With a Mountain West Conference championship clinched, No. 4 San Diego State begins its final stretch of the regular season on Sunday at Boise State.
The Aztecs (25-0, 14-0 Mountain West) overwhelmed New Mexico in the second half of an 82-59 rout on Tuesday, remaining the nation’s sole undefeated team.
The win, coupled with Utah State’s victory over Colorado State earlier in the night, locked up an outright regular-season conference title for San Diego State — its first since the 2015-16 season — and the No. 1 seed in next month’s Mountain West tournament.
“The hardest thing in basketball, obviously other than winning the Final Four, is winning a regular-season conference title because you have to do it over the whole season,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said in his postgame press conference. “And to have the title outright already with four games to play is an incredible accomplishment.”
San Diego State has plenty of motivation to avoid a letdown with one goal already reached, however. The Aztecs were projected as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in the midseason top 16 reveal on Feb. 8.
But with an overall strength of schedule of No. 119, per KenPom.com, San Diego State’s margin for error in reaching a No. 1 seed is narrow — if not nonexistent.
The upcoming stretch might be the Aztecs’ most difficult in Mountain West play, pitting them against three opponents ranked in the top 100 of the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Boise State (17-9, 9-5) is one of four teams vying for the No. 2 spot in the Mountain West tournament, tied for second in the loss column with Utah State, Nevada and Colorado State. San Diego State faces the Rams and the Wolf Pack in their last two regular-season contests.
The Broncos have a NET ranking of No. 89 after beating Air Force 74-57 on Tuesday. A 44-34 second half sealed Boise State’s win.
“You saw the ball move in the second half, and that’s why we made shots,” Broncos coach Leon Rice said in his postgame press conference. “It’s pretty simple. And when we get shots for each other, move the ball like that, we’re hard to guard.”
On the season, Boise State is ranked No. 81 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The Broncos’ 53.4 percent shooting from inside the 3-point arc was 54th best in the country through Thursday’s games, as they are among the nation’s top 25 in both free throws made and attempted.
In an 83-65 loss at San Diego State on Jan. 11, however, Boise State committed 18 turnovers to the Aztecs’ nine. The Broncos shot 60.7 percent from 2-point range, but their 6-of-20 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc, compared to 9-of-19 for San Diego State, was a difference-maker.
Such as been the theme for San Diego State in its perfect run thus far. The Aztecs are one of college basketball’s best 3-point shooting teams at 38.7 percent. Leading scorer Malachi Flynn has made 54 3-pointers, matching backcourt mate Jordan Schakel for the team high.
Schakel is shooting 43.9 percent from deep, joining Matt Mitchell as Aztecs north of the 40 percent mark.
Although Mitchell did not make a 3-pointer in the Tuesday win, his 22 points pushed him past Kawhi Leonard on the program’s all-time career scoring list.
–Field Level Media