Next up for SDSU men’s basketball: East Carolina’s matchup nightmare

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Next up for SDSU men’s basketball: East Carolina’s matchup nightmare

by Patrick Carr, Sports Editor

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This is what a new team looks like. Or put it this way: This is what the basement of a new team looks like.

Gone are the transfer students like Aqeel Quinn and JJ O’Brien looking to prove something. Gone is the hard-nosed defense and the concept of earning playing time through shutting opposing players down.

These are the new Aztecs, and while it can sometimes be a thing of beauty, it has mostly been a source of confusion.

Just what exactly is going on with the San Diego State men’s basketball team?

The loss to then-No. 16 University of Utah can be chalked up to the fact that the Utes were the better team. But a 10-point win over an NAIA school with no gym that SDSU has previously demolished time and again followed by a loss on Saturday to Little Rock have sounded the alarms.

For now, the players aren’t worried, as junior guard Dakarai Allen said after Saturday’s loss.

“We need to treat this as a wake-up call,” he said.

“It’s frustrating, definitely,” freshman guard Ben Perez said. “We’ve got to have the resolve to push through that and be able to get the victory.”

For the Aztecs, the season is still young, and the focus now turns to scrubbing the coffee stain off the NCAA tournament dancing shirt.

That process starts Monday night against East Carolina University, a team that, before current head coach Jeff Lebo stepped on campus in 2010, hadn’t finished with a winning record since the 1996-97 season and hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1993.

Lebo has had recent success at ECU, winning 24 games and the College Invitational Tournament in 2012-13.

On the court, one name stands out for the Pirates: a 6-foot-7, 205-pound matchup nightmare guard named Caleb White, who’s averaging 18.7 points in 38.7 minutes and shooting 53.3 percent from the floor.

The likely matchup on White is senior forward Winston Shepard, whose return from an ankle injury was neither glorious nor good. He scored zero points, and when combined with the other seniors who played (centers Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol), they combined for zero points in perhaps the most startling statistic besides the 16 turnovers.

While SDSU will have to contain White, its rebound from Saturday starts with the offense, which, despite scoring 70-plus points in the first three games, has been aided a lot by the whistle-happy officiating seeking to increase scoring and free up the game.

If by “increase scoring” the refs meant slowing the game down to accommodate the absurd amount of free throws shot, then yes, scoring has increased. Even then, SDSU is shooting 67 percent from the charity stripe and 29.7 percent from 3-point range, both numbers low even by the Aztecs’ standards.

Much has been made about sophomore forward Malik Pope, who came in with NBA draft expectations but has been mostly absent from games. He scored 14 against SDC, but has scored a combined nine points in the other three games.

But as this team still figures out its identity, it struggles to figure out how to keep hold of the ball. Through four games, SDSU has 56 turnovers, or an average of 14 per game. Opponents have taken advantage by scoring 57 points off those turnovers.

Two of the games (Utah and Little Rock) have been close enough to where those turnovers could’ve made a difference.

The Pirates are 2-1 so far, the one loss coming a few days ago at No. 14 UC Berkeley, who SDSU will play on Thanksgiving Day.

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