Announced last on the NCAA Selection Show (conspiracy?!), North Carolina State made the tournament after a brief absence from meaningful post-season play and was rewarded with what seems to be a fairly favorable draw against San Diego State. Coached by the legendary Steve Fisher, this San Diego State team that was supposed to be in severe rebuilding mode after losing most of last year’s veteran-loaded team to graduation and/or the NBA, but something strange happened. Sure, they lost more games than last year’s team that went 32-2 before NCAA Tournament play, but who didn’t outside of Murray State. Still, instead of falling off the face of the Earth, the Aztecs made a really strong run this year, knocking off a number of pretty good teams. UNLV, New Mexico, and Colorado State, fellow NCAA teams from the Mountain West Conference all took at least one loss to San Diego State. The Aztecs also swept their three-game series against the Pac-12, beating Arizona, California, and Southern California as well as beating a pretty good Big West team in Long Beach State. Now, these wins look okay on paper, but they come with a number of caveats: The Pac-12 was truly terrible this year, wins against Cal and Arizona look worse and worse as more time passes, and beating USC was never really all that impressive. Though the wins against fellow Mountain West teams looks pretty good, it has to be understood that the Aztecs also lost at least once to all three of these teams. So while this is a nice collection of wins, I’m not sure that it says anything definitive about San Diego State’s quality.
What I can say is that San Diego State has largely started 6’7″ Tim Shelton at center for much of the year. While the Aztecs can bring decent size off the bench in 6’11″ Garret Green and 6’8″ Deshawn Stephens (and they typically give reasonable minutes to both), San Diego is pretty small compared to NC State’s front court, which is a problem. San Diego State is a good defensive rebounding team, but the Wolfpack is one of the more formidable offensive rebounding teams in the nation, boasting a legitimate star of the offensive glass in Richard Howell. On the opposite end, the Aztecs (with the exception of Deshawn Stephens) are largely indifferent to the offensive glass, seeming to philosophically embrace a San Antonio Spurs-esque approach which encourages getting back on defense over crashing the offensive glass. All in all, this seems to add up to a distinct advantage for the Wolfpack on the glass on both ends. This difference in rebounding good be significant for teams that stylistically share a few attributes.