No. 5 San Diego State’s offense struggles in stunning upset loss to Wyoming
San Diego State is no longer undefeated in the Mountain West Conference. And in the process of a stunning 68-62 loss to Wyoming on Tuesday night, the Aztecs’ fatal flaw bubbled to the surface.
Despite a strength of schedule that ranks 96th in the country, there’s no doubt that the Aztecs feature one of the nation’s best defenses. They’re ranked ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency on kenpom.com and hold opponents to 42 percent on two-point attempts, 10th-best in the nation. They held Kansas to 57 points when they beat the Jayhawks in early January, one of just two times this year they failed to reach the 60-point plateau.
The Aztecs’ issues on the other side of the ball, however, may end up costing them in March. They’ve managed to score at least 80 points just once against a Division I opponent this year, an 86-80 win over Creighton. The Bluejays, of course, are not exactly known for their defensive prowess, as they rank 55th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
San Diego State had trouble scoring once again on Tuesday night at Wyoming. The Aztecs shot just 39.3 percent from the floor, 26.3 percent from three and 59.1 percent from the free throw line. Star point guard Xavier Thames had a dreadful night, going 3-of-16 from the floor and missing all eight of his attempts from behind the arc. San Diego State has enough trouble scoring when Thames is getting his usual 18.1 points per night. When he struggles offensively, it’s nearly impossible for the Aztecs to win.
Given their weak schedule, the strength of the Aztecs’ resume came in two places. First, they’re 2-1 against elite competition, defeating Kansas and Creighton and losing to Arizona. While that remains intact, they now have a bad loss to their name (Wyoming is 104th in RPI).
Given all the depth at the top of the bracket, the Aztecs may have dropped to a No. 3 seed at best in the NCAA tournament. Right now, the pool of potential No. 1 and No. 2 seeds includes Syracuse, Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Kansas, Villanova, Michigan State, Duke, Michigan, Creighton, Iowa State and Cincinnati, with teams like Kentucky, Louisville, Virginia and Wisconsin all within striking distance. Even if you take just that first group of 12 teams, it may be hard for the selection committee to justify giving one of the top eight seeds to a team with a strength of schedule pushing triple-digits and a loss to Wyoming on its resume.
But the Aztecs can’t worry about that now. After losing to Wyoming on Tuesday night, their Feb. 22 game with New Mexico takes on added importance. The Lobos are just a half-game behind the Aztecs in the Mountain West standings.