San Diego State Aztecs Basketball Predictions: Serious Contender?
With Auburn's loss on Wednesday night, the San Diego State Aztecs are now the last unbeaten team in the country. They sit at 18-0 and have already piled up seven conference wins. You couldn't accuse them of having played the toughest schedule in the world, but they have beaten enough decent teams - Utah, Iowa, BYU, Creighton, Utah State - to show that they have some real game. And poll voters are certainly taking note - they currently sit 7th in the AP Poll, and with Auburn and Butler both losing while ranked above them this week, they could climb higher. This isn't a team we can ignore, so we might as well take a closer look at where they are at and what they mean for us as bettors:
Malachi Flynn: The engine that drives this team is redshirt junior point guard Malachi Flynn. He was a late bloomer in high school, initially committing to a lower tier Division I program in Pacific before re-opening his recruitment late to join Washington State. He started 60 games in two years there for a pretty lousy team and took a giant step forward as a sophomore. He announced he was transferring and flirted heavily with Gonzaga before choosing the Aztecs. He sat out last year, but expectations were high for his debut in his new league - he was the preseason Mountain West player of the year. And he has fully lived up to expectations, playing his way into contention in a totally wide-open Wooden race for national player of the year. He's a playmaker who is deadly from beyond the arc, and he is a pesky defender as well. He's very good, and exactly the kind of player who shines in March.
The rest of the roster: This isn't an offensively explosive team, and Flynn carries the most scoring weight for sure. But they do have solid, experienced depth. They have three seniors and four juniors on the roster, so they have seen a lot over the years. They are very defensively disciplined, and they have shown a lot of depth. Senior big Nathan Mensah has missed action the last couple of weeks. It's a blow, but Matt Mitchell has stepped in and replaced him in the starting lineup pretty much seamlessly. This isn't the flashiest or most talented roster out there, but it is more than adequate for what they are trying to do.
The path ahead: The Aztecs have already played their toughest games. Utah State, who they beat on the road by nine on January 4, and will play once more at home, is the toughest conference test. They will be favored in every game remaining barring a major injury or other development and will be significantly favored in many of those games. We know that they are capable of winning - they have been doing a very good job of it. What they need to now is to keep their heads on straight and not beat themselves. It's very hard to avoid a stumble along the way and very easy for one stumble to snowball into several. When you look at this team this year, you can't help but think of Nevada last year. They were an experienced and deep squad that faced big expectations and was one of the last unbeaten teams in the country. After they lost their first game, they then lost four more in their last nine and then were eliminated in their tournament opener. Everything was going their way, and they were set up to potentially run the table. But once their confidence was shaken, they just couldn't get back on track. What is going on in the heads of this team can be the biggest enemy they face down the stretch. It doesn't have to be, but it is certainly possible.
Betting performance: The team has gone a nicely profitable 12-5 ATS on the season. There was a stretch that was kicked off on December 8 when they tried their hardest to lose to San Jose State in which they went 1-3 ATS. In that San Jose State game, they were favored by 29 and won by two, so they are not immune to disappointing performances. But they have been a different team this calendar year, going 4-0 ATS in their last four, including covering at Utah State when they were an underdog for just the second time all season. They have, for now at least, fully rediscovered their mojo. They have been less useful for bettors on the total, going over eight times and under eight so far. They have gone over in four of their last six, though, so things could be changing slightly.
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