I spoke to the dudes at Aztecs Killing Him to get a more in-depth perspective on San Diego State, and I learned a lot, including the fact that they'd fit right in here. Sure, geographically speaking, many miles separate us, but in another sense, we share a border made of pain and obscurity. Below we talk about SDSU's key players, Brady Hoke, and what there is to do in Columbus.
I've answered some questions as well, and that piece is over at AKH.
1.) I haven't looked too deeply into the Aztecs just yet, but on first glance it looks like Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are the leaders of this team offensively. Tell us a bit about what those two bring to the table.
You pretty much nailed it. Jamaal is an absolute athletic freak and a bit of a loose cannon. To illustrate both points, in his first game back from suspension after an offseason DUI, he executed a fast break dunk after passing the ball to himself off the backboard. IN A GAME, HE DID THIS. He's good at making fans facepalm, but he also gives you plenty of "no no no no YES!" moments. In addition to his ridiculous vertical, he can and will shoot from anywhere, at any point in the shot clock, in any situation. You get agony or ecstasy with him, and absolutely nothing in between. Chase is our most consistent outside shooter, which is to say he’s not terribly consistent. But he's also extremely quick and can take it to the rim effectively. When his shot is falling, the Aztecs are mighty hard to beat.
2.) Has there been any sort of pattern to the way SDSU has lost games this season? What might NC State try to exploit?
We had a three game losing streak about a month ago that sent most of the fanbase into a full-on Y2K-style panic. People were hoarding potable water and cans of stewed beets and everything. This is not a particularly skilled shooting team and it's not a big team — it wins with athleticism, defensive effort, and intelligence. During that skid, the team's IQ, particularly on offense, was completely missing. They were frustrated, and it caused them to jack up bad shots rather than making the extra pass and trying to penetrate. If the NC State defense can force the Aztecs to try to live by the 3, the Aztecs will probably die by the 3.
3.) In my opinion, and I hope I don't offend you by saying this, Steve Fisher's renaissance at San Diego State is one of the most surprising stories in college basketball over the last five years. He just seemed like one of those over-the-hill guys, like say Bob Knight going to Texas Tech, but he's made his team into a contender both within its conference and nationally. How did he make it work? And what's the program's long-term prognosis?
HOW DARE YOU, SIR! Nah, no offense taken at all. We're just as surprised as you. When Fisher took over this program back in 1999, it was an absolute non entity. No tradition, no fans, no hope. He made the Aztecs competitive for much of the 2000s, occasionally reaching the tournament only to lose in the first round. We thought it was great and all (our standards were pretty low), but I think the general consensus was that the program had peaked — that this was as good as it could get for us.
I think the turning point was when highly decorated recruit Kawhi Leonard, who is now starting for the San Antonio Spurs, chose the Aztecs out of high school a couple of years ago. That stamp of approval — combined with last season where Kawhi and a bunch of seniors made a national splash and captured the imagination of the student body and local community — has suddenly turned SDSU into a destination for West Coast recruits. On that note, if you formed a team just with the transfers and recruits coming in next year, it might actually beat this year’s squad.
4.) I noticed that SDSU doesn't block a lot of shots or generate a lot of steals, but the Aztecs rebound well at the defensive end and play good interior defense in general. Is that a stylistic choice based on fundamental play rather than risk taking? Is it an indicator that the Aztecs aren't especially athletic?
It's a necessity caused by personnel limitations up front. The Aztecs have some athleticism in the paint (Franklin and Deshawn Stephens can go get it), but not numbers. Remember, this is a rebuilding year where the Aztecs have only nine scholarship players and really only three dependable players down low. But their good fundamentals and emphasis on defense has made it work. Tim Shelton just took two charges while you read this, by the way.
5.) San Diego to Ohio, huh. You guys must be super pumped. What do you think are the top five things to do in Columbus. I mean aside from trading sports equipment for tattoos and filming sweatervest fetish videos.
Having been there twice (to watch our football team piss away two second-half leads), I can only surmise that the top five things to do in Ohio are all horse tranquilizers.
6.) On the plus side, it does put you within more practical house-egging range of Brady Hoke. Is that the plan for Thursday?
While I'm sure Brady Hoke would love the chance to eat some free eggs off the side of his garage (did you happen to notice he’s somewhat portly?), I'm over his departure. It's tough to begrudge a guy his dream job, even if he blew a golden opportunity to battle Memphis for that coveted Big East West title.