The SDSU Aztecs came away with victories over Nevada, San Jose St., and Air Force this week.
It is the first time they have had a three-game winning streak since early January, right before their Covid pause. Here are the takeaways for the week:
One of the goals for this week was to try and improve the offense against lower competition. The jury is still out on whether they accomplished that goal or not. Matt Bradley still carried the team offensively against Nevada and San Jose St. The effort against Air Force was much more balanced.
As a team finishing at the rim has been a problem, but this week the team finished at the rim more consistently. They did not finish well against San Jose St. but did against both Nevada and Air Force.
A few players showed flashes of what they can possibly do if they get into a rhythm. Chad Baker-Mazara had 17 points on 13 shots this week, only shooting 38% but getting to the foul line several times. Against Air Force, he had a huge and-1 corner three. Trey Pulliam scored 24 points on 21 shots. Similar to Baker-Mazara, he shot poorly from the field (33%) but got to the line several times and converted the free chances. His one-of-eight performance against San Jose St. was not great, but the other two games were solid. Joshua Tomaic has come on recently. He had 20 points this week on 11 shots and was efficient from the floor. The team needs an inside scorer, and Tomaic filled that role in limited minutes this past week.
As a team, they put together average or better adjusted offensive ratings in every game, with the win over Air Force being the best performance of the season according to that metric.
Looking at everything in context, it is hard to say that the Aztecs have turned a corner in terms of their offensive production. An optimistic person might say they are in the process of turning the corner. The next week will give confirmation one way or the other, as the upcoming games are against Utah St. at home and Fresno St. on the road. Those teams represent two of the better defenses in the conference.
What happened to the defense?
The offensive improvement, as small as it may be, has come at a great time, considering the defense has not performed the way fans are used to seeing. Overall the Aztecs had two of their worst games of the season in terms of adjusted defensive rating. The game against Air Force was the only game all season where the Aztecs finished with a below-average adjusted defensive rating. Nevada shot 53% from behind the arc. Freshman guard MJ Amey of San Jose State went off for 23 points. AJ Walker was unbelievable, scoring 27 points after not missing a shot the entire first half. The defense will need to return to form for the team to make a push. Opponents are giving maximum effort against the Aztecs every game. It is a sign of respect for the program, but the Aztecs will need to match the energy level and maintain a high level of defensive play.
Matt Bradley, the facilitator-
Matt Bradley is a scorer first and foremost. He averaged three assists per game this week, though, which is above his average. Brian Dutcher has mentioned in the past that the best player on the team is responsible for drawing double teams and passing to the open teammate. As Matt Bradley continues to score efficiently, he will draw more defensive attention and double teams. Hopefully, he can continue finding open teammates when appropriate, as it seems to benefit the offense as a whole.
The Aztecs mostly did what they needed to this week. They won all the potential landmine games, leaving only one potential landmine left on the schedule. With the exception of playing San Jose St. at home, every game from this point on will be either quad 1 or quad 2. The Aztecs did not help their resume because they did not beat their opponents by enough points, so they actually fell down the metrics over the course of the week. With only one potential landmine left, though, the Aztecs have all but removed any blemishes from their resume. Now they just need to add some good wins to polish it up. They will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
They also put some distance in between them and the teams below them in the standings. The Aztecs are pretty solidly in fourth place in the conference. Fresno St. is a game and a half behind SDSU, UNLV is two games behind SDSU. Those are not insurmountable leads, but the Aztecs put some distance in between themselves and the competition. The Aztecs are also only a game behind Colorado St, so they could potentially move up the standings. WInning the regular season for a third straight year is likely out of the question, but finishing strong will help both with conference tournament seeding as well as potentially getting an at-large bid in March.
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If the season were to end today the Aztecs would likely be in the NIT, especially when taking bid stealers into account. They have eight games left in the regular season. Six is the magic number. Winning six of the last eight games is likely enough for an at-large bid, especially if the Aztecs win a few games in the conference tournament.
Native San Diegan living in Montana. Big time Aztec Basketball fan. Creator of Aztec Breakdown. Hoping to help people enjoy basketball more by increasing their understanding of it.