Stephen Vilardo’s Mountain West Championship Preview

USU may have played its way off the bubble, but can erase all doubt with a win over SDSU

Posted on March 11, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

We’re down to the final two.

No. 1 San Diego State and No. 3 Utah State prevailed in the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Tournament on Friday and will play in the Championship Game today.

Here’s my preview.

1-seed San Diego State vs 3-seed Utah State

Saturday, March 11
3:00 p.m. PT, CBS

The No. 1-seed Aztecs and the No. 3-seed Aggies will meet at Thomas and Mack Center on Saturday afternoon to decide the Mountain West Championship.

The Aggies entered this tournament on the NCAA bubble. They have most likely played their way off that bubble this week, but they can erase all doubt with a win and the automatic bid for the Conference.

San Diego State swept the season series between the two teams with an 85-75 win at home and a 63-61 win in Logan. The Aggies have reached the championship game as the 3 seed with wins over New Mexico and Boise State.

The Aztecs, who knocked off Colorado State and San Jose State, will attempt to complete the double as regular-season and conference champs.

San Diego State will rely on their defense while the Aggies will look to outscore them. Utah State shot 50% in their tournament-opening win over New Mexico knocking down 12 three-pointers.

Aztecs forward Keshad Johnson vs SJSU | Derrick Tuskan/SDSU Athletics

Against Boise State, USU opened the game connecting on just one of their first nine attempts from distance. They ended the game with nine makes on 29 three-point attempts.

Utah State ranks fourth in the nation in three-point shooting at 40.05% on the season. The Aggies are scoring 35.3% of their points this season off three-point baskets, the 56th-highest rate in the nation.

San Diego State is 16th in the nation in three-point defense limiting opponents to 29.8% on shots from long range. The Aztecs are seeing 30.6% of the points scored against them coming off three-pointers.

SDSU is allowing 64.4 points per game this season, ranking 36th in the nation. The Aztecs have been even better in Vegas this week, allowing 55.0 points per game during the Mountain West Tournament.

Utah State guard Steven Ashworth vs Boise State | Scott G Winterton/Deseret News

This season San Diego State is getting an average of 3.3 more scoring chances per game than their opponents, 41st best in the country. Utah State ranks 230th in the nation getting an average of 1.1 fewer scoring chances per game than opponents.

Look for both of these teams to try and dictate the pace they want. Utah State, when hitting shots, can beat anyone. The problem, when you live by the three and die by the three…is that sometimes you die. But more often than not this season the Aggies have won.

In two games against the Aztecs this season, the Aggies have shot a combined 16-52 on three-point shots—30.7%—well below their season average.

I expect this one to be a competitive game. After all, it is the Mountain West and it is what we have come to expect.

The other thing we’ve come to expect from this league this season is the unexpected….so we’ll see what happens.

My prediction: San Diego State wins 67-64

—More from Stephen Vilardo—