March Madness Preview For San Diego State

San Diego State enters the NCAA Tournament after winning the Mountain West Conference championship.

San Diego State is coming off a Mountain West Conference championship in both the regular season and the tournament, an impressive feat.

They now face a tough challenge ahead as they are going across the country to Orlando, Florida to face off against the 12th-seeded Charleston Cougars. This is a major disadvantage for SDSU as they will have a 5-hour plus flight ahead of them and they will have to get adjusted to the 3-hour time difference. Meanwhile, the lower-seeded Charleston only has a 6-hour drive or 1-hour flight. One of the major advantages the Aztecs had this year was their fan support as they only lost one game all year at Viejas Arena. The fans also showed up in Vegas this weekend helping the team win its conference tournament.


Charleston ranks 18th in offensive efficiency and points per game as they are one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country. Matching up with San Diego State is not going to be an easy task for them as the Aztecs rank 10th in the country in defensive efficiency. In terms of matchups SDSU sweeps in every single power ranking metric with the most significant margin being the strength of schedule as San Diego State ranks 43rd in the nation while Charleston ranks 226th. This metric may be able to tell us why Charleston ranks higher in nearly every offensive stat. 

Charleston is led by Senior guard Dalton Bolon who averages 12.3 points per game. He is capable of getting hot just as much as he is able of getting cold. In his conference championship game, he didn’t score any points. Another consistent scorer that the Cougars have is a fellow Senior guard Ryan Larson. Larson averages 10.6 points per game with a majority of his shots coming from behind the arc. When his team needs a late-game bucket it is either Larson or Bolon is often who they go to in a pick-and-roll. The Cougars do lack that go-get-a-bucket isolation type of player late game that a lot of teams rely on. Most of their damage on offense comes in the half-court setting. 

San Diego State:

San Diego State has a plethora of players who can go get a late-game bucket as we have seen over the course of the season. 

SDSU has a major advantage not just in Charleston but most of the country in depth. SDSU is one of the oldest and deepest teams in the country which comes in handy this time of year. In every game in the Mountain West tournament, the Aztecs were led by someone different in scoring. If the Aztecs had one man to pick for the final shot it would have to be Senior Matt Bradley who has no trouble creating his own shot. 

Charleston’s ability to spread the floor is where they hurt most of their opponents this season. If they were going against any other opponent I would have them winning as a 12 seed. However, San Diego States’ ability to guard 1-5 is what separates them from the rest of the country. This was evident in the Moutain West Championship Game vs Utah State, a team that spreads the floor extremely well. Every time the Aztecs step on the floor they switch on screens no matter who it is most of the time. They are able to do this because they have 2-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Nathan Mensah. When needed he is able to switch and hedge on guards which is a big reason the Aztec defense is as good as it is. Another reason that the defense is so good is because of Junior guard Lamont Butler who is also a Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. For most of the year, he was the primary on-ball defender. It was evident in the Mountain West tournament as he shut down reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Omari Moore as he had just 7 points on 3-13 shooting. That is the kind of impact Butler can have on a game even if he isn’t filling the scorebook on offense. When it comes to matching up with Charleston, they haven’t faced a team ranked higher than 97 in defense since Nov 23, SDSU is 10, via Geoff Grammer. 

In order to win this game the Aztecs will have to shoot the ball well. Charleston is the best offensive team that they will have seen since early conference play. In the Mountain West Tournament, they were able to get away with spotty shooting due to exceptional defense. This Charleston team has to ability to get hot quickly so the Aztecs can’t fall behind like how they did in the Final vs Utah State. If SDSU is able to avoid hurting itself with turnovers I like the odds of the Aztecs advancing into the Round of 32 and beyond. 

Round of 32:

If the Aztecs advance past they will play the winner of Virginia vs Furman matchup. Virginia plays at a very slow pace and they often dictate what speed the game is played at as they don’t speed up based on who their playing. I think if SDSU were to advance and play Virginia they would have a good chance of getting a win and getting to the Sweet 16. They don’t rely on the three-ball for their success which is a big advantage for SDSU. Virginia also just lost starting forward Ben Vander Plas to a hand injury. With SDSU’s ability to defend in the half-court and lock up teams’ best scorers, they match up pretty well with Virginia. 

Furman has all of the makings of a Cinderella team. They are an extremely well-run offensive team with three players averaging over 12 points. Senior guard Mike Bothwell has the ability to hot quickly, he has scored over 30 points multiple times. Furman is very hot at the current moment winning 14 of their last 15 games. They surely have what it takes to take down Virginia. 

Rest of the Tournament:

SDSU will go as far as their defense takes them. If they fail to defend it will be hard seeing them getting past the first weekend. If they are able to defend like they have been all season I could see this team going as far as the final four. Obviously, every game is going to be a challenge, but if they play their best game they can beat anyone in the country. To get that far they are going to have to shoot the ball well along with the defense. For a lot of the season, they didn’t have to worry about the offense too much. If they want to go far they are going to have to shoot high percentages. An advantage they have is their bench. This is the deepest team San Diego State has had in the Brain Dutcher era. They have about 8-9 offensive weapons that can go off any given night. If everything comes together at the right time with defense and everything it’s going to be a hard matchup for any team.

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