The North Dakota State University men’s basketball team has had the last couple days to enjoy all the national attention. But, now, it is back to business and the business at hand is San Diego State University out of the Mountain West Conference.
The Aztecs come in with a 30-4 record overall and a reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the nation. This claim is not without merit as SDSU is second in the nation in scoring defense, only allowing 57 points per game.
Only twice this season have the Aztecs allowed 70 or more points in a game. They ended up winning both of those games. It is safe to say points will come at a premium for the Bison.
How will NDSU find a way to win? Will the defense of the Aztecs be too much for the Bison to handle?
Why NDSU Will Beat SDSU
NDSU will turn the ball over nine times or less in this game. I’m not one for basketball clichés. “Shoot the ball well. Make a good pass. Play smart. Don’t turn the ball over.” Those things, at this point, go without saying. However, when I think of this game, turnovers are going to be huge.
Against Oklahoma University, the Bison turned the ball over 15 times. While not an ideal number, it still was okay because possessions were not at a premium. The Sooners had no qualms shooting the ball early in the shot clock and shooting from the outside. That means more possessions for teams, meaning turnovers are a little easier to stomach. This will not be the case against SDSU.
They want things to slow down, rely on their defense and make you work for every basket. SDSU is comfortable with a three or five point lead because they make the opponents feel like that is a 10 point lead. If NDSU wants maximizes their possessions, they have to avoid empty ones by hanging on to the ball.
The Aztecs force 14 turnovers a game and the Bison commit about 10 a game. NDSU will need to commit nine or less turnovers in order to win this game. If they are able to do this, I see the Bison pulling off the upset.
Why SDSU Will Beat NDSU
If the referees allow the Aztecs to be as physical as they want, SDSU will win this game. The Aztecs look at the part of the floor outside of the three point line as hot lava. They don’t touch it on offense. They want to go down low and out muscle you on the boards and in the paint.
This is the same on defense. They are going to be aggressive, right in your face and make you know what they had for lunch…yesterday. If they are allowed to but their hands on the perimeter defenders and body up down low on defense, it is going to be tough for NDSU to last all forty minutes.
NDSU is not a soft team by any means, but trying to go forty minutes against a team that wants to bare knuckle box you is draining physically. SDSU wants to wear you down so that by the seven minute mark of the second half, you are spent.
This is very dependent on the referees because if they allow the Aztecs to be as physical as they want, it will be a long night for the Bison. It isn’t as if the Aztecs play dirty defense. They average 16.6 fouls per game, 22nd lowest per game amount in the nation. If they are allowed to play their style of physical defense, they will beat NDSU.
Prediction: SDSU 55 NDSU 51
Going back to the referees allowing them to play their style of defense, it is always an unknown going into these tournament games. For the most part, the refs will let teams play. They don’t want to be a storyline the next day. However, you can sometimes get refs like the ones for the Oklahoma State vs. Gonzaga game. Those two teams combined for 60 team fouls.
If these refs want this game to be a slow down, grind it out type of game, they will allow SDSU to dictate the physicality. If they want to call it close, that will benefit NDSU. I just don’t think they will do that. They know what to expect from SDSU and SDSU is so athletic, they can play great defense without fouling.
Because of that, I think SDSU will just outlast NDSU. This game is not going to be pretty. It is going to be ugly. There may be a couple runs here and there but I would be shocked to see either team post a 10-0 run at any point. It will be close throughout and free throws down the stretch will be huge.
If you think back to OU, the Sooners should have closed out NDSU in the final seconds at the free throw line, but went 2-4 down the stretch and allowed NDSU’s Lawrence Alexander to hit a game tying three. Just a note, NDSU is one of the top 15 best free throw shooting teams in the nation, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. SDSU is ranked 301 out of 345 Division I teams from the line, shooting 65.7 percent.
Just something to remember as this game grows tighter down the stretch. Unfortunately for Bison fans, I still see SDSU pulling this one out.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.