Last year, the Bulldogs ended the Aztecs' unbelievable 47-game win streak against California schools (UCLA, Cal, USC, and St. Mary's were among those victories). This year they opened Mountain West play by defeating UNLV at the Thomas and Mack Center, so they come into Viejas Arena knowing they could put up a good fight against the Aztecs backed by Marvelle Harris.
Harris is a senior guard who averages a line of 19.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game. He is the Mountain West's preseason player of the year, as noted by the media and is also coming off a 32-point game against San Jose State where he shot 64%. In the victory over San Diego State last year, Harris shot over 56% with 25 points and 7 rebounds. Harris will be the guy the Bulldogs will lean on against the Aztecs.
The Aztecs are home after going 2-0 on their road trip last week and gaining outright first place while remaining undefeated in conference play. After coming home, it might seem that Malik Pope found his rhythm again after his performance at Colorado State. His resurgent play adds to how opponents will defend the Aztecs.
The Aztecs offense has stalled at times with their starting five, and has not gotten much help from their bench scoring. Pope has added much needed offense over the last two games and his success against the Bulldogs will help determine how the Aztecs will go in the game and how much the rest of the conference pays attention to him.
Freshman Jeremy Hemsley finds himself in a strange situation as he is coming off a rare poor offensive performance. He only scored two points and was held out of assists. Chalk it up as a fluke and expect him to come back against Fresno State. Zylan Cheatham hasn't been performing as he did earlier in the season, but he's coming off a 7-point performance and still hustles hard on the floor. Cheatham has to find a little bit more consistency, much like Winston Shepard has done since the beginning of conference play.
The way the Aztecs are playing through the Mountain West resembles their football run in 2015. They might not be plowing through by blowing teams out, but they are playing a more sound game now. They know that defense will carry the weight of their offensive struggles, but when the starters find a rhythm and the bench starts coming alive the Aztecs are in good position.
Despite only scoring 56 against the Broncos the Aztecs defense shined and will look for more of that same defense and bench (Read: Malik Pope) to help them face a tough opponent in Fresno State. Harris for Fresno State will put the team on his back, and he will make the Aztecs sweat for a narrow victory.
This game tips at 11 p.m. ET on ESPNU
Prediction: San Diego State 64, Fresno State 63