Posted by Eric Angevine
I don’t think East Coast bias is a real thing. I’ve lived in three different time zones in my years in this fine nation of ours, and the fact is that hoops fans love West Coast teams – they’re exotic and mysterious, in large part because something you don’t see much of (e.g. a woman’s ankles in the Victorian era) is always kind of exciting. Thanks to our colleagues at CBS College Sports, I got a prime chance to watch the undefeated San Diego State Aztecs in action against the tough and crafty UNLV Rebels last night, and I saw plenty of reasons (OK, five) why this team should not be dismissed as a fluke.
1. Size: This is the first thing that jumps out at a viewer watching an SDSU game. Only three players on the roster are listed below the 200-lb. mark, which means even the guards are packing some muscle. Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White play even taller than they really are (each is under 6-foot-10), which makes the Aztecs nearly unstoppable inside. The SDSU offense takes a massive 60.8 of its shots inside the arc, and they sport a low 4.1 offensive block percentage that makes them tops in the nation at putting the orange roundie in the net.
2. Flow: No doubt, the Aztecs play a slow game with all those big men on the floor. Their offensive pace is 64 possessions per game, well under the national average. But that’s where lack of exposure to a team can fool those of us who value what stats can tell us: watching them live, I saw a team that can run when opportunity knocks or necessity dictates. They’d prefer not to, of course. This team imposes its will by slowing the pace, but it’s not limited to one way of attacking the basket by any means.
3. Cool: This year’s MWC is a house of horrors. Really. The Aztecs just beat a tough, Lon Kruger-coached UNLV team, but they can’t look forward and start gameplanning for BYU and the Jimmer Show because they have to go to New Mexico and face the likes of Dairise Gary, Drew Gordon and Emannuel Negedu -- not to mention a couple of tough young guards in Phillip McDonald and Kendall Williams -- in the Pit first. This league’s top four is better than anything the Pac-10 has to offer right now (possibly because so many current MWC stars transferred from Pac-10 schools, but still). Despite all that, these guys never appear to panic. They bring the lunchpail every night.
4. ABC: I don’t mean alphabet soup, the Jackson Five or a rival television network. I mean Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Closing. You may have heard that ace reliever Trevor Hoffman retired this week and joined the front office of the San Diego Padres. In an inspired move, the public address crew at Viejas Arena broke out Hoffman’s entrance music -- AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells -- when the going got tough late in last night’s game. The Aztecs responded and put the clamps on to seal a 55-49 win. SDSU will play a lot of low-scoring games, so they’ll need that closer’s mentality to stay unbeaten.
5. Fish: Steve Fisher might look and sound like your kindly old grampa, but don’t you fall for that act. You’re looking at a guy who played in the DII Final Four with the Illinois State Redbirds, and won a DI national championship in his tumultuous first few weeks of head coaching experience at Michigan. He recruited the Fab Five and went back to the tourney’s final day two more times. The fact that he got fired amid scandal from that recruitment doesn’t change the fact that he’s been to the mountaintop and knows how to coach. Opponents might have been caught napping on his skills last season, but this year his imprint can be seen in every aspect of the top-ten ranking this team has earned and held.
If I had the wherewithal to be in the Pit on Saturday, or BYU’s Marriott Center on January 26, no bias on earth would stop me from watching this team go to the mattresses.