San Diego State Aztecs
Overall Rank: #86
Conference Rank: #4 Mountain West
2010-11: 34-3, 14-2
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Steve Fisher (232-152 at San Diego State, 416-234 overall)
Everything came together nicely last year for San Diego State to make an NCAA Tournament run. The expectations started high and the Aztecs lived up to them, reaching the Sweet Sixteen before falling to eventual National Champions Connecticut. The expectations are a lot lower this year, but this is not a team that is going to fall off the map. There is just a little rebuilding to be done and Coach Steve Fisher nabbed some newcomers who are ready to replace the vast amounts of talent the team lost.
Kawhi Leonard is the obvious big name that is departing Montezuma Mesa. He split early after averaging 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds during the Aztecs 34-3 campaign. However, he is not the only loss. This team would still be good without Leonard, but they also lose starters Malcolm Thomas, Billy White and D.J. Gay, all who averaged at least ten points per contest. Thomas and White were the big guys in the paint who opened up space for Leonard. Gay was the efficient point guard who dished out 3.1 assists per game and averaged a mere 1.3 turnovers. Mehdi Cheriet, who saw limited action in 2010-2011, has also run out of eligibility and with a very limited amount of players returning, the Aztecs could use every body they can get.
Looking for a great group of incoming freshmen? You are looking in the wrong place. Coach Fisher has added, thus far, just three new faces to the team and all have major college experience. Garrett Green is the big name. The 6-11 senior will be immediately eligible after graduating from LSU with a year of eligibility remaining. For the Tigers last season he averaged 6.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in a reserve role. Due to a lack of other options, he will not be in a reserve role for the Aztecs. Deshawn Stephens, a junior college transfer, will be asked to play plenty of minutes as well. His experience is very nice for a frontcourt that returns very few experienced players. The backcourt gains Xavier Thames, a transfer from Washington State. Two years ago as a freshman Thames averaged 4.6 points and 1.5 rebounds for the Cougars and should be able to step into a larger role sooner or later for San Diego State.
Who to Watch:
Chase Tapley and James Rahon, the fifth and sixth leading scorers from last year, give the Aztecs a nice duo in the backcourt to work with. The problem is neither are really point guards. Tapley, a 6-2 junior, is mostly a shooter, but he did develop a better all-around game last season as San Diego State’s fifth starter. He is the likely candidate to spend some time at the point if necessary. Rahon has the size to play on the wing, but most of his shots came from long range. He will need to start using his 6-5 frame to attack the basket and, more importantly, hit the glass. Otherwise this is going to be a very undersized team at times. LaBradford Franklin did not see much action during his freshman campaign, but he is the one player who could turn into the point guard this team needs. Whether he starts or not, he will need to at least be a capable backup point guard. Jamaal Franklin should see some playing time off of the bench on the wings again this year.
It is possible the frontcourt will return practically nobody. Tim Shelton is a talented forward, but he has not been able to stay healthy. He played in 31 games last year, but averaged a mere 1.6 points and 1.5 rebounds. He has all the tools and experience to be a fine power forward, but his minutes will likely be cut into by the new guys pretty quickly. Getting Brian Carlwell back for a sixth year would be very beneficial. He is not much of a scorer, but he is great on the glass and would be the team’s best shot blocking threat. At the least he would provide another big body. However, his status is still up in the air. This is a team that may have to play small at times, but the forwards are generally good athletes who can get up and down the floor, so that may not be a huge problem. Either way, this is not a Sweet Sixteen team, but they may not drop as far as many would expect after losing their top four scorers.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Chase Tapley, Junior, Guard, 8.6 points per game
Xavier Thames, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
James Rahon, Junior, Guard, 7.0 points per game
Tim Shelton, Senior, Forward, 1.6 points per game
Garrett Green, Senior, Forward, DNP last season
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