The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team tips off the 2021 NCAA Tournament late on Friday night vs. the San Diego State Aztecs. Does the near-10 p.m. ET start make this a home game for SDSU? It depends. But regardless of how late the game is, Syracuse will need to be a whole lot more focused than any of us will be at that hour, in order to beat the Aztecs.
Because we haven’t faced San Diego State all that often, we asked someone who was a bit more familiar with the team to shed some light. Mountain West Wire’s Matt Wadleigh (who you can follow on Twitter) answers some questions about the game below. And we share some responses over there as well, which you can check out.
Syracuse has been seen as a bit of a “giant killer” in recent tournament trips. Is that something San Diego State observers were concerned about when this pairing was first announced?
The main observers? Not really. However, as the days went by, the matchup is more and more nerve-wracking for that exact reason.
Do you feel the Aztecs were properly seeded? Or do they deserve to be a line or two higher?
If I’m being honest, I think they deserved a 4 or 5. Four losses all year, and while Q1 and Q2 wins were minimal, this team was AP 19 going into the MWC tourney and won three straight. However, I wasn’t surprised at the 6-seed, more relieved, since Lunardi and Palm had them pegged anywhere from 7-9.
SDSU’s obviously put together a great season. Can you share a specific area or two where the team’s excelled most?
Defense. That’s always their calling card. However, last season Malachi Flynn shouldered much of the load. This year it’s been all about balance. Gomez, Pulliam, Schakel, and Mitchell played rather consistently and when one guy was off another stepped up.
What’s the ceiling for this San Diego State squad in a pretty tough Midwest region?
Ceiling? Final Four. However, more realistically, Elite Eight, and that would be amazing. If they can get by Syracuse and West Virginia (and their tough press) I’m less concerned about Houston. However, my personal bracket has Oklahoma State playing SDSU in the Elite 8, and the Cowboys- and Cade Cunningham- are simply too dangerous, even with the Aztecs’ stout defense.
Brian Dutcher’s already said that the Aztecs haven’t seen a 2-3 zone all season. How does that lack of familiarity impact this matchup?
It impacts it greatly. That zone is so unique and so tough, but the Aztecs will have had plenty of time to break down film and figure out a way around it. Plus, Dutcher and this staff have shown their tendencies to make halftime adjustments rather successfully.
Would you say San Diego State goes as Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel go? Or is there more to it than what a simple look at the stat sheet shows?
Oh, there’s more to it than that. Foe example, Mitchell scored 8 and Schakel had 15 against Wyoming in game 1 of the MWC tourney, but Terrell Gomez had 20. Pulliam had 15 in that same game. While the two seniors are the core, Gomez, Pulliam, and Mensah- and freshman standout Lamont Butler- can step up when they need to.
SDSU’s typically pretty good on defense and fared well on that end once again in 2020-21. What’s the key to this year’s prowess on that end of the floor?
Communication and chemistry. Besides Gomez, this group has played a lot of games together. Mitchell, Schakel, Pulliam, Mensah, Arop, and Seiko are all back from last season’s 30-2 squad, and they know how to rotate and switch rather easily. Plus, it always helps when Dutcher and the staff come up with a great game plan.
Is there an unsung player on the Aztecs that Orange fans need to become a bit more familiar with?
Trey Pulliam. On the surface, his average of 7.2 points a game isn’t very worrisome. However, dig a little deeper and Pulliam is a mess to deal with on both ends. He can score, pass, drive, play defense on all levels, and his ability to lead the group on the offensive end is a huge reason to the Aztecs success.
Which Syracuse player creates the most concern for San Diego State?
Buddy Boeheim, plain and simple. He can shoot the lights out of the gym.
Who wins this one and why?
Im worried, but the Aztecs have won 14 straight and are ready for this one. It’s close, but the Aztecs pull away in the 2nd half with some in-game adjustments, and Schakel, Mitchell and Gomez each score 15 plus. SDSU 67, Syracuse 55