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San Diego State vs. Air Force preview: Aztecs look to rebound after first conference loss

San Diego State is looking to get back on track against Air Force.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

After a horrible out of conference start to the 2015-2016 regular season that could have potentially ended any hopes for an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament, San Diego State (SDSU) began Mountain West action on an 11 game tear which matched the best start in league history of any team (shared with the 2004-05 Utah Utes of Andrew Bogut).

Wednesday the streak ended at Fresno State with a 58-57 loss but the Aztecs (18-7, 11-1) as a result of their historic run, managed to salvage their season. Despite the loss to the Bulldogs, all of SDSU initial goals entering the year remain at reach, a league title and a seventh straight bid to the big dance. That is if they can bounce back Saturday at home and beat the league cellar dwellers Air Force (12-13, 3-9).

A loss to Air Force would be disastrous to San Diego State, and will likely end their already slim at-large chances the conference has, forcing them in the scenario all other Mountain West teams appear to be in at the moment. With their sights set on the conference tournament title in order to secure a place to the NCAA Tournament.

Receiving one bid would be a harsh reality for a league accustomed to multiple representatives on a yearly basis. So the importance of this game is huge not only for San Diego State but for the whole conference in terms of national respect.

Coach Steve Fisher, understanding the importance of the match up had this to say during his press conference saying, "Big game for the Aztecs tomorrow against Air Force, a game that we need to find a way to win. If you did what I did and look at last year's tape, it was a two-point game with under one minute to play. They had the ball. We have to make sure to play every possession against a team that, when they are making shots, they can beat anyone."

And if San Diego State allows Wednesday defeat to linger on, Air Force is certainly capable of pulling off the upset, they demonstrated that by knocking off  league power Boise State, 61-53, just last week. Sophomore guard CJ Siples had a career day during that contest versus the Broncos, scoring 25 points compared to his average points per game of 5. If the Falcons are going to beat the Aztecs at Viejas Arena they will need another player to step up like CJ did to help carry some of the load regularly placed on junior forward Hayden Graham, the team leading scorer (14.2).

On the other end San Diego State is going need their senior leaders Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer to have bounce back games, the two combined for just five points against Fresno State, and a duplicate performance of that will only make things much tougher for the Aztecs, who are already offensively challenged.

In fact, the Aztecs and Falcons each rank at the bottom of the conference in terms of team points per game. But as we all who follow this league know what has kept San Diego State at the top of the standing is not their offense it is their 4th ranked defense in the NCAA; Air Force ranks a mediocre 160th in the category.

So while a bad shooting night for the Aztecs could spell an upset victory for Air Force, it appears more likely that San Diego State with the home crowd behind them will make it much tougher on Air Force to score, than they will do to them. That is why I see an Aztecs victory in the end, 68-51.

This game tips at 10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.