The players and coaches can answer all the questions in the politically correct way, saying they don't care who they play, they're just focused on winning.
But who do the Aztecs really want to play?
Well, it's always hard picking the lesser of two evils.
Gonzaga. Beat the highly talented Cowboys. Technically sound. Team basketball. Stockton genes. A 7'1" center. Three graduate students.
At first, I honestly thought SDSU would have a better chance beating Arizona. The Aztecs already played the Wildcats this year, so they have familiarity. Dwayne Polee II, SDSU's second best player lately, played a whopping total of zero minutes in that first meeting. Arizona's injured Brandon Ashley, a 6'8" presence in the paint, wouldn't be playing in round two. Arizona, just like SDSU, struggles mightily to score, ranking 113th nationally in points per game.
I even had SDSU beating Arizona in my bracket (which has now been decidedly slaughtered by this year's Big Dance).
But then I saw Aaron Gordon manhandle Weber State in person at Viejas Arena. Believe me, the Wildcats aren't missing anything with Ashley's absence. They've changed their style of defense, arguably for the better. Gordon now switches from the three to the four to the five and often mans the paint. And let me tell you, he does not budge. Even against Weber State's 6'10", 240-pound Kyle Tresnak, Gordon was the stronger man.
Don't get me wrong. I think SDSU would have a great chance to beat Arizona in Anaheim. The two teams are almost identical on defense: Arizona ranks second in team defensive efficiency and SDSU ranks third. The Wildcats score more often than the Aztecs, but I'd put Xavier Thames against Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell any day of the week. And SDSU will have a big home court advantage in "Viejas North" (also known as the Honda Center).
SDSU would have even more of a home court edge against Gonzaga, who hails from Washington--not Arizona, a few hundred miles from Anaheim.
Led by David Stockton, the Bulldogs play tremendous team basketball. They average almost 15 assists per game and score about 77 points per game. They have lights-out shooters: Kevin Pangos (42.9 percent), David Stockton (43.1 percent), Gary Bell, Jr. (48.7 percent). And then they have two huge forces in the paint, Przemek Tarnowski and Sam Dower, who can easily score when defenses focus on the perimeter.
But the Bulldogs haven't faced a defense like SDSU's, which allowed the second fewest points per game this season. So take those offensive stats with a grain of salt.
Gonzaga's three most difficult games of the season came against Kansas State, Dayton and Memphis. The Bulldogs lost all three.
Coach Mark Few and company play in the West Coast Conference, which, bless its heart, is in a very weak phase. In other words, Gonzaga's best competition in the WCC was BYU, which shouldn't have even made the NCAA Tournament.
SDSU also matches up extremely well with the Bulldogs. Gonzaga wins the "size in the paint" category with 7'1" Karnowski. He will be a huge challenge for the Aztecs, and could be the deciding factor in the game. However, SDSU owns the advantage at every other position. As good as Stockton, Pangos and Bell Jr. are, Thames is playing his best basketball of the year--not just on offense, but on defense, too. He's averaging 26.5 points in the Tournament, and he also has four steals. Polee is also playing his best ball of the year. Looking up and down the Zags' roster, I couldn't find anybody to match up with him. The only Bulldog with comparable size is 6'7" Drew Barham, but he's nowhere near quick enough to stop Polee. Shepard falls in the same category as Polee: a matchup nightmare for the Bulldogs.
No matter how technically skilled and team-oriented you are, when you face somebody who simply outmatches you, it's hard to win--especially when it feels like a road game. That's what Few's boys from Spokane would face against Fisher's squad.
I'm not saying Gonzaga would be a walk in the park for SDSU. Gonzaga is an incredible team--they wouldn't be here if they weren't. Heck, they just beat a great Oklahoma State team. I'm just saying at this point in the year, I would guess that the Aztecs would be rooting for the Bulldogs today.