SDSU Aztecs vs SJSU Spartans basketball preview

Reese Waters attempts a jumper while Jaedon LeDee battles for a rebound. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Jaedon LeDee attempts a foul shot against UNLV. (Don De Mars/EVT)

After defeating UNLV at home 72-61, San Diego State is set to take their first road trip of the conference season. The Aztecs (2-0) are tied for first place in the conference with Utah State. Wins are going to be hard to come by in the Mountain West, especially on the road. Winning this game for SDSU will help keep them on pace for a first-place finish.

In San Jose State’s last game, the Spartans (0-2) blew a late lead to Boise State. They are currently tied with Fresno State for last place in the conference. In both of their losses, they had the lead late in the game and then gave it up. They will be motivated to get into the win column.

General Observations

San Jose St. is efficient at scoring the ball.. The Spartans also rarely turn the ball over. The long ball is a priority in their offense, and they use spacing to play a very analytically friendly style of play. They have  a slow tempo offensively, and their size is about average across the board.

How to defend against San Jose State

The Spartans use a 5-out alignment to create space for their guards to operate. They compete like the computer model suggest they should. Most of their shots occur at the rim or from behind the arc.. If defenders stay attached to their assignments, guards like MJ Amey and Alvaro Cardenas tear up their opponents with finishes at the rim. When the defense collapses into the paint, both guards excel at kicking the ball out to an open shooter.

The 5-out alignment may actually help the Aztecs, though. SDSU does not rely on a rim protector, so pulling a player like Jaedon LeDee out of the paint doesn’t hurt the defense as much as it might hurt other teams. Instead, a 5-out alignment will make the gaps in between offensive players smaller. Meaning when the Aztec players help from one pass away, they won’t need to travel as far, and can be more aggressive in forcing turnovers. The wings, especially guys like Miles Byrd and Micah Parrish, will have many opportunities to gather steals and run the other way. 

On the interior, the Spartans didn’t have any threats. Their bigs primarily score off pick and rolls and rarely isolate or post up. Being one-dimensional will help condense the SDSU scouting report. 

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How to attack San Jose State

The Spartans primary ball screen defense involves going over the pick combined with the big man hedging the screen. It is an aggressive defense designed to pressure ball handlers into mistakes. The aggression leaves the defense weak on the back end, though, and a smart ball handler can find the holes in it for easy baskets. Pocket passes to the rolling big man can be found if timed correctly. 

To counter that, a weakside defender is supposed to help or  “tag” the roll man. Doing so leaves a different offensive player unguarded, however. The offense can choose which player it wants to leave open by placing them in the weakside corner before the action starts. 

Between guys like Parrish, Reese Waters, , and Elijah Saunders, the Aztecs can make sure there’s always a good choice out there. The player left open can stay in the corner for a shot, or as seen in the clip below, cut behind the defense for a shot at the rim. 

The Aztecs’ veteran players, combined with the attention Jaedon LeDee draws, should be able to carve up this defense. 

In the post, expect the Spartans to use a “Dig” coverage, where the closest perimeter defender drops down to double the post player. If the rotation is slow, as it often is with San Jose St, it will result in an easy kick out for a 3-point shot. 

San Jose St also employs a 1-3-1 zone. Long time Aztec fans are familiar with how dangerous a 1-3-1 can be. Every zone has multiple ways to attack it, but in simple terms, the 1-3-1 is weak along the baseline. Quick passes and ball movement are key. 

Plays to watch for

Spain pick and roll

A Spain Pick and Roll involves a regular pick and roll with a second screen set for the rolling big man. Defending it well takes a lot of communication. Even when it’s guarded well, the tactic can still yield a good shot. It creates a lot of movement on offense. With so many moving parts, someone often gets lost.


A pin-down screen followed by a dribble handoff, this action is one of the most popular in all of basketball. The Aztecs run it themselves and have faced it many times already, and so they should have their tendencies locked in to guard it. 

Players to watch

Alvaro Cardenas, #13, 

Cardenas is the more efficient of the two guards and is also a great setup man. His ability to get into the paint and make the right decision is matched by few in the Mountain West. 

MJ Amey, #0, 

Amey dropped 30 points on 18 shots against Boise State. He is a good scorer as well as a disruptive defender. His steal percentage is currently one of the best in the conference. Getting to and finishing at the rim is also a strength of his. 

Adrame Diongue, #4,

Diongue is a sophomore transfer from Washington St. He is raw offensively, but his length and athleticism allow him to be very disruptive on defense. He is good at deflecting passes and blocking shots. His block percentage of 8.4% would lead the league right now if he had played enough minutes to qualify. 


Turnover differential. Both teams are good at protecting the ball, but the Aztecs are also good at forcing turnovers, whereas the Spartans struggle at forcing turnovers. The way the schemes matchup should slow SDSU players to jump passing lanes and pick pockets, taking away possessions and leading to easy points. 

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