4. San Diego State Aztecs (29-4, 16-2 Mountain West)-New year, new star player leading the 29-win Aztecs, who just keep rolling along under head coach Steve Fisher. He’s done a masterful job with this program. A few years ago, Kawhi Leonard was the stud forward. Last year, it was seniors Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley who led the way. This season, it’s senior guard Xavier Thames.
Thames averages 16.8 points per game and went for 26 and 27 in wins over Creighton and Marquette. San Diego State also waltzed into Lawrence Fieldhouse and ended the Jayhawks’ 68-game non-conference home winning streak. Forward Winston Shepard could be the next great Aztec, as the 6-8 sophomore averaged 12.1 points per game and was consistent every night.
As usual, the Aztecs are one of the nation’s stingiest defensive teams, giving up just 56.6 points per game, which ranks second only to Virginia. They rank near the top of the country in virtually every defensive category.
2nd Points Allowed per Game (56.6)
17th Opponent Field Goal Percentage (39.6)
4th Points Allowed per Possession (0.89)
27th Opponent Three-Point Field Goal Percentage (30.8)
13. New Mexico State Aggies (26-9, 12-4 WAC)-The Aggies are one of the must-watch teams in this NCAA Torunament, if for no other reason than 7-5, 355 pound freshman (you read that right) Sim Bhullar. He’s so big that his sneakers almost take up the entire space between the free throw line and the top of the key. Bhullar isn’t a stiff, either, as he averages 10.3 points, 7.9 boards and 3.4 blocks per game, which ranks fifth in the country.
This isn’t your older brother’s WAC, as most of the teams are new to the league. Frankly, the WAC sucks. Six of the nine teams finished under .500, and several of them finished well below that mark. New Mexico State was hammered by Arizona, 76-49, in December. They played Gonzaga well on Dec. 7, falling 80-68.
Four Aggies average in double figures in scoring, led by 6-2 junior guard Daniel Mullings at 16.8 per. Big man Tshilidzi Nephawe (he’s from South Africa) averaged 11.1 points and 7.8 boards per.
This is a team that could conceivably pull off a first-round upset. But it’s not one that’s going to go on a run to the Sweet 16. The best thing the Aggies have going for them is their ridiculous size up front, and the productivity of their big guys.
9th Field Goal Percentage (.491)
39th Points per Game (77.2)
55th Rebounds per Game (37.3)
7th Blocks per Game (6.3)
PREDICTION: San Diego State