The Oklahoma Sooners make their return to the NCAA Tournament Friday night against San Diego State. Playing their games in the Mountain West conference, most Oklahoma fans are not that familiar with what the Aztecs will be bringing to the table.
In an effort to change that, we've once again utilized the extensive SB Nation family and reached out to Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection to seek some insight into Friday night's opponent. You know, besides just the fact they are coached by one-time Fab Five architect, Steve Fisher.
CCM: We'll certainly get to Friday's game, but from a broader perspective how would you describe San Diego State's 2012-13 season? Would you deem it, along with another NCAA Tournament appearance, a success? Would the fourth place conference finish qualify as a bit of a disappointment? Or would the season fall somewhere in between?
MWC: San Diego State was predicted to win the Mountain West, so they did underachieve by finishing fourth in the league. Making the tournament was expected and that is one of their goals they wanted to accomplish, but heading into the year getting to the Sweet 16 was their goal. Overall, it was disappointment since the finished middle of the pack, but they can get redemption if they perform well in the NCAA tournament.
CCM: Strictly from an SDSU perspective, what will they be looking to accomplish, both offensively and defensively, Friday evening?
MWC: On offense San Diego State plays on the perimeter and have guards attack the basket. The Aztecs do not have any real down low or post play on offense, so they rely more on getting to the free throw line and outside shooting.
They need Jamaal Franklin to have a big game, but he usually does and will likely get at least 15 points, about eight rebounds and a few assists. What San Diego State really needs offensively is to get Xavier Thames and Chase Tapley to combine for 20 points if the Aztecs are going to win.
Defensively the Aztecs are a smothering defense which can limit teams to perform well below their averages. They hold teams to 60 points and 38 percent from the field, they just get in defenses face and force opposing teams to bad shots. It seems to be very simple in saying San Diego State plays tough defense, but that is what they do. They are able to get teams out of their rhythm and just cause them to get out of rhythm, so look for them to do the same against Oklahoma.
CCM: From a personnel standpoint, give Oklahoma fans a couple of the more important names to know and the respective strengths and weaknesses of those players.
MWC: Jamaal Franklin is the name Oklahoma fans need to know. Franklin was a first team all-league player and was in contention to be the player of the year. He is a do it all player where he can have a night when he goes for 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a then toss in a few steals or blocks. His one weakness is that he sometimes relies on the three-point shooting, and he can also be streaky from the field in general. However, Franklin makes up for it by attacking the basket and making his free throws.
The other two players are Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames, they are the second and third scorers on the team. As mentioned, the Aztecs need both to get about 10 points each. Tapley is the more streaky of the two where he has a game of 33 points and zero points this year, and both games he played his normal amount of minutes. Thames is not much different, he has had multiple single digit games and a couple of zero point performances. Either can be shut down by good defenders, and if Oklahoma can do that then they will have a much better chance of winning.
CCM: If you were Lon Kruger, how would you design your plan of attack against this SDSU team? What particular area/s would you look to exploit to your advantage?
MWC: Kruger is familiar with San Diego State and head coach Steve Fisher since he coached against the team just a few years ago while at UNLV. Well, playing away from San Diego hurts the Aztecs right there since they are 5-7 on the road this year.
Oklahoma needs to make the Aztecs take contested shots and keep them out of the lane. This team is streaky in shooting from the outside, so if Oklahoma can press defensively, get in the offenses face, and stay in front of the offense will be a big key.
Specifically, keeping Franklin off of the free throw line because he gets to the line most often, and shoots 78 percent. He makes up with poor shooting nights by attacking the basket, and whoever draws his match needs to keep Franklin in front of them.
CCM: If you'll pardon the cliched nature of this question, I feel some sense of obligation to still ask it. How much, if at all, do you see having to travel all the way across the country playing a role in this game?
MWC: It does hurt just because they are just 5-7 away from their home arena. However, with the game being an evening game the time difference will not bother them, had the game been a noon eastern tip that could have an issue. Overall, should not be an issue all that much outside of their normal struggles away from home.
CCM: It's obviously never as simple as one particular thing happening (or not), but for the purposes of efficiency we'll ask you to humor us with this two-part, fill in the blank question.
- "If ______ happens, we'll be in really good shape."
- "If ______ happens, we'll be in real trouble."
MWC: If secondary scorers step up and the defense holds Oklahoma to under 45 percent shooting, we'll be in really good shape.
If there are no secondary scorers after Jamaal Franklin, we'll be in real trouble.
CCM: Alright, we can't let you go without a prediction. How do you see Friday night playing out and give us a final score?
MWC: I think San Diego State can win (shocker!). I feel Jamaal Franklin will come up big on offense and their defense can keep Oklahoma at bay. A score is hard to predict, but I could see San Diego State winning 66-60 or something in that range.