San Diego State has done nothing but impress in the NIT, so much so that even opposing coaches and players have gone out of their way to compliment the Aztecs.
This was no more evident than when recently fired Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory opened up his post-game press conference (on Wednesday) with a statement on just how good he thought SDSU was, "It was a team that was probably playing in the wrong tournament to be honest with you. They deserve to play in the NCAA tournament. Their numbers showed it, their record showed it."
And while the players and coaches of SDSU deserve the majority of credit for the success of the team, since they are the ones performing, some of the praise should also fall on the Aztecs fans shoulders. They proved once again this past Wednesday that Viejas Arena is one of the best college basketball environments in the country. Selling out for the second straight NIT contest in just three days the SDSU supporters provided the type of hostility and atmosphere that makes it tough on road clubs to come in and try to win.
Adam Smith, Georgia Tech senior, compared the Viejas Arena environment favorable to those found in the famed ACC, "I was just telling our family this: this is one of the toughest places I've played. It's loud. The crowd really gets into it and you can tell the team really feeds off of that. Maybe besides UNC this year, this is one of the loudest places we've played in."
Now the question heading into the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden, is whether the Aztecs can carry that level of play displayed during the first three rounds of the tournament at home (won by margins of 24, 15, and 16) on the road?
The effort and excitement level necessary to win will be there from the players, who many of them have publically expressed joy about being able to play ball in the mecca of basketball.
Trey Kell commented during the clubs Friday press conference "You watch the NBA and everyone, every known basketball player says they love going to New York, they want to put on a show from LeBron to Kobe to Michael, so it's just one of those things, if it's special to them, it must be really crazy and special. I'm just really excited for the experience."
How this experience turns out as a whole in the end depends on how things finish up for the Aztecs. Most are hoping for a cutting of the nets on Thursday nights scheduled title game.
But before any championship discussion seriously begins, San Diego State has get through George Washington (26-10, 11-7 A-10) first. A senior led team that defeated NCAA Tournament number 1 seed Virginia earlier in the season and plays in the tough A-10 conference which in recent history has been comparable to the Mountain West in terms of talent and the quality of its teams top to bottom.
A quick statistical overview of George Washington as a team they are ranked the 107th best scoring offense (75.9 ppg) and 108th scoring defense (69.3 ppg). In field goal percentage (44.7%) they are 135th and 66th in the 3-point department (FG 36.9%). Lastly they are 81st in total rebounds per game (38.0 rpg). On the surface they do not appear to do anything exceptionally well but they are not horrible either.
Three of their player's average double figures in point's junior Tyler Cavanaugh tops the list with 16.8 ppg, senior Patricio Garino comes in with 14.2 ppg, and senior Kevin Larsen averages 12.3 ppg.
Steve Fisher during the aforementioned Friday press conference gave his assessment of the match-up "This is a team that you say, take away the post play of Larsen and they'll go somewhere else. I watched their game vs. St. Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament and they made 11 threes in the first half. They went real small and played three small guards and you start collapsing on the inside stuff and they can do other things.
They're from a lot of different places. They have transfers from several places on that team. They mix and match and they'll throw two different zones at us. It will be an interesting game to see what they do to try to counteract out of the gate and what we do to try to take away some stuff. I like their team. They're good. They play smart. They appear to be a very physical team the right way. They guard you, bump you and hit you without getting called for fouls."
Coach Fisher's focus on the Colonials offensive game during the discussion, has led me to believe that either George Washington offense is really good or that their defense is lacking and is not worth worrying about.
So far this season no Aztec opponent has been able to have its way on the offensive side of the ball, so doubt the Colonials will be able to. We all know if SDSU losses this game it will be because their offense let them down like it frequently did this year but not thus far in the NIT. So if the recent scoring output continues for San Diego State they should be able to win comfortable, pulling away late, 77-64.
This game tip offs Tuesday March 29, 2016 at 6 PM PST in Madison Square Garden. It will be televised nationally on ESPN.