Friday, February 27, 2015

Boise State, San Diego State Battle for First Place

The San Diego State-Boise State game this Saturday in San Diego promises to be one of the better games of the college basketball season.  Aztec fans are hopeful their team will avenge a 15-point loss to the Broncos earlier this season, while Boise State faithful know that their team needs this win to establish themselves in the eyes of the national media and the NCAA selection committee.

But beyond that, it looks to be a great basketball game, pitting the stiff defense of Coach Steve Fisher's 24th-ranked Aztecs against the uncanny three-point scoring of Boise State.  The two teams will battle for first place in the Mountain West Conference and first seed in the upcoming conference tournament.  San Diego State is 12-3 in conference and 22-6 overall, with the Broncos lurking behind at 11-4 and 21-7.  Boise State has always played well in San Diego, but has never won there.  This year's Bronco team has accomplished many firsts in the 2014-15 season, and they'll go for another one Saturday.

The cream will usually rise to the top in scoring margin over the course of a season, but especially in the stretch run.  Boise State is 27th in the nation, beating its opponents by an average of 10.5 points, with San Diego State right behind the Broncos in 35th (9.4 per game).  It is no coincidence that Boise State (10.2) and San Diego State (9.6) are 1-2 in the Mountain West in conference scoring margin.  In conference play, the Broncos are averaging 69.4 points to 62.4 for the Aztecs. 

Bronco guard Derrick Marks has been scoring at a feverish pitch, averaging 22.6 points per game in conference action.  Ageel Quinn leads a balanced Aztec attack  at 12.7 points a game, while Winston Shephard averages an even 11.
As with most games between two solid teams, turnovers, shooting, rebounding and defense will be key factors in determining the outcome.

Boise State is 13th in the country in committing just short of 10 turnovers per game, while San Diego State averages about 12 per game.

The Broncos have been a three-point machine this season, averaging 8.83 per game, good for 17th in the country.  Historically, teams that shoot a lot of threes live or die by the three-point shot, and Boise State has mostly been living right, hitting 40.2% of their long-range bombs for 14th in the nation.  Three Broncos (Marks, James Webb III and Nick Duncan) rank in the top six in the Mountain West in three-point percentage. 

That sets up a great battle, because while the Broncos have been busy all year hitting treys, the Aztecs have been stopping them.  San Diego State is 13th in the NCAA in allowing their opponents just 29.2% from behind the arc.

Coach Steve Fisher's team just excels at defense, period.  They are eighth in the nation in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents a measly 37.7%.  San Diego State ranks third in scoring defense, allowing opponents 53.5 points a game, but the suddenly harassing Broncos are climbing up the charts, currently sitting 43rd (60.8 points per game).

The Aztecs are third in the conference with 35.1 rebounds per game, while Boise State is sixth at 31.5 per game.  With both teams no doubt forcing a lot of missed shots, controlling the boards will be paramount.

San Diego State has a further advantage.  The Aztecs have been there before; they've been in these kind of games and know what it takes to win when the pressure is on.  If San Diego State beats Boise State, they will likely capture their fourth conference championship in five seasons.  On the other hand, this is Boise State's first legitimate run at a Mountain West title.  Will the Broncos have the poise over 40 minutes to take care of the basketball, make crisp, accurate passes, take intelligent shots, and stay with their man defensively, especially in critical moments in the game?

And then there's the home court advantage.  The Aztecs carry a school record 29-game home winning streak into this weekend, which ranks as the fifth-longest in the nation.

One more facet of the game that could decide the game down the stretch--free-throw shooting.  If it comes down to that, Boise State leads the Mountain West at 73.0% while the Aztecs are 10th, hitting 63.5% of their charity tosses.

Tipoff in San Diego is set for 6 p.m. Mountain Time.

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