Utah State cruised to an 88-70 win over the ninth seeded Wyoming Cowboys in the opening round of the Mountain West tournament. Their prize? A quarterfinal matchup versus the Mountain West regular season champion San Diego State Aztecs.
This will be the third time these two teams meet this season. The first time the Aztecs headed up to Logan, Utah, and beat the Aggies 70-67 in front of a sparse crowd on January 2nd. On the return trip on January 23rd, Utah State came to Viejas Arena and the Aztecs once again prevailed. This time in a more convincing fashion, winning, 70-55. As they head into their third matchup the question is can the Aggies overcome the Aztec defense, or will San Diego State once again pull out a victory.
The Aggies picked up their first round victory by outshooting and outrebounding the Cowboys. They shot 48% from the floor (including 44% from three-point range). This will be a difficult number to replicate as the Aztecs lead the nation in opposing field goal percentage at 37%. A key for Utah State will be scoring in transition and off of turnovers. If San Diego State is vulnerable defensively, it is when they are transitioning back on defense. Once the Aztecs set their defense, then finding an easy shot because exponentially harder.
Outrebounding San Diego State will be a tall task for the Aggies. Utah State had their way with Wyoming, however they are a team that does not rebound the ball well. The Aztecs have improved their rebounding over the course of the season and held a 72-59 combined advantage over two games. The Aggies will not be able to win this game if they can't keep the Aztecs off the boards, especially on the offensive glass.
Chris Smith and Jalen Moore will be the keys offensively for Utah State. Neither has reached their season average against the Aztecs and they are averaging a combined 19 points a game in their two matchups versus San Diego State. Both players will need to post numbers closer to their season averages if they hope to put up enough points against one of the best defenses in the nation.
San Diego State may be playing its best basketball at the right time. The offense has shot over 40% in the last five games and has scored over 70 points in five out of the last six. When the Aztecs put up some offense, they are nearly impossible to beat. Shooting 40% or better seems to be the magic number for a San Diego State team that at times can be offensively challenged. In the two wins over the Aggies the Aztecs topped over 40% each time. Shooting over 40% will be a key for an Aztec team that has been firing on all cylinders.
Everyone knows that the Aztecs play elite defense, but it seems that 70 points is usually enough points to win. In both wins over the Aggies this season the Aztecs scored exactly 70 points. The Aztecs have scored 70 points or more 18 times this year. In those games they are 17-1. Whether scoring the ball off turnovers, in transition, from behind the arc, or any other way the Aztecs need to put up at least 70 to give themselves an opportunity to win.
The scoring will likely come from the two most consistent players on the team, Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley. Both players have been the catalysts of the offense this season and will once again head an Aztec attack that is coming off two incredible offensive performances. Kell and Hemsley's ability to shoot the ball from deep or get to the rim make both players threats that Utah State will need to focus on stopping.
The action starts tomorrow at noon PST from Las Vegas on CBS Sports Net. The winner plays the winner of No. 4 New Mexico and No. 5 Nevada in the semifinals.