The SDSU Aztecs lost another heartbreaker to Boise State.
They followed it up with a dominating win at home over San Jose State. There is only one week left in the regular season, and the Aztecs have three more games to play, two of which are on the road. Here are the takeaways.
Close losses and bad luck
For the second time this season, the Aztecs lost a game by a score of 58-57 on a play that ended with a questionable decision by a referee. This time instead of a no-call, the ref blew the whistle on Nathan Mensah for tripping. It was a questionable foul because Abu Kigab may have hooked Mensah’s arm to initiate the contact.
The irony is the narrative following the non-call against Colorado State was that referees do make blow their whistles at the end of the game for fear of determining the outcome. Against the Broncos, that story was reversed, making Tuesday night’s loss sting that much more.
What makes it even worse is that Matt Bradley had a chance to extend the Aztecs’ lead to three points with about eight seconds left. He missed both free throws. Then Boise St. ran the ball down and got the call. Abu Kigab hit both free throws and won the game for the Broncos. The Aztecs are currently 2-6 in Quad one games, with the home win against CSU and the home loss against BSU on the brink of being considered Quad one as well. If those two games get promoted in status, the Aztecs actually have a positive scoring differential in quad one games despite having more losses than wins. Two of the losses came by a combined total of two points. Every win has been by double digits.
Both mathematically speaking as well as just looking in real life, the Aztecs have been pretty unlucky in terms of close games this season. What are the odds that an 80% free throw shooter goes 0-2 at the line in the closing seconds. What are the odds that two questionable calls in the closing seconds of games both go against the Aztecs?
There are several mathematical ways to measure luck as well. One is with Pythagorean expectation. It measures what a team’s winning percentage should be based on how many points they’ve scored and how many points they’ve allowed. In quad one and quad two games, the Aztecs have a record of 5-7, roughly a 42% winning percentage. They have an expected winning percentage of 63%. So based on their point differentials, they should be 7-5 or even 8-4 in quads one and two.
Does knowing that help the Aztecs in any tangible way? Not really, other than maybe being a confidence booster. It may be a comfort to fans to know they are not being biased in saying their team has been unlucky so far this season. It also hopefully means that eventually, the luck will turn the other way, and the Aztecs will win a game or two that gets them closer to their expected winning percentage. Starting at Wyoming Monday would be nice.
March Madness update
With the win over San Jose St, the Aztecs currently have no more games on their schedule that are in quads three or four. Nevada may drop down but is currently a quad two opponent on the road. This means there are no more resume killers on the schedule in the regular season. It is only a small comfort, though, as the thing that is holding the Aztecs back in terms of getting into the big dance is a lack of quality wins.
Beating Nevada on the road and Fresno at home would help the overall record but will not do too much to move the needle. Beating Wyoming on the road would be huge. That would be the extra Quad one win the Aztecs need to feel more comfortable. Whether it is necessary is up for debate. If the Aztecs lose against Wyoming, they could still get another quad one win in the conference tournament, likely in the semifinal round. That would be easier said than done, though, and it would be a relief if they could get the big win earlier.
The Aztecs are currently an 11 seed on bracketmatrix.com. So, at the moment, they should be in unless a bunch of teams steal bids. They also rank 23rd in KenPom, and the 23rd ranked team has never missed the NCAA tournament since KenPom has started.
The metrics are great, and they have no bad losses. That, in and of itself, may be enough, but hopefully, the team can get the big win they need to really solidify their chances.
Looking at Wyoming
Wyoming is a tough team. They have the 27th best offense in KenPom and are in the top 100 defensively. They play a style of basketball that has fallen out of favor across the nation. The Cowboys run more plays through the post than any other team in the nation.
Graham Ike is a big reason why. He is very skilled at scoring in the post with a wide array of moves that he can use to score. He also draws more fouls than anyone else in the country and has shot 71% from the free-throw line.
Hunter Maldonado is another problem. He is as efficient as Ike is in the post, but he plays the point guard role at 6’7”. He is a matchup problem with his height and scoring ability. He is able to back down smaller players and score over them or pass out to some of the best shooters in the conference if he gets double-teamed. Maldonado ranks 21st in the nation at drawing fouls, hits his free throws at a 73% clip, and ranks 18th in the nation in assist rate. Basically, if he is not double-teamed, he will score. If he is double-teamed, he will pass to a shooter who will score.
The Aztecs will have their hands full, trying to contain these two stars.
The Aztecs have also struggled with size this season, and Wyoming is the 7th tallest team in the nation. Add in the tough travel and elevation, and the odds are stacked against the Aztecs. Despite all that, Wyoming is only a one-point favorite on KenPom. ESPN has the Aztecs with a 61.9% chance to win.
One key will be using creative double teams against Ike, similar to what they did against Orlando Robinson. Ike can be turnover prone at times, and surprising him with doubles that force him to make poor decisions can help the Aztecs get the win.
Graham Ike can sometimes commit a lot of turnovers. He committed six in their loss to Colorado St. the Aztecs will want to take advantage of that if they want to win. pic.twitter.com/dlFdG27H6E
— Aztec Breakdown (@aztecbreakdown) February 26, 2022
The other factor will be free throws. The cowboys get a ridiculous amount of free throws at home. Boise State was able to stay in the game in large part due to the number of free throws they got. The Aztecs have some depth to get them through foul trouble, but the free-throw discrepancy could play a big factor.