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Mountain West Championship Preview: 3 keys for San Diego State and Utah State wins

Can San Diego State cut down the nets again?

San Diego State v Nevada Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

We didn’t get the Nevada-Utah St rematch we all wanted after SDSU spoiled it in the semifinals, upsetting Nevada 65-56. On the other side, Utah St took care of business dismantling Fresno St 85-60. However, this matchup presents new silver lining and opportunities for the conference, because the Mountain West is now in a position to be a three bid conference.

San Diego State continues to perform wonders at the Mountain West tournament where they have made an appearance in the finals in five out of the last six years. The Aztecs get an opportunity to defend their MW tournament title and punch their second consecutive ticket to the big dance.

Craig Smith’s Utah State squad will not make this one easy. Also expect for the San Diego State faithful to fill up the Thomas and Mack Center. The Aggies are one of the hottest teams in basketball. They have won 15 out of their last 16 games, with their last loss coming against these Aztecs on the road in Viejas Arena. Even with a loss, Utah State is still firmly in the tournament.

Keys to the Game for SDSU

Rebounding: Utah State dominated Fresno State on the boards in their semi-finals matchup against Fresno State. The Aggies collected 13 offensive rebounds to Fresno State’s six. Being competitive on the glass is the most important goal for anyone playing Utah State. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the country and they dictate their the game with their toughness on the boards.

Jalen McDaniels has to get going: McDaniels is the Aztecs star player that gets everything going. He single-handedly willed his team to a win in the quarterfinal against UNLV. McDaniels was able to score 10 points on 4-13 shooting against Nevada. SDSU needs to make it a focus to get McDaniels into a rhythm early. Is spots in the mid range wing will be open against Utah State’s defense.

Defensive Stopper Jeremy Hemsley: The most anticipating matchup to watch will be between senior guard Jeremy Hemsley and Utah State superstar Sam Merrill. Merrill is coming off a game where he scored 22 points on 8-12 shooting. Hemsley is San Diego State’s best perimeter defender and he needs to keep Merrill from getting hot.

Keys to the game for Utah State

Keep shooting threes: The Aggies have shot a combined 44 threes in their first two Mountain West Tournament games and are making them at astounding clip of 43%. When the Aggies are shooting that well from three they are nearly unstoppable to beat. Utah State needs to continue to share the ball around the perimeter and take those shots.

Neemias Queta needs to dominate: SDSU’s Jalen McDaniels might have the NBA scouts talking about him, but it is the big Neemias Queta who needs to be dominant in this game. Queta had a meager 6 points in their loss in Viejas arena. This a matchup Queta should be dominate. Look for the Utah State big man to show up and have a big game.

Stop the three: There are times San Diego State will be stagnant on offense until either Devin Watson or Hemsley hits a big shot from three. The one weakness of Utah State’s defense is its willingness to give up the three-point shot. The Aggies focus on protecting the paint and are often slow to rotate outside. The Aggies can’t be lackadaisical when guarding the Aztecs. Utah State was able to absolutely stifle one of the best three point shooting teams in Fresno State by holding them to 5-26 shooting behind the arc. If they duplicate that performance, then the Aggies should easily cut down the nets in Viejas Arena.