The San Diego State Aztecs have gone on a Covid pause. They do not have the required seven players plus one coach available, so they have temporarily shut down the program. Due to that, there were no games this week, but there are still plenty of takeaways from week 10.
What to expect when the team comes back?
Expect the team to be rusty. That is the easiest way to put it. Research has been done into what a team looks like when they return from Covid pauses. It concluded they do not play well, usually for about two games. On offense, the timing is off. Passes might come too early and not generate any advantage, or too late and result in a turnover. Shots are often missed short as players get back into game shape. Lung capacity may be affected for those who had the virus, hurting their conditioning even more.
Precise timing is less critical on defense, but once again, conditioning can be a factor. The ability to run, close out on shooters, switch, and communicate can all wear down as players get tired.
In short, the Aztecs will likely not look as good as they did when they beat the then #20 team in the nation. Their first game will be at home against a good Boise St. team. Boise St. has been similar to San Diego St. because they have a great defense and an offense that usually does enough to get wins. The worst-case scenario is that the game results similarly to how the SDSU-CSU game went, but with the Aztecs on the losing end. Playing at home should help mitigate some of the effects, but Boise St. will be hard to beat after such a long layoff.
After Boise St. comes a home game vs. UNLV two days later. The Aztecs beat UNLV without either of their point guards on the road, so they should be able to compete with them at home in the second game after a covid pause. The concern is if they drop the game to the Rebels, it will likely be a quad 3 loss, which would hurt their NCAA resume. Playing them two days after a tough Boise St. team will shorten prep time as well, which could add to the rust.
By the third game, teams tend to be back into game shape, which is good because the Aztecs will play a tough Utah St. team on the road. Losing to them would not be a resume killer, but Dee Glen Smith Spectrum is a tough place to play regardless. The elevation likely will not make things easier for players recovering from a virus that attacks the lungs.
Playing three games in five days will be tough. It will be even tougher coming off of a covid pause. Given the state of the conference and the Aztecs’ resume, the goal should be to go 2-1 in those three games, although 1-2 is a very real possibility. The team will be rusty. How that impacts and slows their development remains to be seen.
State of the Conference
Conference season has been hit hard by Covid, postponing games and making it harder to tell how good each team is. Here is an attempt to sift through the teams
Tier 1 Teams- Championship Contenders
The top teams in the conference are SDSU, and Colorado St. Boise St. has been on a run lately as well, but they have a couple of bad losses that give pause to putting them in the top tier. At this point, the Aztecs and the Rams will be favored to meet in the tournament championship.
Tier 2- Fighting for the top 5
The next tier consists of Boise St, Utah St, Fresno St, Nevada, Wyoming, and UNLV. There is a lot of parity in the conference this season. With SDSU and Colorado St. looking like they will lock up top spots in the league, that leaves three spots left for these six teams to compete for. A top-5 finish is essential for conference tournament seeding, as the top five finishers get a first-round bye. No team outside the top five has ever won the tournament, so finishing in the top-5 is crucial to any team’s hopes of getting the auto-bid. Each of the six teams can get hot and go on a win streak. They have also each shown weaknesses that could prevent them from making the cut.
Tier 3- Bottom feeders
These are the teams that do not really have a chance at making any noise this season. An argument could be made for sub-tiers within this tier, but when talking about teams this low, there is not much point in splitting hairs. New Mexico is a scrappy team that can beat better teams at home but simply does not have the talent to be able to consistently compete at a higher level. Air Force plays a unique system that can give opposing teams issues from time to time, as shown by their win over Utah St. Similar to New Mexico, though, they do not have the talent to be able to compete consistently. San Jose St. is looking better under new coach Tim Miles, but that is not saying much. The last time they had more than seven wins was in 2017. They are in a position to do that again in 2022, so the program is on an upswing, even if it is only because there was no way to fall any further.
A decent barometer for judging who is on the bubble for the big dance is looking at the NET rankings. The top 40 teams have a good shot at making it. There are no guarantees as the committee will look at quality wins and losses, but being in the top 40 usually means the committee will at least take a look. Right now, the Mountain West has several teams right on the edge in that regard, with five teams in the top 60 in the NET. They are as follows:
Fresno St. is in the tricky situation of having no bad losses, but no quality wins to build a resume from. Fresno St. has a pair of quad 2 wins but nothing else of substance. One of those quad 2 wins in UNLV, who would drop to quad 3 if they fall one more spot in the rankings. Having no bad losses is a start, but they have more work to do if they want any serious at-large consideration.
Boise St. is in the toughest position of the five. With their win over New Mexico on Saturday night, they have collected three quad 2 wins, but New Mexico is real close to dropping to quad 3. The difference is, Boise St. also has a quad 4 loss to Cal St. Bakersfield. They will need to rack up multiple quad 1 wins to make up for that loss.
Wyoming has quietly put itself into a good position. After beating Utah St., they have two quad 1 wins on their resume, Grand Canyon being the other one. That is tied for most in the Mountain West. They also have no bad losses. Their NET ranking might be fools gold, propped up by beating a lot of average to bad teams. They will get the chance to prove themselves in conference play. Wyoming is currently the MW’s best shot at getting three teams in the tournament without an upset in the conference tournament.
Colorado St. is in good shape. They have no bad losses. Their win against Mississippi St. could finish as either a quad 1 or 2 win, but they have three other quad 2 wins to hang their hat on, with some more opportunities for good wins in conference play.
San Diego St. is also looking solid. The Aztecs have two quad 1 wins, against St. Mary’s and Colorado St. The home win against Colorado St. could finish as either quad 1 or quad 2, but will look good regardless. The road win against UNLV may also count as a quad 2 win when the season ends. There is still work to do, but at this point, they have done what they have needed to do. The Aztecs are currently scheduled to have six more games in quads 1 and 2, so they will have chances to improve their resume.
If the season ended today, Colorado St., SDSU, and Wyoming would all get at-large consideration. The Mountain West is looking like it should get two teams into the tourney yet again, with an outside chance for a third team if things break the right way.