March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (4) San Diego State vs. (13) New Mexico State

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San Diego State Aztecs 29-4, 16-2

In what many are calling the best coaching job in Steve Fisher’s illustrious career, the Aztecs are dancing for the fifth straight year and 10th time overall. The foundation for Fisher’s success at SDSU is built on defense. This year they came in second at points allowed, giving up just 57.2 a night on 38.5 percent shooting from the field and 28.8 percent from beyond the arc. They also garner 7.7 steals (31st national) and 5.4 blocks (28th nationally). The Aztecs played the 106th most difficult schedule and went 3-3 against the RPI top 50, with quality wins against New Mexico, Kansas and Creighton. However, New Mexico has handed them half of their losses on the year, including a defeat in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship. Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard took over the vacant leadership roles left by the departures of Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin. The combined to average 28.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.8 steals. A common trend in their four losses was Thames struggling offensively. He shot 17-63 in those games. They can’t afford for him to go cold, especially beyond the first round, if they are going to win multiple tournament games for just the second time in program history.

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New Mexico State Aggies 26-9, 12-4

Utah Valley, the WAC regular season champions, were the favorites going into the postseason tournament. However, they were upset by Idaho, which set up a rubber match with the Aggies for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The two split the regular season series 1-1, but the Vandals didn’t stand much of a chance in the trilogy once it got underway. They trailed by 14 at the half and fell 77-55 as the Aggies clinched their 21st tournament appearance all-time and third consecutive. It’s no coincidence that the streak started once Daniel Mullings joined the program. He’s been a difference maker since day one, improving significantly every offseason. He’s now the reigning Player of the Year in the WAC after averaging 16.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game. Yet, the first person you’re likely to hear talked about when the Aggies get mentioned is sophomore center Sim Bhullar, who earned conference tournament MVP honors, because he’s one of the biggest players to play the game – ever, at any level. Coming in at a mammoth 7’5, 355 lbs., it goes without saying that Bhullar is in a class of his own in terms of size and strength. He puts up 10.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks a game, but his impact and the way he forces teams to adjust on both ends of the floor goes well beyond what the statistics indicate. The Aggies played the 190th most difficult schedule in the country and went 3-4 against the RPI top 50 with their top wins coming against New Mexico and UTEP. They score 77 a night, which is 33rd nationally. They haven’t won a tournament game since 1993; that’s unlikely to change without a very favorable matchup.