Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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San Diego State Aztecs (Last Year: 26-8, 10-4 in MWC)
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
F/C:Deshawn Stephens (Sr)/Skylar Spencer (Fr)/James Johnson (So)
F: J.J. O'Brien (So)/Dwayne Polee (So)
G/F: Jamaal Franklin (Jr)/Winston Shepard (Fr)/Matt Shrigley (Fr)
SG: Chase Tapley (Sr)/James Rahon (Sr)
PG: Xavier Thames (Jr)LaBradford Franklin (Jr)
F/C-Garrett Green, F/C-Tim Shelton, F/C-Alec Williams (transfer-Humboldt State)
San Diego State played its first game of the season the other day, and the Aztecs didn't look sharp at all. Some of that has to be credited to their opponent and it's hard to say how much the conditions of playing outdoors factored into their subpar play as well. Still, I think San Diego State will be a top-10-caliber team by the time March Madness rolls around.
Long and athletic; that is going to be the first thing that pops to mind when you watch the Aztecs play this season. They don't have a true center on their roster and will instead utilize that length and athleticism to cause problems defensively and get out in transition as much as possible.
Jamaal Franklin made a huge leap last season to earn Mountain West Player of the Year. He is a talented all-around scorer but also led San Diego State with almost eight rebounds per game in 2011. Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames also return to form a very experienced starting backcourt. Tapley is the team's top three-point threat and unquestioned leader, while Thames is the best distributor on the roster.
James Rahon goes from a starting role to coming off the bench with LaBradford Franklin providing Steve Fisher with more experience in the backcourt. Freshman Winston Shepherd is a versatile wing who can play a number of positions and figures to be a key cog off the bench. Matt Shrigley will be the odd man out of the rotation.
Deshawn Stevens is the only returning forward but the addition of transfers J.J. O'Brien and Dwayne Polee will help replace three role-players gone from last year's team. There isn't a whole lot of physicality among the group, but a ton of that length and athleticism that has been a staple for the Aztecs the past few seasons. A third transfer, James Johnson from Virginia, becomes eligible after the first semester and does bring a little more physicality to the floor. Freshman Skylar Spencer will be used in spot situation in the meantime but that could dwindle when Johnson is able to play.
Fisher will be able to mix and match his lineup with numerous different combinations since there is so much athleticism and versatility on this roster. San Diego's defense will be able to pressure opponents with fury and force turnovers, which should lead to transition buckets. What will make the difference between a solid season and potentially special year will be the Aztecs' lack of physicality inside and how well they can shoot the ball in the half-court if their fast-break opportunities are limited.
Player to Watch: Jamaal Franklin, G/F
The addition of guys like O'Brien, Shepard, and Polee should help take some of the scoring load off Franklin and the backcourt. What helps make Franklin such a threat is that he can score from just about anywhere on the floor. He does tend to force the issue a bit too much and showing better shot selection/decision making will help him be even more dangerous this season.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/11 vs. Syracuse (on deck of USS Midway Museum)
11/25 at USC
12/1 vs. UCLA (Wooden Classic in Anaheim)
12/22 vs. San Francisco (Diamond Head Classic)
12/23 vs. Ole Miss/Indiana State (Diamond Head Classic)
12/25 vs. Arizona/East Tennessee State/Miami, FL/Hawaii (Diamond Head Classic)
Predicted MWC Finish: 2nd
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