Men’s Basketball: Get to know San Diego State ahead of their Final Four matchup with FAU

On Saturday, FAU will take on the San Diego State Aztecs in the Final Four. Here’s what to look out for.

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

On Saturday, April 1, FAU men’s basketball (35-3, 18-2) will make their first Final Four appearance in program history, taking on the San Diego State University Aztecs (31-6, 15-3 MWC) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

The 5-seed Aztecs, also making their first appearance in the Final Four, are coming off of a last-second 57-56 over the Creighton University Bluejays last Sunday in the Elite 8. 

According to ESPN, the Aztecs are 2.5-point favorites in Saturday’s matchup, with the winner advancing to the national championship on Monday, where they’ll meet the winner of the national semifinal between the University of Connecticut and the University of Miami.

To preview the matchup, the University Press interviewed Morgan Prickett and Justin Cox, Sports Editors at The Daily Aztec, to get a look into the Owls’ next opponent. 

UP: San Diego State has leaned on their defense, which ranks first in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency since March 1, all season. What makes them able to defend so well?

Prickett: We have a lot of length on our team. Our forwards and our bigs, they’re all super lengthy and they all have wingspan, so they can cover the whole floor. We saw a lot of teams that played a lot of screen action against us. But I think the way we switch, and move around screens allows our defense to hold off really good teams.

Cox: San Diego State has been really good at giving different looks to opposing teams. Against FAU it might be a little different because they don’t necessarily have a star player, but a big success for SDSU has been taking out the opposing team’s best player. Sometimes, they trap on the pick and roll; Sometimes, they play drop coverage; Sometimes, they’ll just switch outright, we have a bunch of switchable guys. That and their length has been the biggest thing.

UP: Is their offense a weakness? Or does it just get outshined by how well they play defense?

Cox: It’s definitely a weakness. Every game, I can almost guarantee it also happens in this game, there is a three to four minute stretch where SDSU does not make a basket. The shooting all season has been super volatile. That’s why they don’t really blow a lot of teams out; It happens occasionally, but especially against good teams, they rarely have the offensive firepower to extend leads. That’s something that has been an issue, letting teams hang around; It happened against Creighton last week, and in a couple of the losses earlier in the season, like Arkansas. I definitely think the defense keeps the offense in a lot of games.

Prickett: Our offense and our shooting game, it’s really spotty, super inconsistent. I feel like watching our players play, most of them you can kind of tell what they want, and what shot they’re going to take; it’s really predictable. 

UP: Who should be at the top of FAU’s scouting report?

Cox: I would definitely say guard Matt Bradley. He’s just the most dynamic scorer on the team, he can score from all three levels really well, and he’s been the guy that really gets us going. The biggest thing with Bradley, he loves driving left. He’s left-handed, and his left-handed layups are really good, but teams have been taking that away. FAU has got a big center down low; if he can take away the left side of the hoop and force Bradley to take jumpers, that would be the best way to take him out of the game. He’s been the leading scorer for the past few seasons, so, if you want to stop San Diego State’s offense, you’ve got to stop him first. 

Prickett: We’re deep and we’ve got a lot of players that can play. But 100%, Matt Bradley is our guy, and he’s the guy to look for on any given night. But for FAU, instead of scouting offense, I’d be more concerned with who you’re attacking on their defense. So, I’d say stay away from Lamont Butler as much as possible. He’s just a dog on defense. If you’re running the offense on his side of the court, he will hound you; He’s going to have his hand in there, he’s going to contest your shots. On offense, definitely look for Matt Bradley, and on defense, just alway watch out for what Lamont Butler is doing.

UP: What was the game plan of the team’s that were able to get past SDSU’s defense?

Cox: You’ve got to take what San Diego State is giving you. They’re one of the top teams in the nation at defending the three point line. Teams like Alabama for instance, they came into the game and they just wanted to either shoot threes or get layups. Against San Diego it’s going to be hard to win shooting a bunch of threes and layups just because they do such a good job of closing out. 

Nevada was one of the teams to give them some problems. Their point guard, Jared Lucas, just got whatever he wanted from eight to 12 feet. Those mid-range jumpshots, where you get by the first defender and instead of going all the way to the rim to attack the bigs, you stop and take the mid-range jumper. So if FAU is willing to take those, I think they’ll have some success because the last few teams have been really intent on either shooting the three or getting to the rim. That’s their strengths, that’s exactly what they want you to do. 

Prickett: Another big thing is their play late in games. SDSU has blown a few games very late, and they almost blew that game against Crieghton by throwing a turnover. If FAU can stay at it all game, keep pressing the Aztecs, they’re probably bound to choke at least once.

UP: In their game against Alabama, SDSU held Brandon Miller, a top NBA Draft prospect, to less than 10 points. What has that done for the Aztecs’ confidence?

Cox: Playing in the Mountain West,  they don’t always face elite players or elite teams. The preseason schedule for San Diego State was really difficult, they played a lot of top teams, and I think that prepared them well to go against top talent. 

In the Alabama game, I think they were just really physical with him. They threw a lot of bodies at him, and didn’t give him very many clean looks. At this point, they’re playing confident and think they can beat anyone, no matter what prospect is on the other side.

Prickett: I definitely think they’re confident. It’s Brandon Miller, so I definitely think there is some confidence boost there. Also just by beating Alabama. That was the number one team in the country at that point, so after beating them, you could only believe that you could beat every other team. 

UP: If you guys had to call it right now, how do you think the game will go?

Prickett: I’d say a really, really close game that’s probably going to be decided in the last minute, two minutes. But I’d have to go with the Aztecs making some free throws late to get the win.

Cox: I think it’s just gonna be really ugly, playing in a football stadium is going to be really interesting. The last time Houston hosted a Final Four, one of the games was super low scoring, like in the 40s and 50s. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again. San Diego State is a really good defensive team, no team has shot well against them in seemingly a month, and playing in a football stadium probably isn’t going to help that. But on the other side of that, I doubt SDSU is going to be hitting a ton of shots either. So I think it will be a really close game, and it will come down to who can get the last few stops and hit the last few shots.  

Cameron Priester is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron