BYU-San Diego State Preview

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TWO SURPRISING NATIONAL POWERS MEET EARLY SATURDAY IN MOUNTAIN WEST

It's still hard to refer to BYU and San Diego State as national powers. They're both obviously having great seasons. And, ever since Butler reached the final game of the Big Dance, you can't rule out ANYBODY as a national championship threat. Still...

If either team played in the Big 10, or Big East, or even the Big 12, would they be 12-1 in conference action heading into the final Saturday in February?

We'll have a better read on that in a few weeks once these teams are facing tough opponents from other conferences. It's worth noting that neither team was embarrassed in the tournament last year when they were a bit less experienced.

  • After winning the Mountain West tournament, San Diego State lost its first round game by only three points to a Tennessee team that would knock off Ohio State on its way to the Elite 8 round.
  • BYU beat Florida in the first round, then lost to Kansas State. K-State would also make it to the Elite 8 round.

A 1-2 record is nothing to write home about. But, the two losses were to teams playing well who just missed reaching the promised land of the Final Four.

Saturday's telecast may be your first extended look at either BYU or San Diego State. They did play in a TV game earlier this season...but many of you were still focused on football back then. Here's a quick run through of key facts.

MOUNTAIN WEST RECORDS
BYU: 12-1
SDSU: 12-1

San Diego State's only loss was at BYU. BYU lost on the road at New Mexico in a letdown spot right after their win over the Aztecs. They're obviously dominating the conference. And, it's not a pushover conference any more with UNLV and Colorado State also posting some good results this season. Note that today's winner will be the #1 seed in the Mountain West tournament barring any late season upsets. 

FULL SEASON RECORDS
SDSU: 27-1
BYU: 26-2

That loss for the Aztecs at BYU was their only blemish on the season. BYU dropped a neutral court game to UCLA that cast some doubt at the time about their ability to compete outside of the conference. It was certainly a strike against the team, if not overwhelming evidence of being overrated. Let's say it this way...to the naked eye, they didn't look any better than UCLA. The Bruins are currently projected to be a #9 seed.

BRACKETOLOGY
SDSU: projected 2nd seed
BYU: projected 2nd seed

Joe Lunardi has both of these teams on the #2 line. There's certainly a chance that today's loser would fall to a #3 seed. It's hard to see the winner passing powers like Duke, Kansas, Texas, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh to get a #1 seed though.

BEST NON-CONFERENCE SCALPS:
SDSU: Gonzaga, St. Mary's, Wichita State, California
BYU: Arizona, Utah State, St. Mary's

Not exactly a murderer's row given how poorly St. Mary's has played in big games. BYU's win over Arizona is tempered by that loss to UCLA. We could see these teams doing well of course in the Pac 10. Would they be 1-2 after playing a full Pac 10 schedule? Maybe. How about this question. Would they be top eight in the Big East after the physical bruising they'd take in that league?

That gives you a sense of the big picture. Let's move to more team specifics.

CONFERENCE MARGIN AVERAGES
BYU: +13.8
SDSU: +10.1

Playing very similar schedules, BYU grades out as the better side. That's partly because the only head-to-head meeting was in Provo...and partly because BYU has more of a tendency to run up the score. It will be interesting to see the end of season numbers once the full home-and-home is completed. Right now the math suggests BYU will probably have an edge

ADJUSTED TEMPO
BYU: 17th fastest in the nation
SDSU: 290th fastest in the nation

We have a classic clash of styles here, with BYU pushing tempo at a very fast pace...while San Diego State prefers to slow things down and beat you in the halfcourt. You casual fans might be surprised by those rankings. BYU is from "conservative" Utah, while SDSU is from hip-hop California. The teams play against typecasting. If anyone's out of control in a big game, it's more likely to be BYU. If anyone shoots themselves in the foot by being overly cautious, it's going to be San Diego State.

ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
SDSU: 9th in the nation
BYU: 16th in the nation

These numbers come from Ken Pomeroy's amazing college basketball statistical site (kenpom.com). He adjusts efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) for strength of schedule. Our own data doesn't have these defenses grading out so well. We make adjustments for what they'd do in other leagues rather than what they did do vs. soft schedules. Still, remember that defense wins championships...and these are two very good defenses by Mountain West standards. And, in the big picture, they're probably tournament caliber defenses if not Sweet 16 caliber defenses.

TWO-POINT DEFENSE
SDSU: 43%
BYU: 44%

We consider this the most important defensive stat, and SDSU rates the edge. They do guard the basket aggressively and intelligently with their athletes. BYU strikes the naked eye as slow, but they have graded out well enough in this stat. Again, we're skeptical these teams would grade out this well in a better conference. They are defensively elite in the Mountain West, and have 12-1 records to show for it. 

ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
BYU: 9th in the nation
SDSU: 25th in the nation

Having a sharpshooter like Jimmer Fredette makes you very efficient. He hits some treys. He makes his free throws. He's going to get his points either in the halfcourt game or transition. San Diego State has a classic textbook approach to the game on both sides of the ball. They've certainly become a "Western power" with this current group under a veteran head coach.

THREE-POINT EMPHASIS
BYU: 85th in the nation
SDSU: 216th in the nation

We wanted to bring this up today because we'll be talking more about three-point preferences during the postseason. We've shown you repeatedly over the years that teams who live by the three usually die much sooner than expected in tournaments because it's very hard to string together solid shooting games from long range. Neither team is particularly trey crazy. BYU relies much more on bombs than SDSU does though, which could be an influence today, or in the tournaments. Frankly, Saturday's game could come down to whether or not BYU makes its treys. It will be very tough for them to beat a revenge-minded foe if they don't.

We're looking forward to watching Saturday's telecast to get a better sense of how these teams will perform under pressure. Hopefully, you've been watching a lot of Big East and Big Ten games lately so you can mentally compare them to the athletes and styles you've been watching in prime time. SDSU and BYU are better than St. Mary's, or Gonzaga, or Utah State. Are they better than the fifth best team in the Big East? Would they crack the Ohio State-Purdue-Wisconsin top three in the Big Ten?

BYU-SDSU may or may not be part of JIM HURLEY'S Saturday slate. There's quite a list of appealing games to study. Among the possibilities in other marquee matchups (in rotation order):

Syracuse at Georgetown
Missouri at Kansas State
Wichita State at Missouri State
St. John's at Villanova
Memphis at UTEP
Arizona at UCLA
Florida at Kentucky
Duke at Virginia Tech

That Duke-Virginia Tech game will be our feature in the Saturday NOTEBOOK, as it's the "GameDay" choice in prime time for ESPN.

Friday we'll be building our bankrolls in the Ivy League and NBA (where big games include Oklahoma City-Orlando, Denver-Portland, and Clippers-Lakers). Saturday will bring one of our biggest releases this season from either one of the above TV showdowns or a dream spot elsewhere on the schedule that's been completely overlooked by Vegas bookmakers.

You can purchase our releases every day here at the website. BIG JUICY WINNERS go up a few hours before first tip. Seasonal packages are value priced and offer the most bang for the buck. If you have any questions, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453. You know we've been around a long time. Our office still has an 800-number!

Link up with JIM HURLEY for a FABULOUS FRIDAY, a SUPER SATURDAY, and a STUNNING SUNDAY! This weekend's schedule games proves that MARCH MADNESS IS IN THE AIR!

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