Instead of preparing to play my personal NCAA Tournament pick Florida in the Sweet 16 tonight, the 2012-13 San Diego State Aztecs will forever be known as the first team to ever lose to a No. 15 seed in the round of 32.
Of course, the Georgetown Hoyas would tell you that Florida Gulf Coast is no usual No. 15 seed, yet that will be the postscript on an up-and-down Aztecs season that saw them finish fourth in the Mountain West Conference, lose to New Mexico (speaking of tournament upsets…) in the MWC tourney semifinals before beating Oklahoma in the first to set up the FGCU upset.
With the help of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistical report on SDSU, I’m going to delve deeper into the numbers of this Aztecs season.
SDSU played superb defense all year long, finishing 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by yielding 89.6 points per 100 possessions. They say defense wins championships, and this year in college basketball many of the top teams boasted elite defenses. Every school in the top 10 of this category earned a No. 4 seed or better aside from No. 5 Wisconsin and woefully underseeded No. 12 Oregon, who gave up an extra bucket every 100 trips down than the Aztecs.
That’s how close this defense was from being truly special and giving SDSU the kind of seed that could set itself up for a Sweet 16 run (well, aside from the whole losing to a 15 seed thing). No. 1 Lousville has the best defense in the country by a good measure, so it’s no surprise they are many people’s favorites to win it all.
The Aztecs allowed opponents to shoot a 44.7 effective field goal percentage (32nd), a 31.8 three-point percentage (68th) and a 43.3 two-point percentage (36th). They grabbed 72.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds (38th) and struggled only with forcing turnovers, ranking No. 271 after forcing giveaways just 18.2 percent of the time.
The SDSU offense recorded an adjusted efficiency of 106.3 points per 100 possessions to rank 81st nationally. That put them between East Carolina and Purdue nationally, and Memphis and UNLV were the only teams with better seeds and a worse offense than the Aztecs. By contrast, Indiana led the nation by scoring an adjusted 121.1 points per 100 possessions, yet that didn’t matter last night against Syracuse’s zone.
The Aztecs shot three-pointers 26.2 percent of the time, two-pointers 53.7 percent of the time and free throws 20.1 percent of the time. Their opponents show an identical number of two-pointers but slightly more treys than freebies.
Steve Fisher went to his thin bench for 31.1 percent of the year’s minutes, and the squad averaged 1.86 years of experience. His team ended up playing the 36th most difficult schedule in the land thanks to non-conference toughies against Syracuse (No. 9 in Pomeroy’s rankings), Arizona (No. 15) and UCLA (No. 49).
The No. 36 Aztecs’ 55-34 thrashing of No. 26 New Mexico on Jan. 26 stands out as the biggest victory of the season yet there were far too many inconsistent efforts during conference play following a 12-2 non-conference start with losses to the mighty Orangemen and Wildcats (by one point on a Nick Johnson last-second block to boot in the latter case). The 58-45 road loss to No. 123 Wyoming stands out as the worst defeat a week before taking down the Lobos although it has competition from the 70-67 loss at Air Force the game after New Mexico.
As far as the players go, Jamaal Franklin provided elite defensive rebounding by pulling down a defensive board on 26.3 percent of such opportunities while he was on the floor, and he ranked 44th nationally by drawing 6.3 fouls every 40 minutes. James Rahon never turned the ball over, ranking fifth nationally by giving it up on just 7.6 percent of his possessions.
Franklin made 49.0 percent of his twos but only 28.0 percent of his threes. He either needs to spend the entire summer in the gym working on that shot or just focus on what he’s good at. Since he’s going to need that shot at the next level, I would recommend that he comes back for his season season.
Chase Tapley produced the team’s best offensive rating, as the squad scored 113.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor compared to 102.8 with Franklin and just 85.6 with Winston Shepard. Franklin took 26.7 percent of the shots when he was on the floor and Tapley attempted 26.5 percent, slightly down from last year for both studs.
The Aztecs were much better defensively than last season when they yielded 94.7 points per 100 to rank 54th and their offense was slightly better as well, up about a point per 100 possessions and 13 spots in the rankings. Of course, last season was a huge step back from the special Kawhi Leonard season of 2011 when they ranked third nationally in defense and 26th offensively.
In the end, the Aztecs ran into the best story of the tournament and could not muster up enough offense when Gulf Coast went on its patented second-half run. Still, this season should be remembered as a quality one, particularly on the defensive end.
Lackritz in Forbes
SMBA’s very own statistics professor Jim Lackritz was featured in a Forbes article questioning if a Cinderella team will make the Final Four, which is kind of funny in a sick way since the biggest Cinderella of them all knocked out Lackritz’s beloved Aztecs. In this article posted before the Sweet 16, Lackritz projected that there’s only a 30-40 percent chance of a Cinderella (six seed or worse) reaching the Final Four.