By TAYLOR QUELLMAN
The Aztecs aced their midterm tests with two dominating home wins last week.
Tuesday night’s game at New Mexico could serve as a final exam.
SDSU has been unbeatable at home this season, while road games have been an on-going roller-coaster ride.
In recent years the New Mexico trip struck fear in the hearts of most college basketball programs. The Lobos’ home arena, known as “The Pit”, is always packed with one of the rowdiest and most intimidating crowds in the nation. Luckily for the Aztecs, this year fans in “The Pit” haven’t had much to cheer.
Despite being swept the last two seasons in Albuquerque, SDSU has many reasons to feel confident it will come out on the winning end. The Lobos are in the midst of one of their worst stretches in recent school history. They have lost five of their last six games, with their only win coming against the lowly Spartans of San Jose State. Most recently, spirits for the team and its supporters must be at an all-time low after watching a 15-point lead evaporate last weekend in its overtime loss at Nevada.
While on the other side of the ball, the Aztecs are playing their best basketball since their early season tournament in Maui. In those two recent wins, Winston Shepard has flourished. The junior forward averaged 18.5 points per game and also recorded his first double-double of the season against Colorado State.
The Aztecs have three road games remaining. One is against UNLV, who is missing its leading scorer, Rashad Vaughn, and another is against the winless Spartans. Those games should serve as only brief study sessions. Considering the Aztecs dominance at home, Tuesday’s game night in Albuquerque may prove to be the regular-season’s final exam for SDSU.
It is that time of the season to start scoreboard watching as the Aztecs hope to improve their tournament resume. If Aztec fans want to follow meaningful games outside the conferences important to SDSU, here are teams to keep an eye on who can bolster SDSU’s projected seeding.
This team takes us all the way back to Maui. On Nov. 25 the Aztecs handled a non-impressive Panthers team, 74-57. Pitt has improved mightily since, knocking off Notre Dame and North Carolina in ACC play. SDSU has beaten only three teams in the top 50 RPI rankings and the Panthers are among them. As Pitt continues to deliver upsets, the Aztecs’ resume keeps improving.
The team Aztec fans love to hate. Although it is fun to cheer against BYU, every time it wins, the Aztecs win as well. This 60th-ranked RPI team ends its season at Gonzaga, and as unlikely as it may be, if the Cougars manage to win it would push them into the top 50, benefiting SDSU.
The Utes may be the surprise team of the season. It is now 20-4 and ranked among the country’s top 10 teams. If the Utes can win the Pac-12 regular-season title, they could be as high as a No. 2 seed in the tournament, only making SDSU’s early season win that more impressive.
Mountain West Conference Power Rankings
- San Diego State (20-6, 10-3)
As projected in the preseason polls the Aztecs have outlasted all other contenders and sit atop the standings. If they continue to dominate at home, the conference championship will belong to SDSU.
- Boise State (18-7, 8-4)
The Broncos fell into the Fresno State trap, snapping their eight-game win streak. They now control their own destiny. If the Broncos win out, including a game at SDSU, they will be conference champs.
- Colorado State (21-5, 8-5)
The Rams lost a game that might have been enough to punch their ticket to the big dance against SDSU. They now seek a couple wins in the conference tournament to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
- Wyoming (20-6, 9-4)
The Cowboys may have played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament with their loss to Air Force, but at least they could manage a win against San Jose State. Barring a huge run in the conference tournament for the automatic bid, it may be a three-team race for an extended March.
- Fresno State (12-13, 7-5)
The Bulldogs continue to knock off top teams at home, their most recent victim being Boise State. They could not ask for a better season in Fresno, and should be encouraged for years to come.
- Utah State (14-10, 7-5)
Although “The Pit” is not a difficult place to play this season it is still an accomplishment to win in New Mexico.
- New Mexico (14-11, 6-7)
Following an embarrassing loss to Nevada, the Lobos look to win a big home game against SDSU. Even though it has been a disappointing season, a win Tuesday can turn their frowns upside down.
- Air Force (12-13, 5-9)
Simply feeding off opponents injuries, the Falcons win against banged-up Wyoming and UNLV teams.
- UNLV (14-11, 5-7)
The Rebels have not been healthy all season and now losing Rashad Vaughn for the next few weeks adds insult to injury.
10. Nevada (8-16, 4-8)
After nearly completing a comeback upset win against SDSU, the Wolf Pack finish the job and knock off the Lobos last weekend.
11. San Jose State (2-22, 0-12)
The Spartans are still searching for that illusive first conference win.
Contact Taylor Quellman at email@example.com