The Boise State Broncos and San Diego State Aztecs will battle Saturday night at jam-packed Taco Bell Arena. After a wild race down the stretch last spring, Boise and San Diego State ended up sharing the crown as MW champs.
All preseason predictions pointed to the Aztecs and Broncos atop the Mountain West for the 2016 season, and that is exactly where they stand this weekend.
After a number of unexpected stumbles in non-conference play, San Diego State has pulled together during the first four games of the conference slate and look to take control of the Mountain West. The Aztecs fell to Arkansas Little-Rock, San Diego and Grand Canyon, in which SDSU failed to log 50 points in each of the three games. There is still much to be desired from the SDSU offense, but there is definitely improvement over the last month.
Boise State has overcome its fair share of obstacles to have the opportunity to have sole control of first place in the MW for the first time in school history.
After the graduation of 2015 MW player of the year Derrick Marks, many wondered who would assume the team leadership role and go-to scoring for the Broncos. Unlike last season, Boise State's offense has been very balanced and there are typically three or four players finishing in double figures each night.
Although Boise State played three games against top 15 teams in non-conference play, San Diego State presents the stingiest defense that the Broncos will face this season. Boise State thrives on offense and San Diego State is led by its defense, which should make for a fantastic matchup.
Matchup - San Diego State Aztecs @ Boise State Broncos in Boise, Idaho, 10:00 PM Eastern, Taco Bell Arena
Radio/TV/Stream - Radio: 670 AM KBOI, TV: ESPN2, Stream: available on WatchESPN
Vegas - Boise State 4-point favorites according OddsShark
Win/Loss Records - San Diego State 11-6 (4-0), Boise State 13-4 (4-0)
KenPom Rankings - San Diego State 81st, Boise State 72nd
The Aztecs are anchored by one of the strongest defenses in the country. SDSU is sixth in effective field goal percentage defense and 10th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
Freshman guard Jeremy Hemsley has jumped onto the scene and leads the Aztecs in scoring this season with 13.6 points per game. Senior forward Winston Shepard is the only other Aztec to average more than 10 points per game.
SDSU has a bulky and lengthy frontcourt with 6-10 forwards Malik Pope and Skylar Spencer; both are terrific defenders.
The Broncos will be extremely undersized in the frontcourt, but have the athleticism to match the Aztecs.
Junior forward Nick Duncan stands at only 6-8, and though he doesn't fit the physical mold of a basketball player, he is a talented post defender and three point shooter. The other junior forward, 6-9 James Webb III has shown off his abilities on both ends of the floor, snatching steals and slamming down tomahawks en route to three MW player of the week awards.
If there is any team that could shut down Webb, SDSU might be that team. The key to the game for San Diego State will be slowing down the pace of the game and preventing Boise State from scoring off turnovers. The Aztecs rank 303rd in the country in offensive tempo, and will hope to have a halfcourt battle on Saturday.
For Boise State, the perimeter shooting might be the key to a victory. Any bucket in the paint will be tough to come by against the SDSU bigs, but if the Broncos can use a consistent drive and dish attack it could be very effective.
A lot is at stake for both teams Saturday night. With a SDSU victory, the Aztecs would have its first 5-0 start in conference play since 2011; San Diego State reached the Sweet 16 that season.
If the Broncos can pull out a win, Boise State will have its longest winning streak in school history: 11 games. BSU also has won 17 consecutive games at home, the 13th longest streak in the country.
Expect this game to come down to the last possession.
Prediction: Boise State 71, San Diego State 68