The Aztecs finished up their non-conference slate, going 8-3, with the best win coming over St. Mary’s and their latest win coming over UC San Diego.
At this point in the season, the Aztecs have not had as much success as fans would have wanted, but there is a lot of room for optimism.
Here are the takeaways from the non-conference season.
Hope for the offense
The offense has quietly put together some solid games. Players look like they are starting to get more comfortable, learning each other’s tendencies and how to best work together. With that comfort growing, shots are starting to fall.
As was highlighted last week, Adam Seiko has been particularly hot. He raised his consecutive made 3’s streak to ten against UCSD before finally missing one. He has hit ten of his last 13. He has not been the only player shooting better either. Bradley, Pulliam, and Baker-Mazara have all shot over 40% from behind the arc over the last five games. Even Keshad Johnson finally removed the lid from the basket and hit his first shot of the season from distance.
Aztecs shooting first 7 games (FG%/3pt%/FT%):
Last 5 games:
Offense is finding it's way. Even more impressive considering they've done it without Lamont Butler. Still plenty of room to improve, but it's been promising.
— Aztec Breakdown (@aztecbreakdown) December 23, 2021
What makes the improvement even more impressive is that it comes during a stretch where the Aztecs have faced some tough defenses. Michigan’s defense is ranked 22nd in the nation; St. Mary’s is ranked 11th. In addition to that, the Aztecs have been without Lamont Butler for the last four games. Before going down with injury, Lamont Butler had been the most accurate shooter on the team and was instrumental in facilitating the offense. Improvement should only continue when he returns from injury. His aggressiveness is something the team misses. The improvement over the last five games has been great nonetheless.
Trey Pulliam is quietly one of the best guards in the conference
Over the offseason, EVT had exclusive interviews with coaches where they mentioned that Pulliam was ready to have a big year. In the article SDSU assistant coaches said the third year is often the year when things really start to click for guys. So far, Pulliam has responded with his best season as an Aztec. His points are up, assists are up, he is shooting the ball more efficiently, and to top it all off, an argument can be made that he’s the best defensive point guard in the conference. The last few games have shown what a true warrior he is. He has had to play a lot of minutes each game as Lamont Butler has been out with injury.
Against UCSD, Pulliam was pretty sick, to the point where coach Dutcher thought he was not going to be able to play, but Pulliam gutted it out for his teammates. He only scored four points, but he had seven assists to only two turnovers and threw in a steal for good measure. Those kinds of intangibles are valuable to teams. For those that need something more tangible, though, Pulliam also measured in as a top-three guard in the conference using a composite of analytics.
Guards like Isaiah Stevens and Grant Sherfield will get all the love nationally, but Trey Pulliam is not too far off, and that bodes well for SDSU as they approach conference season.
State of the conference
The Non-Conference slate is important for teams, but it is important for conferences as well. In conference season, one team’s gain is another team’s loss. In the non-conference, if all the teams do well, it will raise public perception of the conference, making each win in conference worth more. In that regard, the Mountain West has done a great job. Every team’s record is above .500. Seven of the eleven teams are in the top 100 in KenPom. For the first time in years, KenPom has the Mountain West rated better than the WCC. In for the NET, the cutoff for quad one games on the road is being ranked in the top 75, and six teams, including SDSU, meet that qualification.
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The extra success reflects well on the conference. Whether it’s well enough to get a 2nd and 3rd team into the Big Dance remains to be seen. Colorado St is basically a lock to get in, barring a huge setback. SDSU has already matched the amount of quad one wins they had last selection Sunday, but they’ll likely need to do a bit more before being considered for an at-large bid. Utah St also has a quad one win, as well as two quad two wins, but they’re currently balancing those against a quad four-loss on opening night. Wyoming has an excellent NET ranking, but their best win is a quad two win on the road against Grand Canyon.
All that to say, the Mountain West looks better overall. Hopefully, the result is getting three teams in the tournament for the first time since 2013.
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.