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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 Falls to Wyoming, So Might Their Ranking

San Diego State looked to have a repeat of the 14-pt come from behind win in Boise State when they went down by 16 to the Cowboys in Wyoming.

This game was a little different. The Aztecs looked very slow on defense and were just not getting back to the ball. They were getting sliced through and Wyoming was converting open look dunks back-to-back. Maybe the Aztecs were winded — being over 7,000 feet above sea level after being at the marker in San Diego. SDSU held a lead through the opening portion of the first half, but then fell apart. It looked as if they were playing lazy, assuming they were going to be right back in it. Before we knew it, the Aztecs saw themselves down 9 at halftime.

Wyoming also played terrific defense. They played this zone scheme which truly worked against the Aztecs. San Diego State’s true strength is on defense, and their offense looked easily tolerable with the way the Cowboys were playing defense. Perhaps the key to the game was Xavier Thames. SDSU has relied heavily on Thames this season, and he has delivered.

It was a little different in Wyoming. Thames was hitting his free throws early but was not finishing and could not shoot. Thames went into the half with zero converted field goals and finished the game 3/16 with 13 points. This was Thame’s lowest point total since SDSU routed upstart St. Katherine 118-35 when he scored 10 points and did not play the majority of the game. That was a span of 12 games in which Xavier averaged over 20 points.

SDSU managed to climb back into the game, getting within 4 points with less than a minute to go. Another heads up play by Wyoming put them back up by 6 almost immediately and pretty much secured the game. The Aztecs could just not seem to put a full run together without letting Wyoming continue to get on the score board. 

Hopefully SDSU learns from this and comes to play for all their opponents. This is a late season game here in Mid-February, so I do not think we should be too down on this as fans. SDSU will probably drop out of the Top-5, but still should get a 2-3 seed in the tournament. They need to focus on the rest of the season as they still have two games verse New Mexico and have to play the MWC Tournament.