SDSU Aztecs vs Wyoming Cowboys: Mountain West quarterfinals preview

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Credit: Wyoming Basketball

No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 8 Wyoming

MW Tournament-Las Vegas, Nevada

Game Time: Noon

TV: CBS Sports Network

Wyoming defeated San Jose State on Wednesday 111 – 80. The 111 points are eye-popping in their own right, but how the Cowboys got those points is surprising. On the season, more than 48% of Wyoming’s shot attempts have been from three, but it was not accuracy from outside the arc that led to the offensive output. Only 11 of Wyoming’s 40 made field goals was from three.

They were led by freshman center Graham Ike’s 32 points on 12-14 shooting. Ike led four Cowboys in double figures. Only one of those players, Xavier DuSell, hit a three-point field goal. If Wyoming has become just as dangerous inside the arc as they have been outside of it, this game is potentially more dangerous than the 15 point spread would suggest.

Three Keys to Victory

1. Win the battle of the big men

When SDSU faced Wyoming the last two games in January, Ike was playing the third and fourth games of his collegiate career. He was solid in both games for the Cowboys. If Wyoming is going to pull off the upset, Ike will need to be a difference-maker like he was on Wednesday.

The ability of Nathan Mensah and Joshua Tomaic to play Ike one on one in the post is a key to watch. Wyoming shoots the ball so well that any double teams Ike draws will likely mean points on Wyoming’s scoreboard.

Offensively, Mensah and Tomaic need to make Ike play defense. So far in his career, Ike has been foul prone. If Mensah and Tomaic can attack early, it could mean Ike spends more time on the bench because of foul trouble.

2. Bench Points

SDSU’s depth is a clear advantage. Besides entering the game on normal rest, the Aztecs play ten players who would start or be in the rotation on any team in the conference. Wyoming is a young team whose starters are skilled and can play with anyone in the league, but there is a significant drop off in talent once the starters sub out.

In Wednesday’s victory, the starters were responsible for scoring 90 of the team’s 111 points. They played 138 of the team’s 200 minutes. The starters shot 49 of the team’s 67 shots and 22 of the team’s 24 free throws.

Credit: AP Photo

San Diego State must make Wyoming pay when their starters are not on the court, and they need to run player after player against the Cowboys starters to tire and wear them down.

3. Big players in big moments

Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell will be the two best players on the court Thursday. The Aztecs need them to play like it. Mitchell, the conference player of the year, led SDSU in scoring in game two of the regular-season series. Schakel led the Aztecs in scoring in game one.

Coach Dutcher would like to get Mitchell’s three-point shot going again. Mitchell made only one three the entire month of February but hit a pair in the team’s last game against UNLV. Catching fire from outside today would be a great sign for the Aztecs.

Schakel, meanwhile, comes in playing some of the best basketball of his storied career. Following a three-game stretch in early January where he scored in single digits each game, Schakel has scored in double digits in every game except one the rest of the season. SDSU needs their senior guard to continue his stellar play today.

These two seniors potentially enter the final Mountain West Tournament in their careers. They have played in three straight finals but have only brought one championship home to San Diego. Bookending their career with a second championship would be poetic for these future Aztec Hall of Famers.

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