Previewing The San Diego State Aztecs

SDSU @ StatSheet
2012 Stats
2012 Roster
2012 Schedule

SDSU Offense 10-11
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 50.5 100
Turnover Rate 17.1 24
Off Reb Rate 37.4 18
FTA/FGA 31.1 313
SDSU Offense 11-12
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 50.3 124
Turnover Rate 19.0 92
Off Reb Rate 31.3 208
FTA/FGA 36.2 177

San Diego State only lost two games during the regular season in 2011--both to the Jimmer--en route to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and their third and final loss came in the Sweet Sixteen against eventual champion UConn. The Aztecs lost four members of a rotation that was essentially six-deep--three seniors plus Kawhi Leonard, who turned pro--and yet here they are in the NCAAs, still one of the Mountain West's best, still on the national radar. How did Steve Fisher manage that?

He got lucky, for one thing. He and his staff also did a good job developing the guards who were returning. The two kids carrying this offense--Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin--pretty much came out of nowhere; Tapley played plenty last year but wasn't a huge part of the offense, while Franklin hardly played or contributed in any respect.

Both of those players increased their workloads by huge amounts, yet they've managed more or less maintain the same efficiency level, which has huge value. Franklin, for example, averaged 8.1 minutes per game and took a modest 18.8% of the team's shots while he was on the floor. This year, those figures are 29.6 and 30.0, respectively. That just does not happen very often. Tapley is a similar story in that he took 18.3% of the shots in 2011 and he's up to 27.3% this year.

So those two were able to effectively compensate for many of the possessions lost by the departing players, but in so doing they also changed the orientation of the team. Leonard and seniors Malcolm Thomas and Billy White gave the Aztecs three players 6-7 or taller who were mainstays in the starting five, whereas now they've become more guard-oriented. San Diego State ranked 24th in Pomeroy's effective height metric (basically, average height adjusted for playing time) in 2011 and they're just 208th this year.

I'm not sure how much of that is good news for NC State. Obviously it helps the Pack's frontcourt guys, and especially Richard Howell, who seems to struggle more than most against guys bigger than him. We don't really have to worry about shot-blockers or a huge physical interior presence.

But we know how shaky the perimeter defense can be, and there's really no good matchup for Alex Johnson at the defensive end, at least from a size perspective. The Aztecs don't run anybody shorter than 6-2.

Starters:

Xavier Thames (6-3, 195) -- Not an impressive shooter inside or out, and while he is willing to shoot the three, that's not where the bulk of his shots are likely to come from. He's a secondary option because of the shooting percentages and because it's a crowded backcourt with Tapley and Franklin, but he has done a nice job drawing fouls and earning trips to the line, where he is an 83.3% shooter.

Chase Tapley (6-3, 195) -- Outstanding three-point shooter, and by the looks of their respective free throw rates, less of a slasher than Franklin. He's taken plenty of twos, but it looks like he maybe settles more in the mid-range rather than going all the way to the rim. This is his first year as a high-usage player, and while it's definitely cost him some accuracy inside the arc, he's never been better from outside.

Jamaal Franklin (6-5, 195) -- The abrupt shift in roles Franklin saw between last year and this one can kill the efficiency of a lot of guys, but as it turns out in this case, the Aztecs had a talented scorer who just ended up buried on the depth chart in 2011. Franklin is a good finisher inside the arc, where he's shooting nearly 51%, and he also presents a dangerous combination of FT shooting ability and the ability to generate FT attempts. It's the outside shooting that's a bit touch-and-go. What's really impressive about this kid, though, is how he rebounds--dude ranks 77th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and leads the team in that category. He puts a lot of much bigger players to shame.

James Rahon (6-5, 210) -- Last year he hit over 43% of his three-point attempts, while in 2012 that number is down to 32.5%. His field goal attempts have been split roughly 50-50 between two- and three-point range over the course of his career. The downturn this year could be due to nothing in particular, or perhaps the makeup of last year's team helped him find more openings. Whatever the case, it's a good idea to go ahead and treat him like he's a 40% shooter.

Tim Shelton (6-7, 240) -- Decent finisher inside, very occasional and mostly unsuccessful three-point shooter. Over his three seasons he hasn't been more than a role player at the offensive end, but he's also not one to make a lot of silly mistakes. Solid offensive rebounder.

Bench:

Garrett Green (6-11, 240), Deshawn Stephens (6-8, 215), LaBradford Franklin (6-2, 175). These three haven't been very involved offensively, but the big guys in particular have been good with the opportunities they have gotten. And both Green and Stephens are good offensive rebounders. One thing they do not do is make free throws. At 40-80 this year, Green is above 44% in a season for the first time ever. (He's a senior.) Stephens is shooting 39.3%. No free layups here. Foul foul foul.

SDSU Defense 10-11
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 44.1 8
Turnover Rate 19.4 216
Off Reb Rate 29.3 58
FTA/FGA 28.0 21
SDSU Defense 11-12
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 46.6 68
Turnover Rate 18.9 239
Off Reb Rate 27.1 21
FTA/FGA 28.5 24

Interior defense has been San Diego State's cornerstone at this end over the last three years, which also happens to coincide with a three-year stretch of NCAA tournament bids. The Aztecs also have done a very good job cleaning up the glass, though Fisher's track record in this department is spotty. It's the interior D, defensive rebounding, and foul-dodging aspects that make this an efficient unit, because they aren't generating a lot of turnovers, and their size this year limits their shot-blocking ability.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by one.

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