The San Diego State Aztecs have won eight games in a row by an average of over 20 points. They seem to be playing their best ball to end the season.
But, what have we learned over the last two games?
1. The Aztecs have likely all but locked in a spot in the tourney.
Fresno State was the last “bad” team on the schedule. The last “land mine,” as coach Dutcher calls them. The Aztecs don’t have any quad 1 wins yet, but they don’t have any quad 3 or 4 losses either, and so far, that’s been enough to get them in the field. There’s no reason that should change in 2021.
Up next, they play two games against Boise State. Those will likely both be quad 2 games. Obviously, the best-case scenario is a sweep. Splitting the series wouldn’t hurt the team at this point, though. Even if the Broncos take both games, it might be enough to bump them up to quad 1, making them “good” losses.
There are only two scenarios that could ruin a postseason birth.
First, if the series against UNLV is made up, and the Aztecs drop a game against them, it would give the Aztecs their first quad 3 loss of the season. That would likely drop them out of the postseason.
The rumor is that the UNLV series will not be made up, so hopefully, this is something fans won’t have to worry about.
I have been told we are unlikely to play UNLV in that extra week.— Larry Emond (@LarryEmond) February 20, 2021
The other scenario is if they lose the first game of the Mountain West Tournament. That game will likely be against a quad 3 opponent, so for similar reasons, it could knock them out of the tournament and the field of 68.
The ideal scenario is obviously to win out and improve from a likely eight or nine seed to a six or seven seed.
For a deeper dive into the bracketology, look here.
2. Jordan Schakel looks like he’s in postseason form
Jordan Schakel went on a tear against the Bulldogs. In two games, he had 26 pts, 12 rebounds, and three steals while shooting 67% from the field and 50% from behind the arc. It seemed like whenever the Aztecs needed a bucket, Schakel delivered. His ability to hit shots coming off screens is invaluable. Teams like Utah State have been able to mitigate him, but hopefully, Lamont Butler’s emergence will help deter guys from sticking to Schakel, as it will open the lane for Butler’s drives.
3. Where has Nathan Mensah gone?
In terms of consistency, the polar opposite of Jordan Schakel is Nathan Mensah, who didn’t have a great series. In game 1, he had two points on 1-5 shooting. It got balanced out a little bit by his nine rebounds and a block, but he needs to be more consistent offensively. In the second game, he finished 1-1 shooting, the single attempt being an alley-oop. He only had one rebound, though, and racked up four fouls in only 17 minutes. For this team to be its best, it needs Mensah firing on all cylinders. He is the team’s defensive anchor, and he’s a solid option inside when he’s playing aggressively. Mensah will be needed if the team wants to pull out a win or two against the first-place Broncos.
4. The fast-break offense
On the season, the Aztecs have been terrible in transition. It’s been so bad that their half-court offense was actually slightly better than their transition offense, which should never happen.
In game 2 against the Bulldogs, however, their transition offense was great. It was so good that it raised their Points Per Possession by about 4 points per 100 possessions.
The Aztecs’ transition offense is still slightly below average, coming in at the 45th percentile of all division 1 teams (meaning they’re more efficient than 45% of teams, with 50% being average.) Before game 2, however, they were all the way down at the 30th percentile. Transition baskets are some of the easiest to get, and with as many turnovers as the Aztecs force, they have lots of opportunities every game to take advantage of it. Leading up to the Fresno State series, they had largely failed in that regard, but if they can consistently score in transition, this team will be unstoppable offensively.
5. Keshad Johnson
Over the last 5 games, Johnson has averaged 6.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.5 Sportscenter-worthy plays per game. (Ok, that last one isn’t an official stat, but it seems real enough.) His season averages are 4.5 points and four rebounds, so his numbers are trending in the right direction.
He is by no means a finished product, but the future is bright for this young man. The ability to start behind the arc, beat your defender with your quick first step, take a single dribble, and finish at the rim before the help gets there is rare in basketball. Johnson did it twice in the second game against Fresno State.
He also had a nice chase-down block in transition. Plays like that can swing momentum in your favor.
His current role is as a backup power forward. If he continues hitting outside shots (40% on a small sample), he can be a devastating stretch 4 and also play some minutes on the wing. As he continues to develop his skills and play more consistently, look for him to be a potential X-Factor in the conference tournament.