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San Diego State vs. Illinois State preview: Aztecs get stiff challenge to open the season

San Diego State hosts head coach Steve Fisher's alma mater, Illinois State in the renewal of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.

Steve Fisher's Aztecs host Steve Fisher's Alma Mater on Friday, November 13.
Steve Fisher's Aztecs host Steve Fisher's Alma Mater on Friday, November 13.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois State Redbirds vs San Diego State Aztecs

Tip off: Friday, November 13, 7pm PST

TV: ESPN3

The good old Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge is back. The Aztecs are preseason favorites to win the Mountain West Conference (by conference writers), but drew Steve Fisher’s alma mater, Illinois State. This is the first matchup between the two schools since the 1973, five years after Fisher had graduated with his Master’s degree.

The Aztecs have prided themselves on defense throughout the years. Last year’s team posted the 2nd best defense in points allowed (52.7)and 7th in field goal percentage (.384) amongst the entire NCAA. But the Aztecs have had trouble shooting the ball and having a strong scoring guard. This was magnified in their blowout loss in the round of 32 against eventual national champion Duke. With seniors Winston Shepard, Angelo Chol, and Skylar Spencer they must learn to score as well as they play defense.

Players to Watch

Jeremy Hemsley

The point guard San Diego State has been waiting for. Trey Kell and Aqeel Quinn took primary minutes at the point guard, but really both players are stronger as shooting guards. Hemsley, 2015 LA Times Player of the Year, was heavily recruited by Fisher’s staff and his senior year of high school stats justified it, averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Expect Fisher's confidence to shine and expect Hemsley will start and see heavy minutes throughout the game.

Winston Shepard

Shepard returns for his fourth and final year of eligibility at San Diego State. In what has been a college career of unfulfilled potential, Shepard knows that he must lead his team and step-up on the floor. He led the 2014-15 squad in points and total rebounds, but he had an astonishing 88 turnovers. He has put in the time across the globe playing on a traveling squad in the Philippines. So coming strong and leading this team in their first game would be a statement to all the critics.

Ben Perez

Perez walked-on to San Diego State with no scholarship. His timing was intriguing as it was announced around the same time that Matt Shrigley would be out for at least half a season due to an ACL injury and guard Max Hoetzel had announced his transfer from Indiana. Perez was recruited to shoot from the perimeter, something Shrigley and was especially good at. So if Fisher decides to give the walk-on some minutes, would be interesting how much Perez could contribute.