2018 NCAA Tournament West Region Preview: No. 6 Houston vs No. 11 SDSU

West Region First Round: 6 Houston Cougars vs. 11 San Diego State Aztecs

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Location: Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita, Kansas

Time: 7:20 PM ET

TV: TBS

The Ides of March are upon us, and who will be the first victim claimed? On paper, it would seem that this is a great bowl game waiting to be played, however, it is hoops season that gets to stake its claim into this matchup…and we are grateful for it.

On one hand, you have the Houston Cougars, ranked 21st in the country and been nearly dominant…except when they haven’t.  With losses to Drexel and Tulane (and even losses to Memphis and LSU), one can wonder why the Cougars are even ranked, and then realize that’s a silly thought because the American is practically a power conference in hoops.

On the other hand, everyone thought the Aztecs were down and out by mid-February.  SDSU lost to Nevada by 25-points and everyone had pretty much written them off.  Yet, a 10-point win against Wyoming is all they needed to turn the season around and rattle off a 9-game win streak, dominating Boise State and Nevada (twice) to finish the season with the conference crown. Did I mention that Malik Pope sat one of those games because of the FBI probe?  The whole cliche about “getting hot at the right time” is horribly overblown, but for SDSU, I’ll make an exception.  This looks like the team that the MWC feared under Steve Fisher.

What to watch for in Houston:

Rob Gray is an absolute beast, scoring 18.5 PPG and 4.5 APG.  The senior has taken a step back in points since last year, however has become more of a team leader, trusting those around him to score, and that is what has led to the increase in assists.  Normally a star player keeps, however Gray realizes when he doesn’t have the hot hand of the night, and gives to those who do.  Where Houston could get into trouble is if they get into a free throw battle, the team is only averaging 71.7%.

What to watch for in San Diego State:

The Aztecs play as a team and fall as a team.  When Pope is your leading scorer at 12.9 PPG and there are five total players above 10 PPG, the immediate thought is “Oh shit, how is this team not getting blown out?”  And yet, this team averages 77.5 PPG which means that somebody is always picking up slack.  The big question here would be: can the momentum be enough to carry the Aztecs?

Prediction:

Houston might have the better RPI and statistically might be *this much* better, but it’s hard to discount the Aztecs in this game and the upset should be on.  Trey Kell provides the first buzzer beater of the post-season. SDSU 75, Houston 74

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