Tarke’s takes following SDSU’s win over Nevada

Credit: Rashad Griffin/EVT

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Credit: Rashad Griffin/EVT

Before SDSU took a COVID pause, they had demolished Colorado State and were likely the favorites to win the Mountain West. But in the six games since, they have gone 3-3 and have yet to put together back-to-back wins.

After licking their wounds from the dramatic loss against Colorado State, the Aztecs defeated Nevada. With San Jose State and Air Force ahead, they have the opportunity to go on a needed win streak to build momentum towards the end of the season.

There are still areas that this team must improve upon but there is also reason for optimism. Joshua Tomaic said it best after the Nevada game, “We gotta believe and trust in each other. I think we are going to get rolling and I feel it coming.”

Below are 20 thoughts regarding Nevada, where the Aztecs stand, and what the future holds.

1. The Aztecs own Nevada. 2018-2019 was arguably a down season for the Aztecs and they still beat a Nevada team who ranked sixth in the country and then beat them again in the conference tournament. SDSU has now won seven in a row and the Wolfpack have not won in San Diego in this century.

2. The Aztecs know how to bounce back. After the heartbreaking Rams loss, Coach Brian Dutcher said, “We can’t sit here and obsess over a loss and let it turn into two or three losses.” The Aztecs are now 14-1 in their last 15 games immediately following a loss. They have won 21 straight games when playing at home after a loss.

3. Matt Bradley was fouled on the final play against Colorado State. After the Nevada game, both Bradley and Dutcher did not blame the refs as they understand how difficult it is for a referee in those moments. But Dutcher did say, “I thought Matt got fouled on the last play of the game.” To Bradley’s credit, he gave a very professional answer and even took some blame as he regretted not pulling up for a mid-range jumper.

4. Bradley is one of the best pure scorers SDSU has had in recent years. He is getting better in conference play. Through eight games in the conference schedule, he is averaging 20.4 points and shooting 48% from three hitting 21-of-44. In the previous 11 games of the non-conference schedule, he made only 11 threes and shot 27% from beyond the arc.

5. SDSU will go as far as Bradley takes them. He has scored under double figures three times this season and the Aztecs have lost all those games. With the Nevada performance, he is just the fourth player in the Fisher/Dutcher era to post a game with at least 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals (Jalen McDaniels, Jamaal Franklin, and Brandon Heath).

Credit: Rashad Griffin/EVT

6. This does not have to be mentioned but the Aztecs defense is spectacular. According to Kenpom, they are ranked #1 in defensive efficiency. Only five teams have scored over 60 points against SDSU and three of those teams were from the first four games of the season. SDSU has won 27 straight games when scoring over 65 points.

7. There is only so much pressure that SDSU can put on their defense. The defense is keeping them in games, but the offense must improve. The last time the Aztecs had a top-five defense was the 2015-2016 season. Their defense ranked fourth, but their offense ranked 171st. They missed the NCAA tournament and were a two-seed in the NIT tournament. This season’s offense ranks 230th.

8. The Aztecs need a consistent double-digit scorer alongside Bradley. SDSU has three games this season with only one player scoring in double figures, but the last two games have featured only Bradley in double digits. Only four players aside from Bradley have scored double digits in at least five games this season. Trey Pulliam has the most double-digits games with seven.

9. After losing game rhythm due to a lengthy COVID pause, can Pulliam figure out his scoring woes? Dutcher said after the Nevada game that he thought Pulliam’s offense took a step forward. Before Pulliam was sick for the UCSD game, he was averaging over 11 points per game but ever since he is averaging only over four.

10. Nathan Mensah needs to stay out of foul trouble. In the last four games, because of his foul trouble he has played over 20 minutes only once. Leaving the game early also gets him off his offensive rhythm as he is averaging only four points in those games.

11. Can Adam Seiko or Chad-Baker Mazara turn their occasional sparks off the bench into consistent scoring? Both players have shown flashes this season. Seiko may be SDSU’s best outside shooter but being a creative scorer is challenging for him. Baker-Mazara appeared to turn the corner after playing UNLV as he was in double figures three times in four games, but he has gone scoreless in the last two games.

12. Expect the full-court press to be used more but not too frequently. In desperation mode against Colorado State, the Aztec full-court press almost won them the game in the final two minutes. They continued the pressure against Nevada, but Dutcher said this was mainly done to wear down the Wolfpack point guards. Dutcher said, “We’re going to press as long as it’s beneficial but if we start making mistakes in the press, we will take it off.”

13. SDSU struggles against height. The Aztecs rank 132nd in average team height. For a struggling offense, facing a bigger team poses problems. They played five games against teams ranked in the top 40 of average height (Nevada, Boise State, Michigan, USC, and UC Riverside). In those games, they have a record of 2-3, have lost the rebound battle in four of those games, and are shooting 37% from the field. This will play a factor in the rematch against Boise State and for the future matchup against Wyoming who rank sixth in average height.

Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

14. Fixing the Aztecs’ rebound issues is still a work in progress. “We have to have a Boise mentality,” Dutcher said. “We have to have numbers on the glass, we have to have five against three.” Aside from the Colorado State loss, when the Aztecs have outrebounded their opponent, they have won the game.

15. With nine games remaining in the season, the Aztecs need to compile a winning streak. They won five in a row before a COVID pause disrupted their momentum. Now with games against San Jose State and Air Force ahead, the Aztecs need to get on a roll as they get ready for the final stretch of the season. The last five Aztec teams to make the NCAA tournament have won at least seven of their last nine games heading into the Mountain West tournament.

16. Going on a winning streak will be critical for seeding in the Mountain West tournament. Only the top five seeds receive a bye for the first round of the tournament. With SDSU finishing the regular season with three games in six days, SDSU cannot afford to play all four days in the Mountain West tournament. No Mountain West men’s team has ever won the conference tournament playing all four days of the tournament.

17. The Mountain West is loaded with talent. Nevada is a tremendous example. Dutcher says he called Nevada’s coach Steve Alford before the game to compliment him on how hard the Wolfpack play. They were without two of their best players and still fought to the very end. Nevada will pose a challenge in SDSU’s rematch when Grant Sherfield and Warren Washington get healthy.

18. There are six teams in the Mountain West with a chance for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.  According to Joe Lunardi, he has four teams getting an at-large bid which includes the Aztecs as one of the last four teams in. The strength of the MW this season should boost the chances of the conference receiving multiple at-large bids. There are six teams inside the top 55 in the NET rankings.

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19. To receive an at-large bid, the Aztecs must take one game at a time. But winning a couple of big games down the stretch will be critical. Victories in their remaining four home games will be important and beating up on San Jose State twice and Air Force will be a requirement. The remaining road games of Fresno State, Boise State, Wyoming, and Nevada are circled to boost the Aztecs’ final resume. Winning three of those games should put the Aztecs in the tournament but losing two could keep them on the bubble.

20. Lamont Butler continues to show an up and down season. He suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him for more than a month. Last week, he made two critical free throws against Nevada, and he hit the go-ahead three-pointer against Colorado State before David Roddy made the game-winning jumper. However, he is dealing with personal matters. His sister, Asasha Hall recently passed away. Dutcher did not want to speak on the Butler family’s behalf in the press conference. But Viejas Arena dedicated a moment of silence before the Nevada game in her honor. The Butler/Hall family is a part of the Aztec Family. They have created a gofundme and would appreciate any donations.

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