Conventional wisdom tells us that this time of the season the "biggest game of the year" is always your next game no matter who your opponent may be. In the case of the San Diego State Aztecs and the Boise State Broncos, that next game really is the "biggest game of the year" in relation to the opponent and the regular season Mountain West conference schedule.
Still smarting from their February 8 61-46 loss in Boise, the Aztecs have redemption and a conference title on their minds inside Viejas Arena. Let's take a look at why this game is so intriguing.
The Polls and Polee - Back in the top 25 in both major polls for the first time in two months, the Aztecs welcomed back Dwayne Polee II to action against San Jose State after his medical condition kept him off the court for 61 days. A win keeps them climbing higher in the polls, and getting Polee's energy and talent back is a huge emotional boost at this crucial time of the season.
There's No Place Like Home - Winning at home is paramount in any conference and the Aztecs have held serve all season so far with a 15-0 mark and a 29-game winning streak at Viejas. The loss at Boise was comprehensive, but will Boise State repeat the lights-out shooting it had on its court? The Broncos have three conference road losses to Fresno State, Colorado State and Wyoming. There is no atmosphere in the MW that can rival a sold-out Viejas with so much at stake. It's crucial the Aztecs stop Derrick Marks and Nick Duncan, who can both score in bunches. Look for the Aztecs to use a swarming perimeter defense set up by a full-court press to get Boise's shooters uncomfortable and negate Boise State's 3-point efficiency.
Now, all this is much easier said than done, especially when SDSU will have to worry about James Webb III, who's nearly averaging a double-double in conference play.
Marching Towards Madness - Should the Aztecs win against Boise State, they play at home against Nevada (who lost at Boise by 32 last Saturday). Then SDSU goes on the road against an improving but inconsistent UNLV (who has lost at home to Boise State, Nevada, and New Mexico). The Aztecs currently hold what amounts to a one-game lead over Boise State. A win Saturday puts more distance between themselves and the rest of the conference, and sets them up to finish the conference schedule on top before the MW Tournament. With the NCAA Tournament around the corner, the Aztecs have much to gain by continuing to win and boost their seed to a potential seven or higher slot.
The Broncos, on the other hand, are on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and a win on the road at Viejas could very well catapult them into the field of 68 come March. Otherwise, Boise State may have to win the MW Tournament to earn an automatic bid.
So just how big is Saturday's game? Win, and you are in the driver's seat for the conference title. The alternative for SDSU is having a must-win game at UNLV. Considering how tough road wins are in the MW, Saturday is SDSU's and Boise State's chance to prove their recent level of play is no fluke.
The Aztecs appear to be peaking at about the time really good tournament teams do. If they can continue to pull together the scoring of Winston Shepherd, JJ O'Brien and Aqeel Quinn with the interior defense of Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol, and fuse it with the spark that Malik Pope, Trey Kell, Matt Shrigley and now Polee bring, they can challenge virtually any team in the country.
So start fast and bring your No. 3 nationally ranked defense, Aztecs. Saturday presents you with the opportunity to serve notice to the MW and the national media that you are among the best in the West and deserving of an even higher national ranking.