The NCAA Tournament is now in full swing with a slate of games beginning on Thursday. On Friday ninth seeded St. John's begins their tournament against eight seeded San Diego State of the Mountain West Conference. To help us prepare for the game, we sent a few questions over to Mountain West Connection, SB Nation's blog devoted to the Mountain West Conference where Matthew Bain answered our questions about what St. John's should expect from the San Diego State Aztecs
BECB: With the season and conference tournament now over for the MWC and the tournament set to begin, what do you see as San Diego State's biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Matthew Bain: I won’t say defense here, because that’s the obvious choice. SDSU allows the second-fewest points per game in the country. So I’ll say a specific aspect of SDSU’s defense is its biggest strength: the players’ abilities to switch on defense. Guys like Winston Shepard (6’8"), Dwayne Polee II (6’7") and JJ O’Brien (6’7") can all guard on the perimeter just as efficient as they can inside, so switches that would normally bother other teams don’t bother SDSU. Six-foot-10 freshman Malik Pope is also really starting to develop his defensive game. It’s not easy for smaller guards to utilize their size and speed against this team, because the Aztec big guys are just as quick.
BECB: In one word describe SDSU's style of play and why?
MB: Painful. It’s painful for fans to watch the team’s cold offensive streaks and it’s painful for opponents to try to score against the Aztecs.
BECB: What do you think presents a favorable match up for SDSU in this game?
MB: The loss of Chris Obekpa. And not necessarily even for his blocking, but because his presence in the paint opens shots for St. John’s lights-out shooters. With nobody taller than 6-foot-6 getting consistent minutes for St. John’s in this game, SDSU can closely guard on the perimeter without worrying about doubling in the post.
BECB: How do you think SDSU will take advantage of the absence of Chris Obekpa for St. John’s?
MB: I just talked about that defensively, so I’ll talk about offense here. Sir’Dominic Pointer is a blocking beast in his own right, but I think the mostly 6-foot-7 through 6-foot-10 Aztecs would rather clash in the paint with him than Obekpa. Definitely look for SDSU to try to establish an inside game early and often with JJ O’Brien.
BECB: This one is a bit of a two parter, who would you consider to be the player that St. John's should watch out for the most on the Aztecs? Who could be that player for the Aztecs that St. John's might not be aware of heading into this game?
MB: JJ O’Brien. This SDSU offense only succeeds if O'Brien does a little bit of everything — scoring, hogging the offensive glass, dishing out assists. You’ll probably see O’Brien take the most advantage of Obekpa’s absence, as Skyar Spencer (6’10") doesn’t score much and Angelo Chol (6’9") gets into foul trouble often. And I’d say Harrison has to be the player SDSU is most aware of for this game. The dude scores about 18 a game, but he gets to the free throw line at insane rates (42 more times than anybody on SDSU) and he converts 80 percent of his attempts. If Harrison can get SDSU in foul trouble and convert from the line, "The Show" will be quite nervous on Twitter.
BECB: Offensively SDSU has struggled (61.8 ppg) this season, especially when compared to St. John's (71.2 ppg). Where on offense would you say SDSU will get most of their points from?
MB: Either O’Brien, Shepard or Polee. Those are three trees on the court that are nimble enough to get by St. John’s guards and exploit Obekpa’s absence at the rim.
BECB: On the other hand defensively, SDSU has been stellar this season holding down opponents this season. With opponents averaging 53.1 ppg, especially when compared to St. John's on defense (67.6). Where does SDSU draw their defensive strength from? Do you see any defensive changes that SDSU will make for this game?
MB: The ability to switch as I mentioned earlier. SDSU also implements the full-court press often, but I could see St. John’s guards breaking the press, so that might be a halftime adjustment for Steve Fisher.
BECB: Who wins this game and why?
MB: It’s honestly a bummer Obekpa is out because then I would have no clue who wins. But without Obekpa I have to give SDSU the edge. St. John’s hasn’t seen a defense like SDSU’s in Big East play and I think Obekpa’s absence will make that even clearer. It’ll still be a good game, simply because the Red Storm has so much talent (case in point, D’Angelo Harrison). But I see this one ending at about 68-62.
Thanks again Matt and Mountain West Connection for taking the time out to answer our questions and give his thoughts on the San Diego State Aztecs. Tommorrow night's game is a 9:40 tip off, winner will move on to meet either Duke or Robert Morris in the Round of 32.