Despite being a relative home game for the San Diego State Aztecs, this Sweet 16 contest is essentially a toss up with the Connecticut Huskies proving a dynamic and dangerous opponent.
As much as pundits will point towards the relative inexperience of SDSU having never reached this point before, the same can be said for a UConn team that at it's crux is Kemba Walker surrounded by underclassmen (talented ones to be sure). We're also talking about vastly different teams when discussing balance, where the points come from and defensive approach. It's the prototypical example of teams with seemingly no connection of any kind meeting on the floor when it matters the most.
Continue on after the jump for an advanced stat breakdown of how these teams match up and to share your thoughts in our open thread!
[Note charts courtesy of StatSheet.com ]
As we can see quite clearly the Huskies are tremendously reliant on the production of star senior Kemba Walker who is responsible for at least 30% of the teams scoring, field goals, three-pointers, assists and steals. Furthermore, he does a tremendous job of getting to the line, accounting for a whopping 40% of the team's free throws. Interestingly enough, this tendency fails to carry over into the team's play type distribution, with the Huskies seeing a pretty even breakdown between spot-up sets along with transition, off the ball movement and isolation possessions all making up greater than 10% of the overall usage rate. Walker's presence is felt in the iso sets (50% usage rate) and in transition (37% usage rate), but Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith see almost as many touches as the superstar in spot-up scenarios, while as might be expected Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel are responsible for the majority of basket cut possessions.
San Diego State is much more apt to spread the basketball on offense with four players with usage rates of at least 20% according to data from Ken Pomeroy. Kawhi Leonard is responsible for the largest percentage of scoring and rebounding on the team (just over 21% of total offensive production), but Malcolm Thomas, D.J. Gay and Billy White all account for at least 13% of total points scored, with Gay leading the way in both assists and three-point field goals. Like UConn, there is no overwhelmingly dominating overtones in the play type breakdown, with spot-up sets making up 23% of possessions used, followed by transition, post-ups, basket cuts and offensive rebounds all accounting for at least 10% of the offense. This is where things really start to deviate as the Aztecs distribute the basketball well across the various platforms, with Thomas's 50% usage rate on post-up sets proving to be the only real play type where one player dominates the touches.
Offensive Strengths vs. Defensive Weaknesses
The Huskies are going to have their hands full offensively unless Walker really gets things going given the Aztecs tremendous team defense which ranks second nationally in adjusted efficiency and proved to be very good across the board when examining specific offensive sets. The one area where SDSU has had some degree of trouble this season that UConn can capitalize on is defending in between shots in the lane - meaning runners and floaters that are in the area surrounding the rim but can't necessarily be categorized as a fully foray to the basket. The Aztecs allowed 37% shooting against in this setting, which doesn't sound particularly poor, but consider that ranks them in the bottom one-fourth in Division 1 this year. Connecticut on the other hand ranks in the top one-fourth using the points per possession metric, averaging nearly .8 ppp. Is this a significant enough facet of the game to swing the outcome of the game one way or another? It's doubtful, but this game could very easily come down to one or two possessions to be sure.
At the other end of the floor, D.J. Gay has to be feeling good about this potential match-up as he has done a very solid job operating as the primary ball handler in pick and roll sets this season, a play the Huskies have had some problems defending. As a whole, San Diego State has produced .85 points per possession this season out of this play type, a mark that puts them in the top third nationally. Gay for his part has proved equal parts scorer and playmaker utilizing teammates screens, producing an overall adjusted field goal percentage of 45% here (this includes his passes that lead to shots). Again, this isn't necessarily a factor that will completely swing the game in the Aztecs favor, but there's no question this is a play they can turn to from time to time and the metrics suggest they should have some success here.
Stat Of Note
UConn has a very low rate of free throws attempted versus field goals attempted (34.4) ranking 260th in the country which means not a ton of trips to the line relatively speaking. San Diego State's defense has one of the best marks nationally here (they rank 14th), meaning they don't allow opposing teams to get to the line at a high rate.