New Mexico State is finally here. After all the doubt, they've made it to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years. And luckily for them, this year they drew a team they can handle.
Enter the No. 4 seed in the west, San Diego State, the regular-season champions of the Mountain West Conference and one of the strongest teams on the west coast. San Diego State has lost far fewer games than New Mexico State and has played against much tougher competition.
So, what is it that makes me so confident the Aggies can win? I'm glad you asked, insightful reader!
Why New Mexico State Will Win
Tell me, which "state" is bigger? I don't mean geographically. Last I checked, New Mexico is quite a bit larger than San Diego. And as stupid as that reasoning might sound, it actually serves as a good metaphor.
New Mexico State's basketball team is massive. Between 7'5" superhuman Sim Bhullar, 6'10" dominant post scorer Tshilidzi Nephawe and 6'9" do-it-all big man Renaldo Dixon, who's gonna stop 'em?
Given that the Aztecs' tallest player that gets a significant amount of time on the court is sophomore forward Skylar Spencer at 6-8, I'd say they're at a "sizeable" height disadvantage. The Aggies enjoy the ninth-best field goal percentage in the nation at 49.1 percent, and SDSU simply doesn't have the size to stop that.
And all of that is before you get to the guards, which includes WAC player of the year Daniel Mullings and three-point marksman DK Eldridge. Mullings is masterful at moving without the ball and at darting into the lane for easy layups. He'll force the Aztec front line to pay more attention to him, and before they know it Bhullar will be slamming down a monster dunk right in front of their noses.
Going to clog the middle? No problem. They'll just dish it out to Eldridge and his 40.4 percent accuracy from three. Or to Kevin Aronis and his 44.2 percent rate. Swish! Thank you very much!
Why San Diego State will win
As I said before, San Diego State has played some much harsher competition and produced a better record regardless. The Aztecs are also very good at forcing turnovers (36th-best in the nation) which New Mexico State is not good at preventing (215th-best in the nation).
Additionally, while New Mexico State is highly reliant on its ability to get to the charity stripe, SDSU is extremely adept at preventing opponents from getting there (14th-best free throw rate defense). Then there's the fact that the Aztecs are second-best in the nation at points allowed with 56.6 points per game.
Xavier Thames is the team's leading scorer and an adept three-point shooter. The Aggies might not be able to stop him because they are not particularly skilled at defending the three-point line. Thames has a good chance to go off in this game to bury the Aggies.
Who will win
This should be a low scoring affair for a pair of defense-oriented teams. If you're feeling extra adventurous and need another upset to add to your bracket, this might be a wise choice. The Aggies aren't likely to make a deep run, but if they're going to beat anybody in this tournament, San Diego State might be the team.
Ultimately, there are reasons to believe either team could win, so it isn't as clear-cut as it may seem. While New Mexico State is the perfect team to take care of SDSU based on the Aggies' style of play, the Aztecs are a far better team across the board. In the end, I see the Aztecs taking this one 60-52.
Date: Thursday, March 20, 2014
Location: Spokane, WA
Time: 9:57 p.m. EST