Tag Archives: j.j. o’brien

Lessons Learned from the Loss in Wyoming

San Diego State University Men’s Basketball Team suffered it’s first conference loss, 2nd overall, to the Cowboys in Wyoming this past Tuesday. The Aztecs looked very sluggish at times and gave up uncharacteristic dunks and easy buckets throughout the game. Wyoming’s offense also managed to cool star player Xavier Thames with their zone scheme. With the Airforce game today, here is what SDSU’s first MWC loss means…

Live and Die By Xavier Thames…

San Diego State’s star player is by far senior point guard Xavier Thames. He averages over 18 points per game, and even more impressive, he has averaged close to 21 points per game in conference play. Tuesday night, Xavier was held without a field goal through the first half and went 3/16 overall. He scored 13 points, which was his lowest in 12 games. In games at Boise State and at Utah, where San Diego was down in the late minutes, Xavier came through in the clutch. Against Boise State, SDSU was down 14 points and he led the initial comeback run with 9 straight points . Thames also had the final assist to Dwayne Polee for the game-winning three. Maybe it was the overall play of Wyoming and the Aztec defense, but Xavier finally failed to come through in the clutch on Tuesday night.

…He Can’t Do it All

Something positive from Xavier’s off night was the play of his fellow Aztec starters. Five Aztecs, including Thames, scored in double-digits. Winston Shepard had 11 points, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien both had 10 points, and Dwayne Polee had a team-high 15 points off the bench. Even with the loss, this production is something to be happy about. San Diego State is much deeper this year than it has been in recent years. Say goodbye to only Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley scoring points.

SDSU has a lot of players this year that can score all with their different styles. Despite the knee injury, Josh Davis has managed to be very aggressive in the paint with both scoring and rebounds. J.J. O’Brien has been banging down low as well, but also has good ball handling skills, has a nice spin move, and can hit shallow shots. Winston Shepard has tremendous potential and is currently the Aztecs second leading scorer. He needs to continue to develop and learn to finish at the basket. His mid-range shot is very pretty though. If SDSU wants to be a serious contender in the NCAA Tournament, they will need to continue to have production out of everyone.

Dwayne Polee is Gaining Confidence

Last year Dwayne Polee was named the Pre-Season favorite for Mountain West Conference Newcomer of the Year Award. So much for that. Polee rarely got playing time last year. This year Steve Fisher is giving him the ball more and Polee is taking advantage of the opportunity by making plays.

Dwayne Polee is very lengthy, athletic, and plays terrific defense, a prototypical Steve Fisher player. Polee causes a lot of turnovers and generates points for this Aztec offense. He has been much needed firepower off the bench, and  is continuing to develop and make big shots. Most importantly, Thames and the rest of the team trust him. He will be a good addition to the starting lineup in 2014-15.

SDSU Probably Won’t Be a #1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament

There has been much talk about the top 4 seeds in the tournament this year. Although SDSU sat ranked #5 before the Wyoming loss, they still had potential to be a #1 seed with only the one loss. The loss in Wyoming pretty much seals SDSU’s fate. Or does it?

There is still a lot of basketball to be played. Arizona already lost again last night and Syracuse had a scare earlier this week. Wichita State’s schedule is ridiculously easy (they haven’t played a ranked opponent all season), but without a loss they should expect to hold onto a #1 seed. #3 Florida also plays #14 Kentucky this week and could easily lose that game as well.

First and foremost, the Aztecs need to keep on winning. They still have two games against New Mexico who was ranked earlier in the season and are currently projected to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. There is the possibility they will have to play New Mexico a third time in the MWC Tournament, as well as playing Boise State and Wyoming again — who both gave the Aztecs troubles. On a majority of websites, SDSU sits at a #2 seed, with a few saying a #3 seed. Steve Fisher and company needs to make sure he keeps his players focused and try to run the table in the MWC.

Don’t Play Down to Your Opponent

San Diego State has a phenomenal defense which is nationally ranked. Often times this season we have seen the Aztecs play down to their opponents. It as if they aren’t playing with as much energy or urgency. Perhaps it is because they assume they are just going to win the game anyways. Well that mentality finally caught up to SDSU in Wyoming.

It seemed as if the Aztecs had control for the first quarter of the game. It also seemed as if they could run away with the game after taking a little lead. Then they allowed the Cowboys get back into it. They got slow and lazy on defense and gave up a lot of points they should not have. After Wyoming tied the game at 22-22 with 4:23 to go in the first half, the Cowboys did not look back. SDSU trailed by 9 at the half and never took the lead again. The Aztecs need to take a deep breath and come to play every game to win.

SDSU Gets Gritty Comeback Win at Boise St.

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Down 64-65 with less than 20 seconds to go, one basket separated the Aztecs from a comeback victory. Xavier Thames drove to the basket taking on multiple defenders, dishing the ball to Dwayne Polee for the beautiful game-winning 3-point shot. Boise State’s Derrick Marks still had a chance as he air balled a three with two Aztecs in his face as time expired. This final segment does not even tell the whole story.

Going into the game, most knew that these two teams matchup well against each other. Over the last few years, it seems as if every Aztec/Bronco game has come down to the last play. Boise State is excellent on the perimeter with an outstanding 3-point game. SDSU has the best Opponent FG% in the country, and excels in the 3-point version of the category as well. SDSU also get tons of boards, currently ranked 16 in the country. Boise St. is third in the MWC in rebounds per game.

The 3-point scoring would tell the tail of the first half for the Boise State Broncos. They were excellent and every shot just seemed to go in. SDSU was not playing poor defense necessarily, Boise St. was just on fire. At one point Boise St. was 5/8 from 3 point range in the first half and SDSU had only shot 3 from the arc.

San Diego State went down big early 17-7. They got within two on a few occasions (24-26, 26-28), but just could not seem to cool down Boise’s shooting. The Aztecs also made a lot of poor decisions, allowing a total of 15 turnovers, 9 in the first half. This led to possessions for the Broncos who were also capitalizing on second chance points. SDSU went into the half trailing 33-42.

Josh Davis, who did not play Saturday against Colorado State, was playing with a knee brace. He was visually limited, as you can see him grimace at times. Davis bruised his knee bone in practice last week. Although the country’s 3rd leading rebounder was injured, he still brought his offensive game and made the most of his opportunity. He only managed to carral a conference play-low of 5 rebounds, but turned all of his 3 offensive boards into points. Davis played very aggressive in the paint was was dominating inside. He went 5-7 from the field for 10 points.

The Aztecs continued to struggle for the first part of the 2nd Half. Boise State was dominating going up 13 a few different occasions. With 13:37 left, SDSU was down 43-57, Boise State’s biggest lead of the game at 14. By the 11:48 mark the Broncos still had a convincing 13 point lead, besting the Aztecs 46-59. Then the comeback began.

The Aztecs notched up their defense. You could just feel the energy of SDSU’s swarming defense causing turnovers and shutting down the Boise State offense. The fans at the Taco Bell Arena were going nuts the entire game. You knew that all they wanted to do was rush the court with a victory over a #5 team. As mentioned in a previous article, the Aztec program has a bullseye on it’s back and every team in the MWC is going to give them their best game.

The Aztecs got a few turnovers which led to some points. Xavier Thames at one point had 9 straight points. Before you knew it, SDSU had gone on a 15-0 run and led the Broncos 61-59. The defense is obviously what made this happen. Boise State only managed only 23 points in the second half after scoring 42 in the first. Aztecs were consistent scoring 33 and 34 in the first and second halves, respectively.

Thames really is making a strong argument for Player of the Year with these performances. He pretty much carried the Aztecs offense on his back scoring 23 points (15 in the 2nd half) on 5/7 shooting (3/4 from 3-pt) and 10-11 from the free throw line. His one miss was somewhat crucial as it would have put the Aztecs up 63-61 (instead they were up 62-61). Mikey Thompson would go on to convert a layup which put the Broncos up 62-63.

The Aztecs did not convert on their possession then found themselves down 62-65 after a Derrick Mark’s jumper. SDSU failed again to convert, as they could not finish at the basket with less than a minute to go.

The next 2 series is what changed the game. As Marks was bringing up the ball Xavier Thames had him alone and got a steal. Thames was fouled on a layup, which looked open enough for him to finish. Unfortunately he failed to, but still got the 2 points on each of his free throws. Down 64-65, the Aztecs managed yet another stop. This brings us back to how the article began. Thames took on multiple defenders, leaving Polee open for the 3. SDSU did not have to go for the 3, as they were only down 1, but it pretty much sealed the victory.

J.J. O’Brien had one of his best games in a while even though his stat line only read 9 points and 6 rebounds. Watching the game, he looked great. He had a ton of spin moves and was finishing convincingly. O’Brien took advantage of being defended by smaller guards, going 4-6 from the field. Steve Fisher really did not ask much of O’Brien offensively, which is what explains only 9 points. He was efficient though, and that is what matters.

Winston Shepard had a pretty poor game. He looked like his sloppy self as he just could not finish. Like I have said before, the guy just tries to look too pretty. He has plenty of potential as we all know. He averages 13+ points and 5+ rebounds per game, and is definitely a big part of our success. Shepard is still growing as a player and is learning to contain his own wildness. He did have a few pretty mid-range jumpers, which is what he seems to excel at this season. Winston had 2 rebounds and 6 points on 2/9 shooting — which was a team worst, 22%.

This Aztecs team’s biggest weakness is their offense, and more specifically finishing at the rim. They really lack a 3 point shooter other than Thames. With that said, this was the kind of gritty win that the Aztecs need to have on their resume if they want to be successful in the NCAA Tournament. SDSU just needs to keep winning and the respect will keep coming.

SDSU stays #5.. Big Game Wednesday @ Boise St.

The Aztecs keep winning and they’re national stance keeps strengthening.

This past weekend 5 top-10 teams lost, including #1 Arizona. Despite all these losses, SDSU kept its position at #5. SDSU’s only loss is to Arizona who dropped to #2 as Syracuse advanced to #1 after escaping #11 Duke in an overtime thriller.

The Aztecs only played one game last week. Steve Fisher was still able to gain his 300th win as the Aztec’s head coach.

SDSU played Colorado St at home who they beat pretty convincingly 65-56. Steve Fisher’s team was up by double digits primarily the entire game entering halftime with a 12 point lead. Only until the last few minutes did Colorado St. break the lead to single-digits when they went on a run.

The stellar play of senior guard Xavier Thames allowed the Aztecs to prevail. Thames scored 24 points improving his per game average to 18 points. Winston Shepard also added 17 points and 6 rebounds. Xavier Thames was also impressive on the boards with 7.

This rebound production out of Shepard and Thames was necessary with star forward Josh Davis out with a knee injury. Dwayne Polee also sat out with a sickness. Josh Davis’ production is a huge part of why SDSU is the #5 ranked team in the country. He currently averages 11.6 rebounds per game, which ranks 3rd in the entire country. SDSU got production out of J.J. O’Brien to make up for Davis.  O’Brien finished with 10 rebounds and only 1 point. J.J. is still recovering from an injured hand and Fisher has not relied on his offense game during the bulk of the season.

It is still unknown if Josh Davis will play tonight against Boise State. They will need him. Saturday night verse Colorado St. was only the second time all season (Arizona) that SDSU did not out-rebound it’s opponent. They tied, going 40-40. Dwayne Polee should play in Boise, so that may help out a bit. SDSU could use Davis’ production verse a pesky Boise St. offense.

Xavier Thames also managed to go 12-for-12 from the free throw line. The rest of the Aztecs went a combined 11-22 from the line. If SDSU wants to seriously compete in the NCAA Tournament, they will need to improve their free throw percentage. They have a ton of physical athletic players who draw fouls as they drive to the basket. They need to take advantage of their opportunities as they will get fouled a lot in tournament play. Xavier has been solid all season and currently ranks #7 on the Player of the Year Award watch-list.

Boise St. has played SDSU extremely close in recent years. They have an outstanding outside game with great 3-point shooters. This game will come down to rebounds and how the Aztec defense plays in Idaho.

From this point on the rest of the season, all Mountain West Conference teams will be playing the Aztecs very tough. At #5, it will essentially be every team in the conference’s biggest game of the season. It will be the ‘Super Bowl’ for every team, if you will. SDSU needs to take notice of this and not let their feet off the pedal. They need to keep playing dominant defense and keep up that #1 ranking in opponent FG%. New Mexico is really the only other seemingly guaranteed team to make the NCAA tournament. There are a couple bubble teams in our conference, including Boise St., who could make the tournament with a win against an excellent #5 SDSU Aztec team.

Lets play some defense, finish around the basket, at make some free throws and we will win.

San Diego St. Gaining Some Respect… #13

Finally, after a win against #16 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, the Aztecs move up in the rankings. SDSU moves up 8 spots to #13 and Kansas only moves down 2 spots to #18.

The Kansas win was huge for San Diego State. It will also play a huge role in their NCAA Tournament resume.

The Aztecs now have wins verse three ranked teams in four tries. Their only loss against a ranked team is the now #1 ranked Arizona Wildcats. SDSU improves to 13-1 after defeating Boise St. last night at Viejas Arena.

There really is not many teams in the Mountain West Conference that can show the Aztecs much fight this season. In past seasons UNLV, Colorado St., New Mexico, Boise St., and even Wyoming were all formidable opponents. This year many of those teams’ players either graduated or went to the NBA. The Aztecs can easily see themselves with an above 25 win season this year.

The key is to keep their momentum going. They need to keep up their stout defense. The Aztecs are only getting better as they are playing together. They have a lot of young players as many of their seniors graduated last year. This core may be still primarily in tact, with the exception of Thames and Davis, next year with the highly ranked recruiting class coming in.

This is a program with its eyes on the NCAA Tournament though. Get us there and thats when the season begins. Four straight tournament opponents is pretty successful, but State wants to take that next step. The Aztecs have the defensive prowess, and the talent, to be a Sweet 16 type team. Who knows, Final Four?

#21 San Diego State’s Defense Steps Up Big Against the #16 Kansas Jayhawks

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This may be San Diego State Basketball’s biggest win in program history. Kansas is among the most prestigious basketball programs in the country, in the same realm as Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Kansas has what some consider the #1 Pick in the NBA Draft in Andrew Wiggins. But we all know that.

San Diego State’s big men came up huge in this game. The combination of Josh Davis, Skylar Spencer, and J.J. O’Brien scored a combined 30 points with 32 rebounds. Even more impressive they were able to obtain 16 offensive boards. SDSU’s big men dominated the glass and played outstanding defense. Skylar Spencer had a career high 6 blocks. He is creeping up in the top 35 in the country for blocks per game.

Xavier Thames was his loyal self with 16 points, including 4 clutch free throws to seal the game.   Winston Sheppard added 9 points. 

The real key to this game was the defense. Steve Fisher has put together phenomenal defenses with varied players over his tenure as SDSU’s coach. With a whole roster of lengthy athletic players, Fisher has been able to maximize this 2013 team’s defensive potential. The Aztecs rank 1 in opponent FG% in the entire country. They also are 1 in opponent points per game. That is a crazy stat, but one you have to respect. 

In the first half alone Kansas field goal percentage was a pathetic 20.9%. Thats not a fluke. SDSU was playing persistent D and shut down the Jayhawks. They finished sub-30% from the field to finish the game. 

As I said before, this is a huge win for San Diego and they need to continue this momentum. After beating Boise state (in a scarily-close late game), there does not seem to be anyone threatening on the Aztecs schedule for the next possibly-8 games.

#21 SDSU Keeps Rolling Verse Colorado State

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Entering the polls at #24, moving up to #20, and then dropping to #21 after beating three teams in a row by an average of 49.7 points. I said it once and I will say it again, Aztecs deserve some respect.

Maybe the pollsters took offense to the Aztecs accepting a game verse St. Katherine, a team playing in it’s first season and with less than 150 students.

The Aztecs wanted to be 11-1 going into the Kansas University matchup and had a solidified test verse Colorado St. The Rams lost 5 of their starters from last years NCAA Tournament team. They played well in the first half as 2013 transfer J.J. Avila led the way. The big man was playing very consistent until fouling out at the end of the second half and finishing with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Guard Daniel Bejarano led the Rams with 22 points.

A steady diet of defense is what led the way. The Aztec defense played phenomenal, hustling getting blocks, steals, and forcing turnovers. SDSU caused 14 turnovers, 9 alone in the first half. Colorado St is averaging only 8.7 turnovers a game this season.

The Aztecs seem to have a ton of the same player. Other than their big men Josh Davis and Skylar Spencer, most of their players are lanky, athletic players from the height range of 6′ 5″ – 6′ 8″.  Steve Fisher has got his players pressing and playing hard all over the court. He has created a defensive culture here in San Diego.

Speaking of Josh Davis, who averaged over 17 points a game last season with Tulane, he had another great rebound night. It seems rebounding is all they ask of Davis as he is a beast on the boards. He finished the game with 15 Rebounds and 7 points. He did not score a single point in the first half and had 8 rebounds. He had 4 offensive rebounds, but failed to take advantage of a few put backs.

Skylar Spencer also failed to execute on a few put backs. Spencer is an extraordinary defender and shot blocker, but also struggles in his offensive game. They Sophomore added 4 blocks to his top 50-ranking blocks-per-game average (ranked #40 at 2.58/game).

Xavier Thames continues to play phenomenal as he scored 23 points going 4-4 on free throws down the ending stretch of the game. Xavier Thames is averaging over 16 points a game this season.

Winston Sheppard continues to show his athleticism and potential scoring 17 points. He is a little wild, similar to former Aztec star Jamaal Franklin, but he is slowly learning his handles and is improving as a player every game.

The Aztecs have a lot of roll players this season. They have their scorers in Sheppard and Thames, and their rebounders in Davis and Spencer. Their bench has also been a huge factor. Players like Dwayne Polee, Aqeel Quinn, Matt Shrigley have been playing well off the bench. Each of these players are exceptional defenders as well. This depth on the bench has been a huge part of San Diego’s success so far in the 2013-14 season.

J.J. O’Brien is finally starting to come back in full swing. He was a huge part of the Aztecs success at the end of last season and has been playing well this season. He injured his hand back in the Wooden Classic, and has not been the scorer he used to be. He is slowly coming back and will be a huge part of San Diego’s NCAA Tournament run. The Aztecs are happy to have O’Brien back semi-healthy for the Kansas game.

The one thing SDSU can look to improve on is free throws and finishing. Although the Aztecs won by 10 points in Colorado, they could have easily put away the Rams sooner. They caused a few turnovers in which they could not finish with points. They missed wide open layups and embarassed themselves a few times. Also, they struggled early on to make free throws. You can argue that this was mainly because big men like Davis and Spencer were getting fouled and they are not good free throw shooters.

If SDSU wants to really challenge the Kansas Jayhawks, they will need to bring their A-game. They will need to finish when they cause turnovers, and hit clutch free throws. Anything is possible.

SDSU Basketball Keep Rollin… Thames on Fire

Xavier Thames Ranked 16th in the NCAA in 3-pt FG %
Xavier Thames Continues to produce as SDSU’s lead man

San Diego State University’s Mens’ Basketball team wins both of this weeks’ match-ups, improving to 7-1.

SDSU is continuing to stay hot behind 5th-year Senior PG Xavier Thames. With a favorable schedule over the next couple of weeks, the Aztecs could be looking ahead to Kansas with an 11-1 record.

It has not come easy though.

On Thursday night, the Aztecs saw a tough matchup verse University San Diego in a cross-city battle at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

SDSU seemed to have control of the game through the majority of the second half, but seemingly could not put the Toreros away. USD always seems to play tough, as SDSU had dropped 4 of 6 all time at the Pavilion.

State’s shooting from the field seemed to be cold in the first half, and they had plenty of opportunities to put the game away. San Diego native Johnny Dee led the Toreros with 22 pts, hitting plenty of threes to keep USD alive.

It took a 3-pt miss as time expired for SDSU to preserve the win. A win is a win though. Xavier Thames led the way for the Aztecs with 17 pts and got help from Winston Shepard and other role players.

Xavier Thames has been the most consistent scorer for the Aztecs this season.

When SDSU has been cold from the field to start the last few games, Xavier Thames would break that ice. He led the Aztecs with 19 points verse the Washington Huskies to help get the W.

Xavier has been playing extremely well all season. He consistently makes clutch shots, and is developing into a real go-to playmaker for the Aztecs. He currently ranks #16 in the entire NCAA for 3-pt FG% at 56.7.%. Although he may not be able to keep this up, the help of our big men and role players has really helped out.

Winston Shepard has also been coming alive of late scoring 17 points Sunday, and 14 on Thursday against San Diego. He keeps showing his talents and potential, and is really coming along with the mid-range jump shot.

Winston hit his last 5/6 free throws in the closing seconds verse the Huskies to put the game away.

Another key contributor against Washington was Skylar Spencer. Coming off a 12 pt 6 reb game verse the Toreros, Skylar added 6 pts and a career high 5 blocks verse Washington. Last year, Spencer set a Mountain West Freshman record for blocks, and continues to show his defensive skills. Further developing Skylar’s offensive game may be key to Steve Fisher and the 2013-14 Aztecs.

Against Washington the Aztecs played with a lot of size.

They often played a O’Brien-Spencer-Davis line up as the 3-4-5. Putting O’Brien at the Small Forward position presents huge matchup problems for teams, and will be extremely beneficial in Mountain West Conference play.

J.J. Obrien has not been too hot of late, but that is mainly attributed to his injured right hand. It has not been made public what his exact injury is. He had a very poor offensive performance against the Toreros, going 0/10 from the field, and continued that against Washington starting 1/8. You can tell he is very limited with the injury, but his size and defensive presence make all the difference. Once we get J.J. back on board, Aztecs should see their offensive woes clear up.

Looking forward, SDSU plays 3 very beatable teams at home before opening up Mountain West play at Colorado St. Following the Colorado St. game, the Aztecs travel to the Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas. Even though it is 4 games ahead, SDSU could see themselves 11-1 in a decent matchup vs #6 Kansas.

SDSU seems to be in line for yet another exciting season!