The San Diego State men's basketball team posted their 20th straight exhibition game win by defeating Cal State San Marcos 81-66 on Friday night. This is a "nice to have" winning streak but isn't the most important thing leading up to the start of the regular season.
While men's basketball games are scored as wins and losses rather than letter grades, the Pass/Fail rating may actually be more applicable for exhibition games. The overall victory is important, just ask UNLV, who lost their exhibition game to Dixie State. But more important than saving face is for the coaching staff to understand what kind of team they have and for the players to gain confidence in their roles.
How well the Aztecs did in completing each section of the test may be a better barometer for forecasting the team's success. How was the offense? Team chemistry? Lineup combinations? Defense? Hustle? Perimeter shooting? Rebounding?
"This game is what I hoped it would be. It was good for us, " said coach Steve Fisher in the postgame press conference. "I think it will be a great teaching tape for us."
The Aztecs starting five opened up a 13-3 lead before the first subs, Matt Shrigley and Dakarai Allen, came in with 15:32 remaining in the first half. After continuing to sub in players D'Erryl Williams, Dwayne Polee, James Johnson and Aqeel Quinn, the Aztecs led by just four points, 27-23, with 7:03 left in the opening half. With the return of the starters, the Aztecs pushed the lead back up to 10 before letting it slip down to six after giving up a three-pointer to the Cougars just before the halftime buzzer.
The ebb and flow of the second half often corresponded to the presence of Aztec starters or subs. The lead would rise to double digits and then get trimmed to three or four. The Aztecs got the wire-to-wire victory and finished the game with their largest lead of the night. A win and a passing grade on most accounts.
The only mild surpise in the starting lineup was sophomore big man Skylar Spencer. Xavier Thames, J.J. O'Brien, Winston Shepard and Josh Davis all started as anticipated. Fisher had the choice of starting a taller lineup, with essentially four forwards and one guard, or switching out Spencer for either Allen or Shrigley. Since the Aztecs will face several opponents with big and talented frontcourts in the near future, it made sense to go large from the start. Thames was the only Aztec starter under 6-foot-7, which is a change of pace from Fisher's guard-heavy lineups in the past.
O'Brien was the scoring leader for San Diego State with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Davis had a strong debut with 13 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds. Of the freshman, Allen was the highlight with nine points, one rebound, two assists, one block and zero turnovers. He also got his first dunk as an Aztec.
Jason Johnson was the standout for Cal State San Marcos, scoring 15 points in the first half and 27 overall to lead all scorers. The Cougars featured a bevy of former Division I players who relished the opportunity to play a tough opponent in front of an estimated 9,000 fans.
The final part of the test was a spelling bee component for all attendees. How do you pronounce "CSUSM"? Please use it in a sentence. Maybe Cal State San Marcos should rethink the stitching on the front of their jerseys.