The Aztecs ended their Covid pause with a game against a tough Boise State team that had won eleven games in a row. In a lot of ways, things went as expected. Here are the takeaways from week 11.
The Covid pause effect was no joke
Last week’s piece talked about how teams are affected coming off of a Covid pause. Research suggested the drop in efficiency is worth about three points per game. After the loss to Boise State, that seems like a really conservative estimate.
The offense came out looking even worse than they had to start the season. The starting lineup did not score for the first five minutes of each half. The team as a whole scored one point in the first ten minutes of the second half. They had an adjusted offensive rating of 69.1, meaning in 100 possessions against an average defense, that is how many points they would have scored. Their worst adjusted offensive rating previous to Saturday’s loss to Boise was 83.8 vs. USC when they played their second game in two days.
Barttorvik.com tracks adjusted offensive rating per game dating back to the 2008 season, and in that time, Saturday’s loss was the worst offensive output of any game the Aztecs have played.
Some credit goes to Boise State’s defense as well. They are currently the 9th ranked defense in KenPom. Adjusted offensive rating takes that into account, though, and even after adjusting for that, it was the worst offensive output in at least 14 seasons.
It came at a really unfortunate time as well. Three of the last four games before the Covid pause had adjusted offensive ratings of 110+, which is really good. The game that did not reach that mark was UNLV when the Aztecs did not have any point guards.
Offense has never been the team’s strong suit, but they were very clearly figuring things out. Now it seems they have to start all over.
The effects of the Covid pause usually last two to three games. That being said, if it takes the team another five to eight games to get in an offensive flow again, it will spell trouble for the hopes of a potential at-large bid.
A kernel of hope
As per usual, the defense was stellar. Their adjusted defensive rating was the second-highest of the season, behind only the game against Long Beach State. As has been the case all season, the Aztecs will win games mostly on the strength of their defense.
Against Boise State, the Aztecs were down eleven points before going on a 13-0 run over the span of about 10 minutes, taking the lead with not much time left in the game. Holding an opponent scoreless for 10 minutes is an accomplishment worth noting.
Is it possible, even likely, that fatigue on the Broncos side may have played a role? Sure. They were playing their third game in five days. That is not usual for college players. That being said, they are college players. They are young, and many of them are in their athletic primes. Fatigue was likely a factor, but not the largest factor. SDSU’s defense was.
As the offense improves from “historically bad” to “average,” the defense should be enough to keep the Aztecs in games. They are currently the third-best defense in the country, fueled by their nation-leading defensive eFG% of 41.8%. They are also 54th in the nation in forcing turnovers. The defensive rebounding that was an issue to start the season has been above average over the last five games. The Aztecs will need some stellar defensive performances over the next few games, but they have the personal and the mindset to do it.
Last week the goal of going 2-1 in the first three games back after the covid pause was stated. Dropping the first of the three games is a rough start but not wholly unexpected. Dropping a game at home against UNLV would be devastating. It would count as a quad 3 loss, tarnishing the Aztecs resume, and would leave the Aztecs 2-2 in conference play with one day to prepare for Utah St. on the road. Utah State is on a four-game losing streak but will be rested and have had plenty of time to prepare for the Aztecs. They will be looking to break the losing streak in front of their home crowd.
The goal of going 2-1 is still attainable. At that point, the Aztecs will be three games out of their covid pause, so the effects of it should be passed.
Following the contest with the Aggies, three of the next four games are scheduled against the bottom three teams in the conference, so they may have the chance to build some momentum.
One thing to look out for, both SDSU and Wyoming have the second and sixth of February open to make up for the game that got postponed. If that happens the Aztecs will have a three-game road stretch over the course of five to seven days, depending on which date gets used.
Overall, the loss is not the end of the world. It hurts because of how close they came to winning, but the team is still in position to have success. How quickly they are able to get back to even an average level offensively will determine whether or not they can still compete for an at-large bid or if they will need to earn the auto-bid in march. They are currently 46th in the NET, and bracketologists.com currently projects them to make the tournament, but it is close. Winning their next two games would give them a little breathing room. It is a task that is easier said than done.