NCAA Tournament Preview West Region - First Round (15) Northern Colorado vs. (2) San Diego State
Thursday, March 17, Approximately 4:40 PM ET
The San Diego State Aztecs come into the tournament on the heels of a huge win over BYU in the Mountain West Conference Tournament final, securing their second straight conference tournament championship. Los Aztecs now enter the NCAA tournament as a 2 seed, having won 12 of their last 13 games. Opposite them sits Northern Colorado, an automatic qualifier after winning the Big Sky Conference Tournament with a 65-60 win over Montana on March 9.
From the looks of things, the Bears are major underdogs. Not only are they part of the 2/15 matchup, which has only seen four 15 seeds win in the history of the tournament, but it is their first ever trip to the tournament. At the helm for “the other UNC” (aside from North Carolina) is B.J. Hill, a 36-year-old coach in his first year on the job.
While the Bears will be looking to spring an upset, the Aztecs have expectations of their own. Coach Steve Fisher is leading San Diego State to its seventh NCAA tournament trip, the third since he took over in 1999. While they are making their second trip in a row and have a favorable seeding, it’s worth noting that the Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game. Now, with such a high seed and a 32-2 regular season record, the pressure is on for the team to perform.
Offensively, both teams come in averaging 72.2 points per game, good for 79th in the nation. The difference comes on the defensive end: The Bears allow 65.7 points per game, putting them at 105th in the nation, while the Aztecs allow just 58.9 points per game, putting them at a tie for sixth in the nation. Both teams are in the top 60 in terms of field goal defense, with the Aztecs perched in the top 20. The Aztecs were 36th in the nation in terms of field goal shooting percentage, hovering around 47 percent, while the Bears finished near 200th in the country at 43.1 percent. The one area the Bears do have an advantage is from three-point territory, where their 38.7-percent mark puts them at 22nd in the United States.
The Aztecs play only six men for more than 12 minutes per game. Offensively, they are led by Kawhi Leonard (15.4 points per game), Malcolm Thomas (11.5 points per game) and D.J. Gay (11.2). The Bears, meanwhile, employ an eight-man rotation spearheaded by guard Devon Beitzal, who averages 21.4 points per game, good for 13th in the country. The Bears, who finished first in the Big Sky in rebounds, will face a challenge when taking on the Aztecs. They’ll need a solid effort from their bigs to keep Leonard and Thomas from dominating the glass.
The Bears were a perfect 15-0 on the season in games when they shot a higher field goal percentage than their opponent, and will look to keep that trend going against the Aztecs. San Diego State, meanwhile, will look to use its size to keep the Bears from gaining an advantage inside. SDSU will need to remain smart and vigilant on the perimeter to contain the Bears' perimeter-based attack, which attempts over twenty three-pointers a game.
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