March Madness has officially begun! The San Diego State Aztecs (8 seed) first-round opponent will be the St. John’s Red Storm (9 seed). The winner of this game will most likely face the number 1 seed Duke. Both teams will be hoping that either North Florida or Robert Morris can take out Jahlil Okafor & Co. but a 16th seed beating a 1 seed would be the biggest upset in college basketball.
Sorry, I just saw some Leprechauns and Unicorns. Lets get back to reality.
The Aztecs will need to first how to get past a good St. Johns team. Yes, their record (21-11) is sub-par and they lost in the first-round of the Big East Conference Tournament to Providence. But it is a little deceiving because they play in a tough Big East Conference. The BEC has 6 teams going to the “big dance” which is third most behind the Big 12 and Big Ten.
Having said that, these are the 5 keys to the Aztecs success:
Control the glass:
The starting five of the Aztecs have size to their advantage with an average height of 6’6” compared to the Red Storms 6’4” average. This means the Aztecs will need to use their height to control the glass. It will be crucial that they out rebound the Red Storms on both the offensive and defensive end. This should not be a problem, as the Aztecs have out rebounded their opponents 32.6-29.3 during the MWC Championship Tournament, while St. John’s has been out rebounded 49-36 during their loss to Providence in the in the BEC Championship Tournament.
Yes, St. John’s recorded more rebounds in that loss, but the stat is a little inflated as they were blown out 74-57. There were 10+ rebounds accrued in garbage time.
The Aztecs will need to find their shot. A way to keep the game close offensively is striving for 45% shooting from the field, and only shooting threes when they are open! Cough cough, Matt Shrigley.
The way to accomplish this to let the offense flow through JJ O’Brien. He isn’t a point guard, but the offense seems to flow better when the ball filters from O’Brien versus Aqeel Quinn.
Finally, Winston Shepard needs to step up and play aggressively like he did against Colorado State.
The Aztecs will need to be careful with the ball as the Red Storms are ranked 53rd in the nation in steals, averaging 7.5 per game. The guards are very quick and are active with their hands, especially senior guard Sir’Dominic Pointer (1.9 steals per game).
Convert easy points:
This is an easy way for the Aztecs to take some pressure off of their offense. The Aztecs are ranked 337th out of 350 in free throw percentage (62.9%). Yikes! That is awful for a team that averages 19.2 attempts per game. The Aztecs should have no problem replicating their season average at the free throw line as they are bigger than the Red Storm.
The final piece to the Aztecs formula for success is their defense. The Aztecs boast the second most stingy defense in the nation, allowing a measly 53.1 points per game. If they can hold their opposition to their season average, the Aztecs will put themselves in a great position to win.
Now the question is how?
First, the Aztecs will need to stop the Red Storm’s starting line up. They have 4 players who average double-digit points every game, led by outstanding senior D’Angelo Harrison who averages 17.5 points per game.
Second, keep them in front of you and force them to take bad shots. They are not a great perimeter shooting team (35.3%).
Lastly, clog the lanes and do not allow easy lay ups and refrain from fouling.
All in all this should be an interesting match up against two very different teams. It will be exciting to see how the game will unfold.
SDSU 60- St. Johns 56
Photo Credit: Unknown/ U-T San Diego
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