Round two of the Mountain West Conference Championship Tournament begins at 6PM PT tonight with the San Diego State Aztecs taking on the Colorado State Rams at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. This will be the third match-up between the Aztecs (25-6) and the Rams (20-10) this year.
The Aztecs come into the game lucky to still be alive in the tournament after narrowly defeating the 8th seed Boise State Broncos. The Rams, on the other hand, enter tonight's game looking strong, defeating the TCU Horned Frogs yesterday by more than twenty.
The Rams, led by Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green, have plenty to fight for in tonight's rematch. Many percieve the Rams to be one of the few teams left on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and one more major victory should ensure them a spot in March Madness. Yesterday's win over TCU was no doubt important, but the Aztecs present a larger challenge.
Conversely, the Aztecs seemingly locked up their spot in the NCAA Tournament a month ago. Right now, they're playing for pride and seeding. A win over the Rams, who issued the Aztecs their worst loss of the year, would help cement the Aztecs as a top 20 team.
The Aztecs and Rams split their season series. The Rams won in Colorado, 77-60, and the Aztecs won in San Diego, 74-66. One player from each team stood out in their previous games: Jamaal Franklin put up 55 between the two games, while Wes Ekmeier put up 33. Expect them to have strong games.
One important factor that may play a major role in tonight's game is depth. The Rams destroyed the Aztecs in Colorado partly because of player fatigue and relative lack of depth on the San Diego bench. Four of the Aztecs starters - Xavier Thames, James Rahon, Jamaal Franklin, and Chase Tapley - played thirty-seven or more minutes yesterday. Only Tim Shelton saw significant rest (obviously due to his multiple knee surgeries). It will be interesting to see how Coach Steve Fisher manages player time. Look for LaBradford Franklin, Garrett Green, and Deshawn Stephens to play more of a role in the game.
The winner of the game will move onto the Mountain West Tournament Championship, facing either New Mexico or UNLV.