SDSU Aztecs Basketball: Takeaways from Week 9

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It was a wild week for the Aztecs. First, the game against Fresno State was postponed. Then, as the team finished up preparing for their next opponent in Nevada, word came down that that game was being replaced with #20 Colorado State. When the dust settled, the Aztecs beat the Rams 79-49. Here are the takeaways:

Defense, Defense, Defense:

It has been pointed out before this season, but it needs to be repeated. The Aztecs are playing defense at an elite level. Colorado St. has a prolific offense this season, with shooters at every position, a point guard with the best assist to turnover differential in the nation, and a 6’5” forward who is on the watchlist for the best player in college basketball. Coming into Viejas, the Rams had an offensive rating of 119 points per 100 possessions, good for third in the nation. Add in the fact that the Rams were in the bonus for about 22 minutes of game time. 

The Aztecs held that team to 49 points and an offensive rating of 73, which would be the worst in the nation by six whole points if held for the entire season. Basically, the Aztecs took an elite offense and made them look like a high school team. 

It won’t happen every game, and yes, Colorado State is still recovering from a Covid pause that surely played some role. The Aztecs were also down two key players, including arguably their best perimeter defender in Adam Seiko, and still won with their defense. 

The Aztecs showed once again that with their elite defense, currently ranked fourth in the nation on KenPom. They can compete with anyone in the nation. That defense will be crucial in the MW Tournament when shots stop falling, and games become defensive slugfests. 

Matt Bradley’s breakout game:

It took a while, but the version of Matt Bradley fans was expecting finally showed up and did so against a ranked opponent on national television. He scored 26 points on only 17 shots and added in seven rebounds and a couple of steals for good measure. The game was close in the first half, then Matt Bradley caught fire to start the second and helped give the Aztecs a double-digit lead. To start the season, he mainly was a volume scorer. He scored a lot of points, mostly because he took a lot of shots. 

Against Colorado State, he had an offensive rating of 134, his best so far this season. It’s not the first efficient game he has had as an Aztec, but he is very visibly getting more comfortable in the offense. The return of Trey Pulliam and Lamont Butler will surely help. Having a player who can go for 20+ any given game, combined with the Aztecs defense, will make them a tough out in the weeks to come. 

The best part is, this breakout did not appear out of anywhere. Bradley has had an offensive rating above 100 in four of his last five games. Contrast that with only two of his first seven reaching the same threshold, and it’s clear his offense is coming along. He has hit 42% of his shots from deep over that stretch, helping to address a major team weakness from earlier in the season. 

There is still work to be done, but Bradley is becoming the player fans expected, and it is a wonderful sight to see. 

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Lamont Butler shines in return:

It was not always the prettiest, and the box score does not do him justice, but Lamont Butler had a huge impact on the game. He was not efficient offensively, scoring eleven points on twelve shots. His aggression had been missed, though. Seemingly every time Butler touched the ball, he was driving with the intent to finish at the rim. 

Butler’s aggressiveness opens up the game for others in a way that no one else on the team can replicate. 

He also had four steals, giving the Aztecs easy scoring opportunities in transition, which certainly helped them score so efficiently. 

Butler’s absence was noticed right away in a loss to Michigan, where lack of ball handlers was arguably the main issue. As the team went on a winning streak, it was easy to forget how important Butler is to this team. The most impressive number on the box score is not the eleven points, or the four steals, or even the six rebounds coming from a six-foot-tall player. It was the +33 at the end of the box score. The Aztecs outscored the Rams by 33 points while Butler was on the floor. That number was the best of any player who touched the floor. Also, take into account that Butler did that while being rusty from not playing for over a month. It is hard to overstate what he means to this team. He should only continue to get better as he gets back into game shape. 


Team effort:

Winning against a ranked opponent is hard. Winning by 30 points is even harder. To do that takes contributions from everyone. The game showcased what the team can look like when everyone is clicking. Time for them to receive their flowers:

Chad Baker-Mazarin had a hyper-efficient fourteen points on only eight shots and threw in some great defense to boot. Similar to Bradley, he’s finding his way and starting to look really good on the floor. 

Keith Dinwiddie was able to find the bottom of the net, going 2-3 from deep. 

Pulliam showed a lot of guts in a game coming back from his own Covid pause. His box score was ugly, but he played good defense and had four assists. 

Nathan Mensah also had an ugly box score, but the defense was disruptive in large part due to his ability to switch and guard anyone on the floor. He made life difficult for David Roddy in the first half. 

Aguek Arop was similarly disruptive defensively, forcing a lot of turnovers that he did not get credit for in the box score. Coaches could teach a masterclass on how to play defense from his film. 

Keshad Johnson finished with 10 points on only four shots and made the kind of momentum-swinging plays that get the bench off their seats. 

Tahirou Diabate didn’t have a great game, but he had a key block at a time when the Rams were trying to go on a run of their own. 

Also, remember that two rotation players were out with Covid. The point is, this is a deep team where everyone can contribute at a high level. Over the last few years, the Aztecs have had teams where multiple different players could carry the team to a win on any given day, and this team seems like it is getting there as well. 

Aztec fans should be ecstatic right now. Beating a ranked team by 30 points is no easy feat. Most importantly, the Aztecs have put the conference on notice that the Mountain West still runs through Viejas. 

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