BASKETBALL PREVIEW: This is the year for this fantasy team

by Staff

DA ART

By

Matt McClanahan, Staff Columnist

If I’m playing beer pong and there is only one cup remaining on my end, the last person I want to see across the table is D.J. Gay. The 6-foot, San Diego State point guard is more clutch than Chuck Norris’ fist, which is impossible.

SDSU will be good at basketball this year.

That’s a fact, and you can’t argue facts.

But will the team be great?

The Aztecs are returning all five starters from a team that won the Mountain West Conference Tournament last year, but then drank a can of Choke-a-Cola against Tennessee in the first round of the … burp … NCAAs.

Excuse me.

SDSU is ranked 25th this preseason and picked to win the conference. This is the first time being ranked in the team’s history, a tremendous accomplishment seeing as it has played zero games.

The Aztecs are an interesting bunch. They’re long and athletic. Which means they can’t shoot the ball, but can play defense and dunk.

They dunked last season like they were trying to get something out of their systems. I’m telling you. SDSU would grab the ball like it were an insult and slam the crap out of it — which was often followed with a flex, a roar and a “holy s—, I wonder if the rim is OK?”

Hey tough guys, what did the rim ever do to you? I mean, besides reject most of your 3-pointers. The Aztecs were 266th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage. That’s a recipe for an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s what happened. SDSU was just 3 of 18 from 3-point range against Tennessee. If it makes just two more of those shots, the Aztecs probably win instead of lose by 3.

SDSU couldn’t shoot from the outside, and it couldn’t … shoot … free throws last year. The Aztecs ranked last in the conference and 332nd in the nation in free-throw percentage.

But SDSU still managed to have four players who averaged more than 10 points per game last year.

Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was the MWC Freshman Player of the Year last season. He led the Aztecs in scoring and rebounding, nearly averaging a double-double, with 12.7 points per game and 9.9 rebounds. SDSU as a team was second in the conference in rebounding. Leonard is a projected first-rounder in the NBA.

Leonard will get help on the low post from Malcolm Thomas, who was a 2nd-team MWC selection a year ago. The 6-foot-9 forward led the Aztecs in blocks last season with 52. He also averaged nearly 11 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Thomas, Leonard and forward Billy White have received much of the preseason attention going into this season. They are why Rivals.com ranks the team as having the 9th best frontcourt in the nation.

But the success of the team is largely founded on Gay.

The point guard knows how to manage a game. He limits turnovers, hits crucial shots, and is the best 3-point shooter on the team. SDSU was a completely different unit last year when head coach Steve Fisher would substitute him out of the game. As in, the Aztecs were bad without him. Fisher couldn’t afford to rest Gay as he played him the entire game in five of the last seven contests of the season. That’s crazy endurance.

But to go from good to great, SDSU will need a couple of its newly recruited, highly touted guards to step up. If they do, this could be a very special season.

If there was ever a year the Aztecs could make a run at the Final Four, this is it.

—Matt McClanahan is a journalism senior.

—This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.