SDSU Men’s Basketball travel to Utah State to break first place tie

Miles Byrd gives a thumbs up on Saturday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Elijah Saunders showed off his offensive skill set with this sweet jump hook. (Don De Mars/EVT)

On Tuesday, the San Diego State Aztecs travel to Logan, Utah, to face the Utah State Aggies in a game that could determine the Mountain West regular season  championship. Both teams are tied at 9-4 in conference play. If the season were to end today, they would get a share of the conference title, but SDSU would be the one seed in the conference tournament. 

The Aztecs beat the Aggies 81-67 in Viejas Arena on February 3rd. Before the first meeting, EVT published a preview of how the two teams matched up. That article is still relevant for this game and can be found here

Since the two squads have already played, rehashing much of the same information is not ideal. Instead, this article will focus on what went well for the Aztecs in the first matchup and what adjustments can be expected from both teams.

What worked well

The big story coming into the first contest was that Jay Pal would replace Elijah Saunders in the starting lineup. It worked out really well for SDSU. Pal finished the game with 16 points and 7 rebounds and had a number of big plays. Since that game, he has averaged roughly three points per game, so another offensive explosion seems unlikely, but Pal’s real value comes on the defensive end. 

His combination of length and athleticism make him capable of guarding almost anyone in the conference. He is very valuable when the Aztecs use a switch coverage on ball screens. Pal is also a highly disruptive player, collecting steals and blocks and pushing opponents out of their offensive flow. 

One aspect that worked well a few times was the passing out of the post. It is something the Aztecs should try and replicate with greater consistency the second time around. 

Like everyone has all season, Utah State double-teamed Jaedon LeDee in the paint. On a few occasions, LeDee hit touch passes to cutting players for easy buckets.

Expected Utah State adjustments

Utah State used a combination of screen coverages in the first game and will likely continue to do so in the second game. The thing they might adjust is who they send on a double team when LeDee gets the ball down low. 

In the first matchup, it was always Isaac Johnson’s responsibility to bring the double team. It didn’t matter where he was on the floor; he left Pal to guard LeDee. 

That was part of the reason for Pal’s offensive explosion. It also meant the double would sometimes take longer to get set, giving LeDee more time to decide what to do. 

The Aggies will likely change to a “Dig” coverage in the post, meaning the defensive player on the wing closest to LeDee will bring the double. 

To counter that, the Aztecs should try to have either a reliable shooter or a reliable cutter pass the ball to the post. When the double comes, the player will be open for either a shot or a cut, and LeDee’s job will be to get them the ball in a timely manner. 

The other focus will be adding more physicality in the paint. Utah State shot worse than their season average at the rim and gave up a greater percentage of rebounds than they normally do. None of their players had ever played at Viejas before, and it is a tough environment to win in. In Logan, it will be easier for them to bring the focus and physicality and be fueled by the crowd. 

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Expected SDSU adjustments

The primary factor the Aztecs will want to be better at is moving the ball. Reading the defense and making the right pass will be key. Utah State plays stingy defense, and ball movement is the best way to break it. 

Mentally, the Aztecs need to prepare to not get the kind of calls they’ve gotten the last couple of games. Right or wrong, the Aztecs have gotten a better whistle from refs at home than they have on the road. One of the keys to the victory was only allowing the Aggies to shoot thirteen free throws. Toeing the line between physical defense and committing fouls has been a struggle on the road all season. 


Energy. Utah State is coming off a road loss to Colorado State. They will give it all they have to not let it become a streak in front of their home crowd. At the same time, observers have commented that part of the reason for their loss was that they look gassed and are in need of a bye week to rest. SDSU, coming off a two game win streak and an extra day of rest, will want to out hustle the Aggies and get the crowd out of the game.

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