This Friday evening around 9:40 PM on CBS, St. John's takes the court in Charlotte, NC, for their first NCAA Tournament game in four years - and looking to win a game in the Tourney for the first time since 2000, where #2 seeded St. John's fended off Dan McClintock and Northern Arizona in the first round, only to fall to then-upset specialists Gonzaga in the second round.
St. John's also played in 2002, losing in the first round as a #9 seed to Wisconsin.
History aside, St. John's takes on San Diego State Aztecs, an extremely tall and slow-paced team with some excellent athletes. To get to know SDSU a little better, we did questions exchanges with SB Nation's Mountain West Connection and with San Diego Sports Domination. Our responses to their questions are here:
Thanks to Jeremy Mauss of SB Nation's Mountain West Connection [on Twitter] and David Frerker of San Diego Sports Domination [on Twitter] for their time and responses - read, comment, give them a follow on Twitter! Now, let's talk about the Aztecs' height, the rehabilitation of Steve Fisher's image from his Fab Five days with Michigan, why they strugglke to score and what it takes to stop San Diego State.
Rumble: San Diego State is really tall at almost all positions. Tell us about that height - and how that size is a strength or weakness.
Jeremy, Mountain West Connection: Their size, and athleticism, is a huge strength on defense as nearly any player is within reach on a driving player. That is very evident in the Mountain West title game when Wyoming elected to settle for the three and deep jumpers instead of attacking the rim like they did the night before. There always seems to be many defensive plays where a ball gets tipped, blocked or knocked away because of that length.
I guess the only weakness of that is that these lengthy players can over commit and feel they can either make a play or make it back to who they are guarding and that can lead to an easy bucket for the other team.
David Frerker, San Diego Sports Domination: San Diego State has a monster starting line up (6-3, 6-7, 6-8, 6-7 and 6-10). The strength of the Aztecs team is rebounding and shot blocking. Those are definitely some strengths that come with height and make it easier for SDSU to go coast to coast. The only weakness I would say would be the weight of the players. These Aztec forwards have tons of speed and athleticism.
They run into problems when they play teams with bulky bigs who can move them off the ball. The Aztecs have problems against teams with real centers.
Rumble: What kind of teams does SDSU struggle with? Are they susceptible to teams with small, quick guards?
David, SDSD: San Diego State struggles with teams that shoot 3-pointers. Two of our losses this season came against Boise State who has two quick guards.
Those guards beat San Diego State because they caught fire from the three point line. That forced the weak SDSU offense to start shooting 3-pointers in an attempt to play catch up and shooting threes are not part of SDSU’s game.
The best way to beat SDSU is to get us to play from behind. To beat SDSU you need to come out shooting on fire. The Aztecs will try to slow the game down and that is how they will beat you.
Jeremy, MWC: Fast teams can be an issue with the size that San Diego State likes to use. There are players like Winston Shepard who can keep up with quick guards, but the small lineup that drives can get San Diego State into foul trouble due to the over aggressiveness of how San Diego State plays defense.
Teams that shoot well and score a lot of points is another way to stop San Diego State. The Aztecs really want a low scoring and low possession game.
If St. John's is able to push the tempo and get hot from the field that is a way to beat San Diego State. Shooting extremely well is not really that necessary but scoring a lot of points will do the trick, because San Diego State has trouble keeping up in those type of games.
Rumble: What makes the SDSU defense so effective?
David: The SDSU defense is very effective on defense and that is due to the depth of our team. SDSU is able to rotate in five new players every five to six minutes. SDSU’s athletes are tall lengthy players who like to attack the rim. The Aztecs are a good rebounding and shot blocking team. If you want to score on SDSU you have to take the ball to the hoop. The Aztecs guard the hoop like their lives depend on it. All of the players know they need to play lockdown defense or they will not get playing time. The Aztecs love to playing man to man but have also been known to run the 1-3-1 zone staring St. Johns transfer Dwayne Polee II.
Rumble: How has Steve Fisher and his reputation been transformed by being at SDSU?
Jeremy: It has been amazing. Prior to Fisher arriving the Aztec basketball program was just awful. Attendance was down the arena was very old and very little excitement about the program.
In just three years in he led the Aztecs to a NCAA tournament berth and won 21 games. He has had just two losing seasons since he took over for the 1999-2000 season. The team is going to their sixth straight NCAA tournament and eighth since he took over.
Winning can erase a lot of things that Fisher was associated with at Michigan and Ed Martin, and it pretty much has.
David: When Steve Fisher travels the country people don’t recognize him from his time at Michigan, they recognize him from his time at San Diego State. When Fisher first came to SDSU he did not win a conference game and he used to have to walk around SDSU giving away free tickets to men's basketball games.
That has changed with the student body "The Show" getting into basketball and the recruits that Fisher has brought to SDSU. SDSU has sold out every home game for the last three years and now has a waiting list to get season tickets. The Aztecs have become a power on the west coast and the best team in California.
Steve Fisher is loved by all of San Diego and has led San Diego State to our 6th straight NCAA Tournament.
Rumble: Why is offense such a struggle for the Aztecs?
David: The Aztecs are built on defense. Now don’t get me wrong. The Aztecs are capable of scoring 70+ points if they have to and have done seven times this season. SDSU has Aqeel Quinn, Winston Shepard and JJ O’Brien who are all capable of scoring 15 plus points a person however this does not happen much.
The Aztecs are a very streaky team offensively and are not always clicking. Every player in the country has off games and this happens to multiple players every week for SDSU. We have had times when the SDSU bench has outscored our starting lineup. The Aztecs have more firepower on the bench then they do in the starting lineup.
Jeremy: For one they are very selective on their shots and that can have the perception their offense isn't that good, but overall it is not great. They miss open layups and easy buckets all too often, and the reasoning is baffling. Their outside shooting is just bad and even when they are presented with open shots, and they just struggle from the outside.
Another reason the offense struggles is because of the lack of ball movement and passing within the offense. San Diego State is at the bottom of the NCAA in assists per game. Once a player gets the ball there are very few passes to find an open player, or even a simple drive and kick out. In short, they are streaky but they want to keep the game in the 60s at most.
Rumble: How well do the fans travel for away games?
Jeremy: The Show is the Aztecs student section and they travel quite well, but with this game being played across the country in Charlotte there probably will be a smattering of San Diego State fans at this game. However, they will be extremely loud for what fans are in attendance.
David: San Diego State fans travel well on the west coast and ok on the east coast. We have fans who bought plane flights and hotels before the tournament brackets were set. Our student section travels very well. We also have tons of SDSU alumni living on the east coast and they will travel to see the Aztecs play. We do expect that St. Johns will out number the Aztecs fans but they most likely will not be as loud.
Jeremy: San Diego State needs one player to step up and have a big game, and that can vary from J.J. O'Brien, Winston Shepard, Aqeel Quinn or another player. The offense does spread out their scoring but after a Mountain West title game where the scoring was inconsistent at best one of these players will want to have a big game.
The defense will likely be the difference and my prediction is San Diego State winning a low scoring game and by about five points.
David: If I had to make a prediction I would say SDSU wins this game. As you know they all say that defense wins championships. I believe St. Johns will have major problems with the height of the Aztec squad especially with your center suspended for two weeks. The Aztec starting five should be three inches taller than the five guards who St. Johns are starting.
I believe the Aztecs start fast out of the gate and win this game by 10 points 55 to 45.