Syracuse vs. San Diego State: Aztec Answers From Mountain West Connection

Ethan Miller

We turn to Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection to get us up to speed on the Aztecs, what we can expect from the game on Sunday against the Syracuse Orange and what the school is looking for out of their impending conference changes.

The San Diego St. Aztecs are in the Mountain West but their football team will be in the Big East next year while the basketball team heads off to the Big West (without irony). While they're still a member of the MWC, we turn to Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection to get us up to speed on the Aztecs, what we can expect from the game on Sunday against the Syracuse Orange and what the school is looking for out of their impending conference changes.

When Steve Fisher took over San Diego St. in 1999, they finished 5-23. These days, they routinely win 25-30 games and make the NCAA Tournament. How the heck did that happen?

First off, they somehow landed Steve Fisher which was huge. It is a real mystery that they are not typically at worst an average team since there is so much talent in Southern California. His quick turn around from the first year to the second was just remarkable by going 5-23 to 14-14, and then in the third year he took the team to the NCAA tournament.

Part of how Fisher did it was by getting transfers from other high profile programs, and getting the players who were overlooked by UCLA, USC and other Pac-12 and California schools. Somehow he makes it work. A recent example is Jamaal Franklin, out of high school he had offers from just San Diego, San Diego State and UC Riverside. He barely played his freshman year, in fact coaches wanted to redshirt him, and then last season as a sophomore he was Mountain West's player of the year and an honorable mention AP All-American selection.

I think has to do more of coaching, because there is always talent in that part of the country, but with Fisher's name and his success at Michigan -- even though the NCAA wants us to believe that some of it no longer exists -- had players consider the Aztecs that may not have before. It just boiled down that Fisher is one heck of a coach, and can get the most out of his players.

Does San Diego State have any sort of home field advantage here or does the location and nature of the game make it truly neutral despite being in San Diego?

If they were playing at Viejas Arena then the home court advantage would be huge, "The Show' which is their student section rocks it every game, and even road games against other local teams. However, with this game being on the USS Midway, and tickets being limited, and expensive, I don't think there will be much of a home court advantage, if any at all.

Jamaal Franklin might just be the best basketball player on the court on Friday. What does he bring to the table and how can Syracuse stop him (or hope to)?

He is a versatile player that can score, rebound on both ends and is an above average defender. What makes him really good is that he has a supporting cast, though, supporting is not really fair as fellow guard Chase Tapley averages 16 points and five rebounds a game. Those other strong players help open up Franklin for scoring chances, but he can also get his own.

As for his own talents, he is super athletic and can take probably any player one-on-one, however, in Syracuse's matchup zone that may not be all that easy. He will have chances to attack the zone, but likely have to give it up, or risk of just getting swarmed by two or three players. One way that Syracuse can hope to limit his scoring is to force him to take three-point shots, however that can be a double-edged sword for Syracuse.

First, Franklin likes to shoot the three ball, and shoots it reasonably well, last year he made 33 percent beyond the arc. However, he is inconsistent as he either shoots it great or shoots it off. So, with the Syracuse zone Franklin could be tempted to take the open shot and if he is having an off night, which could be likely with the setting, that is a way to slow him down. That is taking a chance, by hoping Franklin is having an off night, but I don't see anyone on Syracuse who can guard him one-on-one and win that matchup. I guess the best defensive tactic is to force Franklin away from the key and double him with the zone in poor situations as much as possible, just make him uncomfortable and work for everything.

San Diego St. asked one of their exhibition opponents to play zone against them in order to prepare for the Orange. Is the zone completely foreign to the Aztecs? Do they have the shooters or big men to break it?

Not many Mountain West teams play zone, I know Air Force plays a decent amount mainly because they do not have the athletes. I also believe Colorado State and UNLV dable in it, but they do not see it consistent enough. That move to have a team play in a zone is a good way to get a feel for what Syracuse will bring to the table. Franklin is a player that could break the zone if he gets hot from the outside, but as mentioned he is not a real consistent three-point shooter.

Tapley is the best player that can break the zone with his outside shooting, last season he shot 43 percent from beyond the arc last year, and had an 8 of 10 game against Baylor and had 16 games last year where he shot better than 50 percent from three-point range.

As for a big man, the Aztecs don't really have one. They will typically go with a three-guard lineup and have an uptempo game. So, they don't really have a big man to get the ball in and around the key to make the zone collapse, but I would suspect that San Diego State will attack the zone and then get movement from other players to find the open man.

As San Diego St. prepares to move to the Big East for football and Big West for basketball, what are the expectations for the program in the next 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?

While their football team gets the upgrade, the basketball team is being left behind by heading to the Big West. That league has improved with the likes of Long Beach State and Pacific getting better, but it has just been a one-bid league whereas the Mountain West in a bad year gets two teams, and in their best can get four in the Big Dance. The hope is that the money they will get from being in the Big East, they will pump that money into basketball. They will need to schedule tough out of conference games, and they pretty much single-handedly limited the conference schedule to as few games as possible.

They will get a game or two each year from the Big East, but they will need to go out and schedule UNLV, New Mexico, Gonzaga, BYU (which will never happen) Pac-12 and Big 12 schools to keep their SOS/RPI from falling off the face of the Earth. Recruiting will be an issue since they are going to be in a much lesser league. However if they are going to stay in the national spotlight long term, then they will need to have Gonzaga-like success.

The next few years, they will probably win 20-plus games with the roster they have. So far, their 2013 class they have two recruits, with one being a four-star. So, if their recruiting can be at the team's level and not the league, that will help them stay as one of the dominant programs out West.

Prediction for the game? Prediction for SD State's season?

Getting this win would be huge, and easily one of the best wins the program has ever had. They just need to play their game and use their athleticism on offense and defense. They can't just be lazy and just shoot the open deep shot, because that is too risky. They need to attack the basket and get to the line. As for who will win I am with you in thinking that it will be a close game. I am going with San Diego State wins 66-60, and the main reason is because Syracuse is breaking in some new players. While they are talented, the chemistry may not be there this early in the season, and San Diego State brings back a lot of their team from last season.

As for their season, winning the Mountain West is realistic but that will be tough with UNLV right there with them; plus Colorado State and New Mexico will present a challenge. I think what their ultimate goal will be is to make it to the Sweet 16, which they did in 2011. This team is better than that 2011 team, so that is where I would expect them to land, and who knows what happens once you get that far in the tournament.

Check out Mountain West Connection for more updates on the game.

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