Tuesday nights match-up between the San Diego State Aztecs and the San Jose State Spartans will feature one team performing better than expected and one team performing far worse than expected.
The Spartans (8-6 overall, 1-2 in conference), the preseason pick to finish last in the conference for the fourth straight year, currently reside in 7th place and are coming off an impressive win over Fresno State. The Aztecs (8-7 overall, 0-3 in conference) on the other hand, the overwhelming favorite to win their fourth consecutive regular season conference title, currently reside in last place and are in the midst of a three game losing streak. Their second three game losing streak of the season.
Those types of streaks are almost unheard of during the Steve Fisher era. You have to go back to the 2011-2012 season to find their last three game losing streak. How about a four game losing streak? You have to go all the way to the 2004-2005 season. That team finished 11-18 and that was the last season in which a Steve Fisher led Aztecs team didn’t record 20 wins in a season.
Fortunately for the Aztecs, they just finished the toughest part of their schedule and they are returning home to face a lower tier San Jose State team. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they are still plagued by injuries.
Jeremy Hemsley, by far their best player, left the Boise State game in the second half with an injury to his Achilles tendon and didn’t return. He’s listed as questionable for tonight. If he’s not able to play, or even limited, that would be a huge blow to this Aztecs team as Hemsley is currently shooting 48% from 3-point range and leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game.
On top of that, Matt Shrigley, who is expected to play, is still dealing with an ankle injury that was noticeably affecting him against Boise State, and junior forward Malik Pope is likely to miss another game due to pain behind his knee. Typically these injuries wouldn’t have been too much to worry about going into a game against San Jose State, but this is a much improved Spartans team.
They are led by a pair of high scoring forwards in Ryan Welange (12.2 points per game) and Brandon Clarke (16.2 points per game) and sharp shooting guard Jalen James, who is connecting on 43% of his shots from deep. Furthermore, as noted above, they are coming off a win over Fresno State, picked 4th in the conference, and suffered a narrow loss to Colorado State before that. This is not the same push over team that they have been over the last three years.
Keys to an Aztec victory
- Big minutes for Valentine Izundu and Zylan Cheatham - Both forwards are going to be counted on to shut down Welange and Clarke. If either of them get into foul trouble, especially early, both Welange and Clarke could be in line for big nights.
- Trey Kell sighting - The junior guard was a preseason first team all conference selection and so far through three games, and 104 minutes, he’s averaging 8 points per game, and shooting a dismal 20% from 3-point range. He’s going to need to return to his sophomore season form for this Aztec team to get rolling.
Keys to a Spartans Win
- Exploit the Aztecs depth - The Spartans strength lies with their forwards Clarke and Welange and right now the Aztecs weakness is their depth in the front court. Both Spartans forwards will need to be aggressive in attacking the Aztec front line if they are going to pull this game out.
Tip off is set for 8pm PST at Viejas Arena and the game will be televised live on ESPNU.
The Aztecs pull this one out at home 75-70. Coach Fisher will have his team ready to play.