Mid-Major report: San Diego State is best in a talented Mountain West


In a year where the selection process is going to be clouded with COVID-19 postponements and limited non conference schedules, these four teams are firmly in the mix to make some noise come March Madness.

Mountain West Metrics

The ‘Bracketology’ tab is courtesy of our friend Lukas Harkins bracketology update from March 2nd.

As you can see from the table, all four are strong mid-major teams, ranking inside the KenPom top 70. Let's zoom in on these four teams that are hanging around the Tournament field.

San Diego State

This is not the same San Diego State team that went 30-2 in 2019-2020 and were set to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before it was cancelled. But, the Aztecs have been on a tear since losing back-to-back games at Utah State in January.

Led by senior Matt Mitchell, SDSU has won 10 straight. The team is inside the top 10 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, highlighted by their ability to force turnovers. The team is 16th in the country in steal rate while also shutting down teams first and second options in the half-court.

The Aztecs defense is 344th in the country in average possession length, meaning that teams are dragging out the shot clock trying to score on them. San Diego State makes games into rock fights by remaining disciplined on defense and taking the ball away.

A drawback to their defense is that they allow a high rate of three pointers, 340th in the country in opponent three-point rate. If team’s get hot from three, SDSU is not great at playing fast to catch up.

The offense is not as potent as last season, but still dangerous with two wings shooting over 44% from deep on high volume. Jordan Schakel is shooting 45% from three on over six attempts per game, while guard Terrell Gomez is shooting 44% on more than four attempts.

SDSU is the class of the Mountain West with their lockdown defense and reliable outside shooting. Late in games, Mitchell has shown the ability to generate good looks inside and also get to the free throw line where he shoots 83%.

This is a dangerous team come March, and can pose threats to teams such as Texas and Villanova, teams that sometimes fall in love and settle with the three-point shot. If SDSU is able to build a lead, they are capable of holding on with a reliable bucket getter like Mitchell and strong defense.

Colorado State

Colorado State is the only one of the four mentioned Mountain West teams to beat the other three. It feels like the Rams are a year early to the party as they are one of the youngest teams in college basketball, 309th in experience per KenPom.

However, Niko Medved’s club has been one of the best offensive teams in the country.

The team is sixth in the country in effective field goal percentage, but is very three-point reliant. CSU is inside the top 50 in percentage of points generated from beyond the arc.

The Rams like to move the ball quickly on offense, ranking 75th in offensive tempo. The offense is typically one-and-done, apparent by their 295th ranked offensive rebounding percentage.

Although, this is by design. The Rams are inside the top 100 in forcing turnovers and slow the game down on defense, ranking inside the top 100 in defensive possession length. Colorado State has their defense set and rarely gets caught off guard.

I’m not sure how long the Rams can sustain it’s three-point heavy attack, but a team like Ohio State can find themselves in trouble if CSU get going from three.

The Buckeyes perimeter defense is shaky at best, and they don’t do a good job of turning the opponent over. If these two meet in the tournament, it can quickly become a shootout that is anyone’s game based on who is hot from deep.

Boise State

Boise State is a balanced team, as there isn't a specific trait about the Broncos that jumps off the page. They currently rank 61st in offensive efficiency and 48th in defensive efficiency.

What they do have is arguably the best player in the conference, Derrick Alston Jr.

The 6’9” senior has carried this Bronco team all year and may become a household come March. He is shooting 41% from deep on more than six three’s a game and has a 61% true shooting percentage, which factors in field goal and free throw percentage.

However, Boise may have played themselves out of the tournament for now. After losing back-to-back games at San Diego State last week, the Broncos dropped a home game to 10-10 Fresno State.

While Harkins' bracketology from Tuesday has the club as an 11 seed, they may be on the outside looking in.

Anything short of a MWC final appearance may keep Boise State from an at-large bid, which is a shame because this is a rock solid team that can pose a threat to a team like Virginia.

Virginia is very three-point reliant and methodical on offense. Alston Jr. and co. do a great job of at limiting three-point attempts, forcing teams to step in and score from inside.

On offense, the team is inside the top 50 at limiting turnovers and has a well distributed offensive attack.

With capable shooters on the outside, but also a big such as Abu Kigab who can score from inside the arc, Boise can beat teams in different ways.

Utah State

Utah State can be dangerous if it gets into the tournament due to its versatility.

For starters, Neemias Queta has a chance to really bust up brackets. The seven-foot big man is a terror on the inside. Queta is top 10 in national block percentage and the Aggie defense is one of the best two-point defending teams in the country due to his ability to disrupt shots.

Also, Utah State rebounds incredibly well, placing ninth in offensive rebounding percentage and third in defensive rebounding percentage, per TeamRankings.com.

On offense, Queta has improved greatly in his third season in Logan around the block. For teams that lack size, he is going to feast down low. The Aggies are also starting to get healthy again. Point guard Rollie Worster played over the weekend after missing the back-to-back with Boise State due to a lower leg injury.

Past Worster, the team has dynamic perimeter threats in Marco Anthony and Brock Miller, who each stroke it at over 35% from three-point land.

Against a team like Villanova, who lacks an interior threat to slow down Queta, Utah State is a tough draw. I’d also be interested to see the Aggies matchup with Cade Cunningham and the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who are reliant on getting points from inside the arc, but may be forced to shoot from the outside more than their liking against Queta and the USU defense.

Reed is a native of New Jersey and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a die-hard Brooklyn Nets fan and always believes the spread has a chance of covering. You can follow Reed on Twitter @ReedWallach for more commentary.