I am still in Orlando, Fla., for the Associated Press Sports Editors winter conference and contest judging event. Not trying to rub it in to those of you back in Wyoming, but the weather is a lot better here. … Windy, but in the 70s.
Anyway, I caught up with Mark Zeigler who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune and I asked him five questions on Wednesday’s Wyoming-SDSU game.
With San Diego State’s recent struggles, is the team wearing down because of a lack of depth with only nine scholarship players? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but it certainly looks that way. Two things I have noticed that would indicate accumulated fatigue are players getting stuck in screens far more often than earlier in the season, and flatter jump shots. Both point to tired or heavy legs. And the nine scholarship players is deceiving. One rarely plays. Another plays but only because a guard has to come off the bench and there’s no one else. Another is DeShawn Stephens, who was cut from his high school team and, while an incredibly inspirational story, is in just his third year of organized basketball (and first at the Division I level). So when Jamaal Franklin sat out the Air Force game with a sprained ankle and Garrett Green, his replacement in the starting lineup, sprained an ankle midway through the second half, they in reality were down to four experienced players who get meaningful minutes.
Do you think Wyoming is just going through a rough stretch or did it peak earlier this season and now its shortcomings are starting to show more now? A little of both, probably. Their gaudy record was as much a function of who they were playing (nobody) as how they were playing (fairly well at times). It’s also tough, I think, for a team with a new coaching staff in the second round of the conference season. Some teams may have been caught off guard by what coach Shyatt and his staff were doing in the first meeting, but opposing teams are better prepared now. The three-game skid is similar to San Diego State’s in that one was an ugly loss to Air Force, and the other two were tough games against tough opponents.
How has Jamaal Franklin’s ankle injury affected this team and how is his health going into Wednesday’s game? He’s slowly getting better. He was able to put a shoe on Saturday and take a few dribbling runs before the Air Force game before ruling himself out. That was probably a good thing in that he didn’t make it any worse in playing on it prematurely. Coach Fisher elevated his status from doubtful to questionable for Wednesday’s game, and knowing Jamaal he’ll definitely try to play. Garrett Green seems like he has a little farther to go and is definitely iffy for Wednesday. Of the two, Franklin is probably missed more because of his versatility and ability to get to the line. It’s amazing to think that a year ago, he was the ninth guy in what some nights was an eight-man rotation.
What does San Diego State need to do well to beat Wyoming? Not let it be a close game late. Against Air Force, they played lock-down defense in the second half but couldn’t get any separation because of their epic struggles on the offensive end, going 11-plus minutes without a basket. And as Fisher said, “When it remains close, lots of things can happen, and did.” The other key, of course, is shaking their recent shooting woes. In the last two games, they are 3-of-14 and 3-of-16 on threes. James Rahon is slumping again, making just 1-of-9 threes in the last three games and scoring 17 points, total. The final thing would be turnovers. They had 17 against UNLV, including three in the final three possessions, and 16 against Air Force in a low-possession game.
What does Wyoming need to do to beat San Diego State, and do you see that happening? I really think the key is JayDee Luster. In the first meeting, he had four points (on 1-of-10 shooting), four assists and three turnovers in 37 minutes. I’m guessing he wants to go out with a bang in his final game against his hometown team and final game at Viejas Arena, where he played high school championship games for Hoover High. He wasn’t really recruited by SDSU, either out of high school or after transferring from New Mexico State, so that probably adds to the motivation. Another thing to watch is whether Martinez and Cruz can get good looks. Rahon and Chase Tapley really locked them up in the first game, chasing them over screens and limiting them to a combined 6-of-19 shooting.
I won’t make it back from Orlando in time for the game. I hear the roads are closed between Cheyenne and Laramie so I hope I get home, period. But for more on the game, see Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang.