By TAYLOR QUELLMAN
A week off could not have come at a better time for the Aztecs.
After winning both of their matches handily last week at New Mexico and San Jose State, SDSU welcomes the Boise State Broncos in for the biggest game of the season for both teams.
Saturday night‘s contest is essentially a regular-season championship matchup. The Broncos (21-7, 11-4) are the hottest team in the MW, winning 11 of its last 12 games, leaving it one game behind the conference-leading Aztecs (22-6, 12-3).
A Boise State win would put it in a tie for first place, and more importantly, give it the tiebreaker for the No. 1 one seed in next month’s MW tournament.
A SDSU win would put it two games ahead of the Broncos and with a favorable schedule the remainder of the season.
One constant for SDSU is its level of play at home. The Aztecs have won every game at Viejas Arena this season, most by a wide margin. There are several contributing factors, the biggest of which is their stingy defense. Behind the energy of “The Show,” the Aztecs force 15 turnovers per game at home, and maintain the best defensive efficiency in the country.
The key to SDSU winning this game is simple: do not let Boise State get hot shooting from 3-point range.
In their last meeting, which Boise State won, 61-46, the Broncos made ten 3-pointers, scoring at a 41 percent clip from beyond the arc. The promising statistic for SDSU is that while it allows their opponents to shoot 37 percent from 3 on the road, it holds opponents to only 22 percent shooting at home, second-best in college basketball.
Another key for the Aztecs will be to play their game. When SDSU struggled, it has attempted to play the opponents’ game.
No other MW team can force turnovers and push the ball in transition like the Aztecs, so if they are able to control the tempo, SDSU just might be the regular-season conference champs.
Boise State is coming off one of its best shooting performances of the season in its 76-65 win Tuesday night over New Mexico. The Broncos made 15 3-pointers, eight from sharp-shooter Nick Duncan.
Although it has been a tough task to win at Viejas, the Broncos come in with a confident, nothing-to-lose attitude. Sometimes this mentality works out for players, but there is a lot riding on this game. Boise State is currently a bubble team trending upward, and a win on the road against SDSU will most likely punch their ticket to the big dance.
The Broncos will need play a near perfect game to come away with a win, including shooting the 3-ball extremely well along with avoiding turnovers. My ex-factor for Boise State is different from most. Everyone knows the names of Derrick Marks, James Webb III, and Duncan. as the Broncos’ main scoring options.
But if they want a win, then highly touted freshman Chandler Hutchinson needs to play to his full potential. With all the freshmen star power in the conference, Hutchinson’s name goes unmentioned most of the time. He came into this season as the highest-ranked recruit in Boise State’s history (80th ranked player in 2014 ESPN100), and has slowly been inserted into its rotation. The Broncos are 10-1 since putting Hutchinson in the starting lineup.
The freshman does not light up the stat sheet in any category, but at 6-foot-7 he provides the length defensively to disrupt most scorers. When he becomes aggressive at both ends of the floor and builds his confidence, he is a legitimate threat for the Broncos. So keep a close eye on this rising star Saturday night.
Both teams really need to win this game. With SDSU’s dominance at home, the Aztecs get a slight edge. But there is nothing scarier than an upset-minded team.
+ Contact Taylor Quellman at firstname.lastname@example.org