San Diego State vs. No. 6 Arizona preview

Winston Shepard ready to defend. - USA TODAY Sports

Early season showdown for Best of the West contenders.

The San Diego State versus Arizona game on Thursday night may be the best early season match-up of teams vying for west coast bragging rights.

Arizona rolls into town with a No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll, a freshman forward who is being compared to L.A. Clippers Blake Griffin, and a roster full of talented young players with championship expectations. San Diego State regroups after losing Jamaal Franklin to the NBA and two other starters to graduation and is unranked to start the season.

David vs. Goliath?

By historical measures, this may seem like a David versus Goliath battle. Arizona has played in four Final Fours and won a national championship. Arizona has a long history of making the NCAA tournament and sending players to the NBA. San Diego State's accomplishments are few and recent in comparison.

But writer Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, has provided a fresh perspective that suggests David wasn't quite the underdog we all believed him to be.

So too the Aztecs.

While San Diego State doesn't have a national championship, their near-term success is impressive. Eight straight seasons with 20 plus wins. Four straight trips to the NCAA tournament. Thirty-four straight wins against California schools. Three straight home game victories over teams ranked in the AP Top 25. And as for this match-up, the Aztecs have beaten the Wildcats in two of their last three games and only lost by a point last season to a No. 3 ranked Arizona team.

That's more of a level playing field than first imagined, especially considering this is No. 6 facing off against an unranked opponent.

Defense Leads to Offense

The more you look at these teams, the more they have in common. Both teams pride themselves on their defensive prowess. "Our identity is to be an outstanding defensive team," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "That feeds into our fast break. Rebounding is a strength of this year's team. That's where it starts for us."

Ditto for the Aztecs who were fortunate to have assistant coach Justin Hutson re-join the team after two years coaching at UNLV. He oversees the defense and will maximize the height and length of a starting lineup with just one player under 6-foot-7.

San Diego State held UC Riverside to 31 percent field-goal shooting and forced 21 turnovers in their opening game. Arizona held Cal Poly to 37 percent field-goal shooting and Long Beach State to only 27 percent field-goal shooting in their first two games.

Who to Watch

Aaron Gordon is a freshman phenom for Arizona who can finish at the rim and make plays in the open court. In his first two games, he posted double doubles in points and rebounds. Pencil those in for the rest of the season. He can play either forward position and will be one and done following his freshman year.

Aztecs Josh Davis resembles Kawhi Leonard in both his looks and his style of game. Another double-double machine, Davis does it all. He will also get to the free throw line more than ever and help ice close games for the Aztecs.

Former Findlay Prep teammates Winston Shepard (SDSU) and Brandon Ashley (UA) will don opposing uniforms once again. CBS Sports listed Shepard as one of its 15 under-the-radar breakout players for 2013-14. Ashley could have easily been on the list but he is well, less under the radar. Both players expect to get more playing time and have more impact in their sophomore seasons. Each bulked up in the weight room and has become a starter this season.

Get Ahead, Stay Ahead

For the Aztecs to pull an upset, the old fashioned strategy of take the lead and don't look back would suit them best. San Diego State is 35-2 in its last 37 games when leading at halftime. And even more remarkably has won 93 straight games when leading with five minutes to play in regulation. Combine that with a boisterous sell-out crowd, their 24th straight, and the Aztecs could make this win number 12 out of their last 13 games against the Pac-12.

Date/Time: Thursday, November 14 at 10:05 pm ET

Location: Viejas Arena, San Diego, California

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: The Mighty 1090

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