Aztecs vs. Lobos: What To Watch For

SDSU and New Mexico Meet For MWC Title

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    SAN DIEGO, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Winston Shepard #13, Josh Davis #22 and Xavier Thames #2 of the San Diego State Aztecs lead their team back onto the court after a time-out in the first half of the game against the Air Force Falcons at the Viejas Arena on February 15, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

    For $150, you can buy one San Diego State Men's Basketball season ticket for the 2014-2015 campaign, in one of the last five rows of Viejas Arena. That's about 16 games-worth, just under $10 a game, which is an awfully good deal.

    Or, for $143, you can buy one ticket for Saturday night's season finale against New Mexico, in the tippy-top row of Viejas Arena.

    Unless you know some people I don't know (and if so, an introduction is needed), that's the lowest price you're going to find online for what amounts to the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.

    The Aztecs have become the hottest ticket in town. When you look at the recent history of this rivalry, it's easy to see why. We're dealing with two extremely successful programs here.

    SDSU and UNM are locked at 15-2 in conference play. The Aztecs and Lobos have combined to win the last eight regular season and conference tournament titles. They've split the last 10 meetings 5-5. Nine of the last 10 games they've played at Viejas Arena have been decided by 10 points or less (the outlier came last year, when the Aztecs crushed the Lobos 55-34).

    What I'm saying is, these teams are talented, streaking, and not exactly best friends. This game is going to be fun, right Steve Fisher?

    "It’s fitting the two best teams are playing where one will win the conference championship, and that’s what we’ve got," said the Aztecs head coach, who is trying to get his eighth MWC title with SDSU. "We’ve got the two best teams in the league over an 18-game schedule, which is as taxing as it could be in all sorts of environments, home and away with injury and all sorts of things that factor into a long season. They’re good in a lot of things, and so are we. I think the atmosphere will be sensational as usual, and we’re playing for the conference crown."

    All that's missing after that statement is a microphone to descent to the floor, Mills Lane to step to center court, grab said mic and yell, "LET'S GET IT ON!"

    During the NFL season we do a little Chargers game preview talking about the main things to look for. With a college hoops game of this magnitude, let's do the same thing! Here are the three Aztecs keys to Saturday night's showdown.

    Join The 40-40 Club:

    The magic number for the Aztecs is 40, and not just because of Lent. When SDSU shoots better than 40 percent from the floor, they win (11-0 this year). When SDSU keeps the opponent under 40 percent shooting, they win (17-0 this year). If both of those things happen, the Aztecs are borderline superheroes. They've won 32 straight games when they shoot a higher percentage than their opponent. Think of it as a benchmark, a tangible example of the old "play good defense and shoot the ball well" approach.

    Get The Lead Early:

    You probably know by now the stat about the Aztecs winning 115 games in a row when they lead with 5:00 left to play. But, did you know they're also pretty good protecting a halftime lead? This season San Diego State is 21-0 when leading at the break, but just 4-3 when down at intermission (they're 1-0 after a halftime tie). Under Steve Fisher, SDSU is 235-42 when they have a halftime lead, but just 57-127 when they're behind. So, a solid first half against New Mexico will go a long way to securing a win for the home team.

    Be Charitable:

    A common nickname for basketball's free throw line is the Charity Stripe. The Aztecs might be able to file a 501(c) this year. They've been to the Charity Stripe an awful lot. SDSU has made more free throws than their opponents have taken this season. In games where they shoot more free throws than the other team, the Aztecs are 21-1. When they foul the other team more than they get fouled, they're 4-2. Remember, in their last game against the Lobos, SDSU did not make a single foul shot. Had they even made their season average, they'd have won that game by three.

    Derek's Prediction:

    New Mexico has been the most underrated team in the nation pretty much all season. The Lobos are the last team to beat the Aztecs, a demolition at The Pit just a couple weeks ago. UNM is coming in to Viejas Arena with a boatload of confidence and the kind of interior size that can give (and has given) the Aztecs fits. Plus, they still feel slighted about being ranked 11 spots behind the Aztecs.

    I'm afraid they'd better get used to it. The Lobos are not winning this game.

    Not against a team that has proven it learns from its mistakes. Not when the Aztecs suddenly have a new offensive outlook and a trio of legitimate scoring options off the bench. Not at Viejas Arena on the final Saturday of the regular season in front of 12,414 crazy people who all believe that they will win.

    The Lobos have the size and front court advantage. The Aztecs have the everything else advantage.

    Final Score:

    Aztecs 75, Lobos 68.

    Get ready to hang another banner.