I believe I've done a good job being unbiased with SDSU basketball predictions this year--I've been pretty proud of that. So I hope nobody calls me a "homer" or a "fan writer" when I say this: SDSU will WIN tomorrow against Arizona in the Sweet 16 and advance to the Elite Eight.
Now that your jaws are on the ground, here's why that prediction will come true.
The turnover battle
Neither of these two teams is good at half-court offense--at all. They win with lockdown defense and fast, transition buckets. In fact, I don't think any two teams in the Sweet 16 are as similar to each other as SDSU and Arizona.
But there are a couple key differences that favor SDSU, two of which are turnovers and turnovers forced per game.
After the Wildcats dismantled Gonzaga in the Round of 32, a lot of people were raving about Arizona's ability to force turnovers. I mean, heck, they forced 21 turnovers and turned them into 31 points against Gonzaga. That's pretty significant, right?
Yes, it's a great performance--with a caveat. Gonzaga turns the ball over a lot no matter whom they're playing. In fact, the Bulldogs have the 171st worst turnover margin in the country and rank 230th in total turnovers. Those 21 turnovers against Arizona seem a little less staggering with that information.
With buckets coming at a premium between two defensive juggernauts, turnovers will be key in deciding tomorrow's victor. And SDSU is better at forcing turnovers and limiting their own turnovers--actually by a large margin. The Aztecs have the 35th fewest turnovers in the country. The Wildcats, who have played just one more game than SDSU, have the 95th fewest turnovers. Then we look at the turnover margin, probably a more significant statistic. SDSU ranks 11th, Arizona ranks 41st. Why none of this gets brought up during pre-game debates, I have no clue. But during the season, SDSU has won the turnover battle. If they can again tomorrow, they'll beat Arizona.
Josh Davis and the offensive glass
Davis was the feature player at Tulane, both on offense and defense. He averaged almost 18 points per game and was usually the Green Waves' first scoring option. SDSU faced Arizona in Davis' second regular season game as an Aztec. Needless to say, he was still trying to find his role with the team. It wasn't until later in the year that Davis focused almost exclusively on rebounding and told The Daily Aztec that he wanted his rebounding to be his SDSU legacy.
Davis had no effect during these rivals' first game: he had four boards, two of which were offensive, and two points. Davis improved drastically over the year and owned his role as a beast on the glass. He earned the MWC Newcomer of the Year award and is the 16th best rebounder in the country. Put simply, Davis is a very different player now than he was on Nov. 14, 2013, and SDSU is better as a result.
In a defensive slugfest, offensive boards and second-chance points will be vital. Davis will play a key role in the battle for the offensive boards. Now, Arizona is an incredible rebounding team with Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Wildcats have the 18th most rebounds per game, while the Aztecs have just the 43rd most rebounds per game.
But those stats combine offensive and defensive rebounds. When you look at just offensive rebounds, which will be huge tomorrow, you see a very different picture.
SDSU has the 37th most offensive rebounds per game, and Arizona has the 67th most per game. A small edge, but an edge nonetheless.
Don't say Arizona has gotten worse because big-man Brandon Ashley is out with an injury. If anything, that loss has made Arizona better because it forced Gordon to expand his defensive role, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better defender than Gordon in the country.
But SDSU improving because Dwayne Polee II is on the court? Yeah, you can definitely say that.
As you all know by now, Polee played a whopping zero minutes in SDSU's first meeting with Arizona.
Source of energy.
Second scoring option.
Instant source of crowd volume.
Yup, none of that was there on Nov. 14, 2013 in Viejas Arena.
Yes, Xavier Thames is vital to this team. But nobody has had a larger positive impact in the second half of conference play and post-season play than Polee.
Polee has averaged 14.2 points and 4.6 rebounds during the MWC and NCAA Tournament. And even more significant is balanced scoring: he's put in 42.3% of his points from 3-point range, 30.9% from within the 3-point line and 26.8% from the free throw line. In other words, once he sets a pick at the top of the key for Thames, Polee is a scoring threat from multiple spots on the floor.
His long arms and surprising speed on defense have just as much of an impact on the game as his efficient offense.
Polee's size on the perimter will be his biggest impact on this game because it gives Arizona a matchup problem. Does Coach Miller push Hollis-Jefferson to the perimeter, not his natural spot, to guard Polee? Or does he put an undersized guard on him?
I won't belabor the point (which I probably already have). SDSU is very different and much better with Polee as its sixth starter.
Prediction: SDSU 66-65.