Three keys to victory for San Diego State against Wyoming

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Credit: Casper Star-Tribune

The Aztecs welcome the Wyoming Cowboys to town for a two-game series beginning Thursday at 6 pm. The second game is scheduled for 7:00 pm Saturday. Fox Sports 1 will cover the first. The second is scheduled for CBS Sports.

SDSU is fresh off a series sweep of Air Force. The Aztecs scored 98 and 91 wins respectively in the two wins. Defeating the Falcons vaulted State to a NET ranking of 34. SDSU is fourth in the Mountain West, three games behind conference-leading Boise State in the loss column.

Wyoming is coming off a series sweep of their own. They defeated Nevada in Laramie 71 – 64 on Friday and 93 – 88 this past Sunday. Sunday was the fourth time this season Wyoming scored in the ’90s, but it was their first time doing so since December 12. Wyoming currently sits at 175 in NET rankings, two spots below Cal from the Pac 12. Wyoming is only one game behind the Aztecs in the Mountain West standings. They are tied for sixth place with Nevada.

Three Keys to an SDSU Series Sweep

1. Graham Ike

On paper, the Aztecs should win this series handily. As it stands now, this is a Quad Four game in the NET. They are 14 point favorites. But, there is a wild card for the series: Graham Ike. All season, Wyoming spreads the court at all five positions, setting up a lot of drive and dish chances for its players. Due to injuries, the Cowboys have employed smaller or less physical players at the center position, which spreads the floor on offense but limits them defensively and on the boards.

Over the weekend against Nevada, Ike made his debut. He was brought along slowly in game one playing only nine minutes. In the second game was dominant. He scored 18 points in 22 minutes before fouling out on a technical foul. Wyoming head coach, Jim Linder, described Ike as a “different presence.” Aztecs’ Head Coach, Brian Dutcher, agree.

“Ike is a very good freshman big for (Wyoming),” Dutcher explained at the weekly news conference. “He made an impact in that second Nevada game. They’re a different team with him in versus Hunter Thompson. Thompson is a pick and pop, five-man that shoots threes. Ike is a strong, inside presence, so we’ll have to have an adjusting game plan to deal with him when he comes in the game.”

2. Sharing the Basketball

Throughout the season, San Diego State assist totals have wildly fluctuated. When the Aztecs have 15 or more assists, they average nearly 82 points a game and failed to score at least 70 in only one game. When they have less than 15, they average basically 64 points and have reached 70 only once.

Assists are sometimes a hollow stat that depends more on players making shots than properly setting them up. Other times it is the way teams defend that dictates the number of assists. The Aztecs’ four leading games in assists came against Colorado State and Air Force, teams who provide lots of help on defense.

“Obviously, assists were important against Air Force because they zoned us,” Coach Dutcher said, “so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to play one on one, downhill. We had to move the ball, and we did that at a high level. One of the things we always emphasize in the program, offensively, is ‘share the ball.’ I thought we did a good job of that and have done that all year. Maybe against Wyoming, we’re going to have get a little more selfish. Play downhill against them, but time will tell, and we’ll see how they guard us.”

3. Running up the score

Two famous 20th-century dystopian novels Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, imagined a future where computers forced humans to live in inhumane ways. In the world of college basketball, that dystopia is a reality.

The NET rankings have made running up the score a virtue where it use to be a vice. Boise State, which is 15th in the country in the NET, has played two Quadrant One games all season, zero Quadrant Two, Four Quadrant Three, and Seven Quadrant Four. They have blown out the teams at the bottom and been rewarded for it.

San Diego State, likewise, has benefitted from the system. Their blowout wins over Air Force gave them a huge jump in the rankings. Last Thursday, Arizona defeated Arizona State on a buzzer-beater on the road in Tempe. The next day, SDSU blew out Air Force. The Aztecs jumped the Wildcats along with eight other teams in the rankings.

In a bygone era, running up the score was bad sportsmanship and disrespectful to the other team. Today, closer wins to inferior teams are punished with a severity that could cost teams a spot in the NCAA Tournament. SDSU not only has to win, but they must destroy Wyoming for the series to be a success. Huxley and Orwell were right: the computers have taken over!

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