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San Diego State
College Basketball Pick
Every year it seems like the Mountain West Conference gets better, this year maybe even more so. Up and coming schools like Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State have shown they will be problems for the consistently good squads of New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV. Let's just say, there isn't going to be a lot of nights off in this conference.
UNLV found that out in their last game after having to go to overtime to beat Air Force. San Diego State also needed OT to take out Colorado State while they only beat Fresno State (currently 6-9) by three points in their previous game.
This may be an early season game, but it could easily move one of these teams a seeding up or down come March. UNLV's best win of the year so far came against Iowa State. This is the same team that was ranked in the Top 25 for the entire season until their loss at New Mexico last week (they are actually still No. 23 in the USA Today polls). Their two other losses came to Oregon and at North Carolina.
You can almost say the same thing about San Diego State except their losses are against much more respectable teams, losing to Syracuse on an aircraft carrier and Arizona in Hawaii. Their best wins came against UCLA and Indiana State. While they are currently ranked No. 15, they are by no means a lock to win the MWC.
Even though the Aztecs have the advantage of playing at home, this will no doubt be a close game. UNLV's best player and freshman, Anthony Bennett, will be the difference maker as long as he stays out of foul trouble. At 6'8" and 240 pounds, not only can he play down low, but he's also efficient behind the arc currently hitting 41% of his threes. SDSU already lacks size and will have problems with Bennett like most other teams. He's averaging 19.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Aztecs best player, Jamaal Franklin, the one marking up Bennett even at 6'5".
While he may be a little shorter, Franklin makes up for his size with athleticism and that's why he's averaging 17.8 points, 10.3 boards and 3.5 assists per game, leading the Aztecs in all three categories. Franklin and Bennett will be the main focus for each of these teams, but you can't forget about everyone else.
The Rebels have two other big guys in Mike Moser and Khem Birch who are both averaging over six rebounds per game. They are a Top 10 rebounding team in the nation for a reason. Moser has been in and out of the lineup this year due to injury, but played 40 minutes in their last game and should be a big factor against the Aztecs. Senior point guard Anthony Marshall has taken a step back in the scoring department, but that's only because he's passing the ball more with six assists per game. He and Katin Reinhardt are a solid duo in the backcourt. In addition to those guys, you still have Bryce Dejean-Johnson coming off the bench who can score on anyone. He put in 18 points in just 22 minutes last game.
Franklin may get most of the attention at SDSU, but Chase Tapley also deserves a ton of recognition. He's scoring 15 points and hits 2.5 threes per game. This one-two punch is a problem for anyone on the defensive end. Franklin can drive the ball, get attention, and dish it out to Tapley the sharpshooter. Xavier Thames is their next biggest scorer on the wing, but the more important players might be JJ O'Brien and Deshawn Stephens. While neither is great offensively, they both have the size to deal with the UNLV bigs.
On a neutral court, there's not much to separate these schools, but in San Diego the advantage goes to the Aztecs. Just the same, our model predicts a 66-66 tie. Couple that with UNLV coming within 5 at New Mexico and within 6 at North Carolina and we're willing to take any points available in this spot with the Rebels. (no line posted as of this writing). UNLV +
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