Posted on March 25, 2023
Having reached their first Elite Eight in program history, the Aztecs have put themselves one step away from the Final Four.
While not expected, San Diego State’s surprise run has not come completely out of nowhere. But the fact that they will be wearing the home whites with a trip to Houston on the line just might be.
The fifth-seeded Aztecs face the sixth-seeded Creighton today in the Regional Final in what will be the Bluejays’ second tour among the final eight teams.
I preview the matchup here and my game pick appears at the bottom.
5-seed San Diego State vs. 6-seed Creighton
Sunday, March 26
11:20 am PT, CBS
The Aztecs are 12-1 this season when both Trammell and Seiko connect on at least one three-pointer.
Creighton does not match Alabama’s size across the front line, but they do have a big-time defender in the middle in Ryan Kalkbrenner, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
The 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner ranks 17th in the nation with 2.16 blocked shots per game and 18th in the country with 1.15 blocked shots per foul committed.
As a team, the Jays do not commit many fouls, ranking second in the nation with a foul on just 18.6% of possessions. As you’d expect, just 13.3% of the points scored against Creighton have come from the FT line.
San Diego State has seen 5.2% of their shot attempts get blocked this season, ranking 130th.
Offensively, the Jays can get scoring from a number of sources, as all five starters average in double figures with Kalkbrenner leading the way.
Ryan Nembhard (brother of former Gonzaga star Andrew) and Baylor Scheierman can both heat up and cause problems from the guard spot.
This season, San Diego State has averaged 2.9 more scoring chances per game than their opponents, ranking 48th in the nation. That could end up being a huge advantage for the Aztecs.
Creighton is on the other side of that number at -2.1 per game. Against Princeton on Friday night the Tigers had seven more scoring chances than CU and, in the Tournament, the Bluejays are at -5.7 per game.
Outside of Kalkbrenner the Jays don’t have much size down low. If the Aztecs can use their physicality inside they could cause problems for him and Creighton.
Nathan Mensah is a two-time Mountain West player of the year and he should be able to harass the CU big man on that end of the floor. If he can, then it could get him out of his game when SDSU has the ball.
Jaedon LeDee could come up big off the bench for the Aztecs. Against Alabama, he scored 12 points in just over 17 minutes of play. A repeat performance could once again work in SDSU’s favor.
San Diego State will need Matt Bradley to be productive on the offensive side of the ball and stay out of foul trouble. And again, connecting on three-pointers will be huge.
The Aztecs were able to connect on 35.3% against an Alabama team that was second in the nation against the three. Creighton ranks 130th against shots from distance.
Ironically, San Diego State’s season ended last year in the NCAA Tournament’s first round at the hands of this very Creighton squad in a 72-69 loss.
This time, San Diego State’s depth and defense could flip that script and keep the dance going for another week.
Stephen Vilardo’s Game Pick
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