WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question and answer session with Mark Zeigler, who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune, on Wednesday’s game with the University of Wyoming.
Tipoff is at 9 p.m. MT at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
Follow on Twitter: @sdutzeigler
Despite a loss at Boise State Sunday, San Diego State is tied for first in the Mountain West and currently hold the tiebreaker with Wyoming. Are the Aztecs the best team in the MW in your opinion?
I still think so. I’m not saying they’re a great team by any stretch, just the least mediocre team in an increasingly mediocre league. If they play defense like they can and make a
few shots, they’re very good (ask Utah State). If they play defense like they can and shoot like they usually do (poorly), they just scrape by. If they don’t play elite defense and don’t make shots, they lose 61-46 at Boise State. The one advantage they have over the rest of the field is the schedule, with Wyoming, Colorado State and Boise State all at home down the stretch, plus games against San Jose State and Nevada. I think they get to 14 wins, which should be enough for at least a share of the title if not outright.
We know the Aztecs are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and that they often struggle to shoot the ball. But why do they struggle to shoot the ball? is it shot selection, is it mental? What are your thoughts on that?
They had a stretch where it seemed like every player they recruited was categorized as “athletic wing, can’t shoot.” That is definitely part of it. Not having Dwayne Polee II hurts, since he was their best perimeter threat at the end of last season (making more than 50 percent of his 3s over the final month). Freshman Trey Kell was billed as having one of the best perimeter strokes in the prep class of 2014, and so far that hasn’t materialized. Matt Shrigley has been streaky. The shots they get aren’t horrible, since teams generally sag and clog the paint, almost daring them to fire away. But they also have shown the capacity to make them in bunches (ask Air Force), and there was a recent four-game stretch where they ranked in the Top 10 nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage.
Is there anything specific you will be looking for from San Diego State’s 60-52 in at Wyoming in January that you will look for in Wednesday’s game?
Look for San Diego State to use its bench, pressure full court and just try to wear down Wyoming with their numbers. They’ll go nine or 10 deep while Wyoming already had limited depth before Larry Nance Jr. and Alan Herndon got sick. Statistically, as hard as it is to believe, SDSU shoots better on the road than at home. But the energy from the crowd makes their defense and press that much fiercer, and teams really struggle to score. After managing 16 points in the first 28 minutes, Utah State coach Stew Morrill predicted no one will win at Viejas Arena this season.
Does Wyoming have any chance to beat San Diego State if senior forward Larry Nance Jr. does not play?
No. And I’m not sure how much chance they have if he does play, especially with San Diego State coming off a loss. They have won 16 straight following a loss and are second nationally in the longest stretch between consecutive losses. Winston Shepard told me after the Boise State loss: “We’ll definitely come out fired up Wednesday.”
How do you see this game unfolding, and who wins?
Even with Nance, my guess is he can go only limited minutes. For that reason, I expect Wyoming to slow it down even more than usual, shortening the game and reducing the number of possessions in hopes of taking the game into the second half. The key is whether San Diego State can score, which means it can set up its press, which means it can speed up the tempo. I’m guessing for Wyoming to win, it will need to have something like five turnovers and shoot close to 50 percent. That’s a tall, tall order on the road without your star or without him at full strength. San Diego State plays a lot of games at home that are relatively close on the scoreboard but which never feel like they’re going to lose. I expect this to be another one.
Cowboys game day
Game: Wyoming (19-5 overall, 8-3 Mountain West) at San Diego State (18-6, 8-3)
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Viejas Arena, San Diego
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM) Cheyenne; KCGY (95.1 FM) Laramie