Some first impressions of the San Diego State basketball team after a month of preseason training, but most notably no games. Things can change. Things will change. But here’s where the team is in the eyes of a man ahead of a highly anticipated season:
Attack vs. Defense
Kenpom metric projects Aztecs to have Division I of 10e best defense, and the first indications are that the computer doesn’t lie. They are long, athletic, and most importantly, experienced in the sophisticated patterns and expectations of the defensive culture of the SDSU. In other words, they lock themselves up.
This creates a problem on the other side of the ball, however. Were the offensive’s early woes due to facing elite defense or a premonition of deeper problems? Can they replace three career 1000 point scorers (Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel and Terrell Gomez)? Are there enough 3-point shots to stretch the defense? Can they compensate by getting easy baskets in transition?
That’s the # 1 question regarding this team and likely one that won’t be answered until the regular season, as Saturday’s closed-door scrum is against a UCLA team ranked # 2 in the Associated Press poll. and No. 14 in the Kenpom defense. effectiveness (and the November 3 exhibit is against NAIA Saint Katherine).
Intra-squad scrums over the past three weekends haven’t provided many clues. The regulars faced a group of red shirts, extras and other non-rotating players in the first 20-minute segment on Saturday and scored 47 points. The teams were evenly distributed for the second segment, and they had a total of 14 points after 10 minutes.
A piece of optimism: Cal Matt Bradley’s transfer has improved in every scrum, going from 0 of 9 two weeks ago to 20 points on a 64% shot on Saturday, as he becomes more out of the way. comfortable with new teammates and a new playbook.
Senior guard Trey Pulliam addressed the attack / defense conundrum at Mountain West’s media day last week:
“Playing (SDSU) the last few years, I fully understand that in training it’s much more difficult,” said Pulliam. “When you get to the games, you start to see a lot more options. A lot more is opening up. But sometimes you’re not used to it, so sometimes you kind of miss it.
“You absolutely have to understand that we are playing (in defense) at a high level. The practices are tough. Some days you might not score a lot, or you might not score that day. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong or that it’s our offense or anything like that. Our defense is just hard to score in the half court, the way we play.
There weren’t a clear five starts when preseason training opened, and there still aren’t any. Pulliam, Bradley and Nathan Mensah still seem like locks, but the coaches have switched rosters in virtually every five-on-five segment as they experiment with different combinations. Lamont Butler, Adam Seiko, Keshad Johnson, Chad Baker-Mazara and Joshua Tomaic all ran with the 1s.
“We are starting to lean towards a starting line-up,” said Dutcher, “but nothing is final yet.”
That answer, at least, will come against UCLA.
Baker-Mazara, Duquesne’s transfer is basically a freshman, since everyone received an NCAA pickup last season. But expect him to do a veteran rotation and maybe be on the ground in tough times.
Also expect him to be a fan favorite at Viejas Arena.
He struggled in early practice, especially with adjusting the SDSU’s level of defense, but out of the blue he was the top scorer in the first intra-squad scrum. What to remember: he is a player who thrives on fierce competition.
Dominican Baker-Mazara is listed at 6ft 7in but looks and plays like he’s 6-9 with his Gumby frame. He gives the Aztecs something they don’t have otherwise, an X-factor swing pass with his endless arms, gunshots, draining 3s, passes without regard to the break. He’s an emotional player who should feed off the Viejas crowd and bring a fire, a spark, an advantage (and maybe a technique or two) if or when his team falls flat.
The maturity of Mensah
The hope is that his back-to-basket attack matches his sublime defensive sense. This jury is still absent. But it clearly matured: he became a vocal leader, perhaps the most vocal leader.
As a freshman, the coaches struggled to make the 6-10 Mensah only call for screens. Now he identifies the type of screen and barks the cover early and often, something Yanni Wetzel has done so effectively during the 30-2 season in 2019-20 – apparently knowing what the other team is running ahead of. do it. He’s definitely out of his shell and is playing with more urgency.
The 6-9 Portland transfer that speaks five languages would start on most Mountain West rosters. Here he will be backing Mensah once he has mastered the offensive and defensive nuances of the SDSU system.
But the drop won’t be significant, as it is with many programs that struggle to find even a big fixable. That means the Aztecs will have 40 minutes (and 10 potential fouls) of hard, bruised, space-eating, rim-protecting center play. And Diabate, like Mensah, is a southpaw, so attacking doesn’t have to adjust to a position with different dominant hands. He is an excellent rebounder (ranked 12e at WCC in 2019-2020) and a powerful low block marker.
And if those two are in trouble, there’s also the 6-9 Tomaic, the transfer from Maryland who supported Mensah so well last season and is playing over 4s now. Few teams nationwide can boast of so much interior size and depth.
The 6-9 TCU transfer could be Mountain West’s first preseason newcomer favorite of the year for 2022-23.
He was on the verge of glass dominance in Saturday’s scrum, but fans will have to wait a year to see him as he plans to redshirt as a transfer twice (he started at Ohio State). It’s a heartwarming thought, however, with seven seniors on the roster and the Maui Invitational is looming on the 2022-2023 schedule.
LeDee has huge shoulders and a relentless motor, which usually results in an offensive rebound machine. If he puts more arc on a flat shot, he will be a major problem for the Mountain West teams next season (think Josh Davis with an attacking play). He will also keep this year’s squad honest by playing on the Boy Scout team.
The Aztecs have remained largely injury-free through the preseason, which is no small feat considering how hard they play and the number of athletic, strong bodies that strike daily.
The only exception was senior Aguek Arop, who has had an injury-plagued career that last season included a nasty bout with vertigo. Between that and a family illness, he missed great spells of October training, although he did play in Saturday’s scrum and showed flashes of his good health.