SDSU men’s basketball looks to right the ship in time for Mountain West play

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SDSU men’s basketball looks to right the ship in time for Mountain West play

by Kris Keehl, Senior Staff Columnist

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With 2:49 left in the game against No. 2 University of Kansas and a media timeout taken, the San Diego State fans made a break for the exit. They had seen enough.

It’s with the same ambition and tenacity that the Aztec team exits non-conference play hoping to right a season that has turned out to be woefully wrong.

The 70-57 loss to Kansas was the Aztecs’ sixth loss of the season, and it marks the end to an underwhelming non-conference schedule which saw SDSU lose cringe-worthy games to Little Rock, Grand Canyon University and cross-town rival USD.

Time has run out for the Aztecs to impress the nation with non-conference wins, now they need to win the conference, and the conference tournament if they want a chance at the big dance.

If there is a silver lining in losing six games, it’s that SDSU  has played some good very good basketball for brief stretches in some of the loses.

To start the second half against Kansas, redshirt freshman forward Zylan Cheatham passed to  wide-open senior center Skylar Spencer for a dunk, and next possession the Aztecs got into their get-out-and-run offense when sophomore guard Trey Kell stole the ball and gave it to Cheatham for a windmill finish.

This bright spot in the 13-point loss was the beginning of a run that would pull the Aztecs to within four points of Kansas.

It’s this type of up tempo offense that head coach Steve Fisher talked about early in the season, but it’s rarely been present.

SDSU ranks 277th out of 326 teams in adjusted offensive tempo — possessions per 40 minutes of play — in the country, according to Kenpom. This mean than only 49 teams in the nation play slower than the Aztecs.

SDSU has six days until its next game and the start of conference play. Unfortunately, every conference game is of the must-win variety because the conference has no ranked teams and ranks 10 in RPI among all conferences.

This is a bad year for Mountain West basketball. Besides the Aztecs, the rest of the conference is 3-6 against Top 25 teams, UNLV has two of those wins and Boise State has the other.

Right now, the two best teams in the conference, from a tournament resume perspective, are Boise State and UNLV.

To make the NCAA tournament the Aztecs must win the conference tournament, or go nearly undefeated in conference play and beat both Boise State and UNLV in each meeting.

Despite six loses and the tall task of having to giant slay the rest of the season, the conference is very winnable.

The Aztecs enter conference play with two freshmen, point guard Jeremy Hemsley and Cheatham, as the leading scorers and are absolutely devoid of the senior leadership and scoring that was expected out of Spencer and forward Winston Shepard.

Spencer and Shepard were back in the starting lineup for the first time since they were benched following a loss at Viejas to Little Rock, and in the eyes of their coach they could be the saving grace for conference play.

“Tonight, I thought Sklyar and Winston both, in the second half in particular, played like veteran players,” Fisher said.

Spencer and Shepard scored 14 of their combined 15 points in the second half.

Malik is missing

In the last four games Malik Pope’s minutes have gone like this: 21, 20, 14 and 11.

The player that came out of high school as a five-star recruit, according to some recruiting services, and had flashes of brilliance as a freshman has all but disappeared in recent games.

His game has disappeared also.

He’s shooting a team low, among scholarship players and freshman walk on Ben Perez, 28 percent from the field, and an even worse 21 percent from 3-point range.

“Malik is disappointed with his play so far,” Fisher said. “He wants to play better, and we need him to play better.”

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