The Other Side: A preview of San Diego State with The Daily Aztec

Deana Nichols, Contributing Writer

The No. 1 seed Alabama Crimson Tide (31-5) will take on the fifth-seeded San Diego State University Aztecs (29-6) in a Sweet 16 matchup this Friday. The Crimson White sat down with Morgan Prickett and Justin Cox, co-sports editors of The Daily Aztec, to get some insight on the upcoming game.  

Nichols: Coming off a five-game win streak, how can San Diego use this to keep rolling into this game?  

Cox: “I think San Diego, they had a lot of problems. I guess earlier especially with Charleston, they’ve had a hard time getting going a lot of times some of these games. I think part of that is a lot there’s a lot of nerves obviously that go into it. They’ve been the favorites, like, for the last however many games they’ve played. So, I think coming into a game where they’re the underdog is going to help them. At the beginning, my guess is, hopefully [they] play a little more freely. I know against Furman it was like the first couple minutes were rough but then they really settled in quickly. If they’re going to have a chance against Alabama they’re going to have to settle in quickly. If they get down big early, especially if they get down 10, it’ll be rough to come back just because they don’t have necessarily the firepower that Alabama has. So, I guess if they can keep playing freely, not get tight, not slow [down], and get good shots quickly. I know a lot of times the offense kind of gets bogged down a little bit — they don’t always generate great looks I think that would be the main thing.” 

Prickett: “I think momentum is one of the biggest things going the Aztecs’ way right now. College basketball, especially in March, starts to stray away from the technical side of the game and more toward the emotional and I think the Aztecs are in a better place mentally than they were in the last few seasons. The Aztecs have been playing some of their best basketball all season recently so it’s definitely going to be a good one.” 

Nichols: This is the Aztecs’ first Sweet 16 since 2014. How is the motivating the team for Friday’s matchup?  

Cox: “They definitely want to get further than any San Diego State team has been before. For the head coach, Brian Dutcher this is his sixth season as the head coach. They haven’t won a March Madness game until this season, so I know a big goal throughout the whole season was to get into the March Madness and then win some games. Now that they’ve gotten this far, I’m sure they’re going to be really motivated to go out and try to put together a really good performance because that’s what’s going to be necessary especially against the number one seed in the entire tournament.”  

Prickett: “I think this trip to the Sweet 16 is a huge motivator for the Aztecs to push even further. I can assure you that not much of the SDSU community or San Diego community in general ever expected the Aztecs to make it this far, so now I think they have nothing to lose. They’ve already accomplished an incredible feat so why not take it a step further by beating the ‘best’ team in the country in the Sweet 16.” 

Nichols: The San Diego State lineup consists of many veterans, while Alabama has a very young lineup. How can this be used as an advantage?  

Cox: “I think that’s definitely going to be one of the big things that SDSU will use. A lot of their players, not even just the starters, are really old. There’s a lot. We have a couple I know at least one sixth year and a couple fifth year players. I think they’re really going to try to use physicality, as I mentioned earlier, to their advantage. That’s something they’ve been really successful at this season, especially with younger players, is getting into them early, take up a lot of their airspace play really close, and try to turn the ball over. I think that, like sports being reporter mentioned earlier, turnover is going to be the real key to kind of use. Some of that experience to grind down some of these younger guys they played less basketball. I think that the mental part of it is going to be really key and having veterans could help with that from.”  

Prickett: “I think the Aztec veterans will be extremely important, but not in the way people may assume. In terms of experience playing basketball — this Aztec team has plenty, but I dont think that’s enough to lift them over this incredibly talented Alabama team. I think if anything, the desire to win for some of these Aztec veterans in their finals seasons is going to be more important than their experience. This Aztec team has been underperforming for years in March, so I think these veterans are going to be coming out with a lot more to prove and a lot more at stake.” 

Nichols: Alabama has some key offensive players like Brandon Miller and Jahvon Quinerly. How do the Aztecs plan to stop them from putting points on the board?  

Cox: “I know they’re going to press. I’m sure Quinerly will get it. He’ll get a lot of full court pressure. Lamont Butler, I imagine, will be the first guy to take a turn on Quinerly. He’s the best perimeter defender — he’s a really strong long guard. And then Brandon Miller they’ve done better this season against scores who are smaller, so I would definitely look for Miller to have more success at least early on. Something that they also do a lot —they’ll throw a ton of different defensive looks. They’re not going to go with one thing the entire game. Sometimes they’ll trap on a ball screen, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’ll hedge. They’ve been really good at communicating in those situations. They’re probably not going to show the same look every time to you know use that element of surprise.” 

Prickett: “I think the Aztecs will do fine with Quinerly. Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West, Lamont Butler, has been locking talented guards down left and right so I don’t worry there. Miller on the other [hand] will definitely be a handful. Keshad Johnson may get the nod to guard as they have similar frames, but I think Johnson is a lot more used to guarding post scorers so I’m not sure his perimeter defense will be able to keep Miller at Bay. Definitely, a matchup to watch.” 

Nichols: Charles Bediako leads the team in blocks on the defensive side. What can the Aztecs to get past him and put-up points?  

Cox: “They’re going to pull him out away from the basket. I know the Aztec bigs, they like to initiate offense having the ball in the high post [to allow] players like Nathan Mensa, Aguek Arope and Jaedon LeDee to come up pretty high. I do think something to watch is going to be the offense to get a ton of points driving towards the basket like Matt Bradley, their best perimeter player. His best scoring attribute, I guess, is driving to his left. He’s [a] left-handed player, so if Alabama can really take away the left-handed driving layups, I think they’re going to have a lot of success against the Aztecs defensively. I think that that’s going to be key for the Aztecs, pulling him away and trying to attack as he’s further from the basket because driving at a brick wall like that’s going to be really difficult.”  

Prickett: “The Aztecs have a very well-structured offense. I think getting open looks won’t be a problem for the Aztecs with the amount of depth they have on the offensive end. We may struggle early, which is normal for the Aztecs, but I think we’ll do fine getting to the rim and finding space outside. The only issue is we are not always consistent, it’s either we shoot really well or really poorly.”  

Nichols: The Crimson Tide is a big second half team, how can the Aztecs stop them early to prevent this type of thing from happening?  

Cox: “I think in general that they’re going to have to do this the whole game. They’ve got to muck it up. They’ve got to drag Alabama into the mud. That’s something, especially in Mountain West games, a lot of the time they have played in the fifties and sixties. They’re not 70s or 80s as far as scoring goes. If the Aztecs are not successful and let them pull away early they’ve got to keep the pace slow. Sure they’re going to foul a lot, they’re probably just going to play really physical defense and that would be something to watch … is how much the referees are willing to let them get away with if there are a lot of I think … I’m sure to open they’re going to be really physical and then I hope that that bar gets set and then they can be physical the rest of the game. I think that’s if they start committing a bunch of fouls Alabama getting to the free throw line and then they’re getting stopped and running that they’re going to run away with it. It’s slowing the pace down, making passes difficult to complete, getting deflections, stuff like that just to throw out them and keep them out of rhythm.”  

Prickett: “I think the Aztecs have proven that they can be both a second and first half team. During countless times in regular-season conference play, the Aztecs would take home early leads and hold onto them going into the second. Heading into the MW tournament, the Aztecs were down in the first half of every game but still managed to come back in the second half of each. I do think the first half will be more important than the second, if one or the other team is up by more than 15 at half, it may be over.” 

Tipoff at the KFC Yum! Center will take place on Friday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m. CT on TBS.  

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]