top-50 team. If the Aztecs can find a way to fix one or more of their problems (3-point shooting, free-throw shooting, rebounding, etc.), then they just might be able to get a victory against one of those two teams and start to really build a resume.
The other thing to remember is that the Aztecs got a 6-seed in the tournament last season despite going 1-3 in quad-1 games. The only quad-1 victory the Aztecs had last season was the MWC tournament championship game, and the Aztecs were still projected to make the tournament even if they had lost. So it may be enough avoid bad losses to low-level opponents while gathering a bunch of quad-2 wins, which is doable with the Mountain West schedule. Despite how bad the Aztecs have looked for much of the season, and despite the schedule not appearing to be as tough as expected early on, an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is still very much in play.