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San Diego State guard Xavier Thames (2) drives to the basket as Utah State's Spencer Butterfield, from left, guard Preston Medlin, forward Jalen Moore and center Jordan Stone defend in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/Eli Lucero)
Tony Jones: Don’t be sold on San Diego State

Aztecs have a tough defense and an impressive record, but their inability to score will cost them.

By Tony Jones

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Feb 18 2014 09:14 am • Last Updated Feb 18 2014 11:06 pm

San Diego State has won 23 of its 25 games this season.

The Aztecs are one of the three best teams in the western part of the United States. They are virtually assured of no worse than a No. 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

At a glance

Tribune Power Rankings

The West

1. Arizona (23-2)

Still a No. 1 NCAA Tourney seed

2. UCLA (20-5)

Looking more dangerous by the game

3. San Diego State (22-2)

It’s them or New Mexico in MWC

4. New Mexico (19-5)

It’s them or SDSU in MWC

5. Arizona State (19-6)

Making a good run

6. Gonzaga (23-4)

Steady Eddie

7. Colorado (19-7)

Charging towards Big Dance

8. BYU (18-10)

Collinsworth survives knee scare

9. California (17-8)

Looks great, then awful

10. Stanford (16-8)

Underachieving with all that talent

11. UNLV (17-8)

Suddenly on NCAA bubble

12. Saint Mary’s (19-8)

Underrated team

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And yet, I don’t trust them. At all.

Teams that can’t score scare me at tournament time. Teams that are over-reliant on 6-foot point guards for a bulk of their offense scare me at tournament time. SDSU falls into both categories.

The Aztecs are offensively challenged. There’s no way to dodge that. They haven’t scored more than 80 points in a game since our calendars still read 2013. They’ve scored more than 70 points just three times in the last month and needed overtime in their first meeting against Utah State to reach 74 points.

More alarming, they’ve developed a nasty habit of relying on Xavier Thames to bail them out in the past 30 days. Thames is without question one of the best point guards in the country. He’s scoring 17 points a game, and he’s been one of the most improved and valuable players in the nation.

But he’s still only one guy. And other than Winston Shepard, coach Steve Fisher has precious few scoring options to rely on.

"If they run into a team that can shut off the paint and turn them into jump-shooters, they are definitely susceptible to an upset," said Raphielle Johnson, college basketball analyst for nbcsports.com.

This is the point of the column where I laud Fisher and the job that he’s done. You may remember him as the former Michigan coach and architect of the fabled Fab Five recruiting class. If you ask me, he should be remembered more for the program he’s built at San Diego State. The program was dead — beyond dead — when he took over. Now, it’s a power, and it has one of the best home-court advantages in the country.

Fisher’s built this team on athleticism, defense and rebounding. This SDSU roster has all three in spades. It went in to Phog Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas. Generally, nobody goes into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and beats the Jayhawks.

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San Diego State is tough. The Aztecs are big. They block shots. They intimidate. Over the long haul of a regular season, it’s not difficult to see why they’ve been so successful, nationally and in the Mountain West.

But, they just can’t score. They have issues generating points. They shoot 43 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range and 65 percent from the free-throw line.

The NCAA Tournament is a different animal. In the age of parity around college basketball, 7-10 seeds are more capable than ever of rising up and beating top teams before their time. San Diego State looks like a potential victim. Yes, the Aztecs are a wonderful defensive team. But all it takes is one time for someone to get hot for 40 minutes behind the arc.

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Pittsburgh, Memphis, North Carolina and Kansas State are the projected No. 7 seeds in the upcoming Big Dance.

San Diego State projects as a No. 2 seed. If you were an Aztecs fan, would you be completely comfortable with your second-round draw?


Twitter: @tjonessltrib

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