Fresh off win in first-place bout, Utah State hosts last-place San Jose State – Cache Valley Daily

Last time out, Utah State saw itself participate in a first-place clash on the road, but this evening it’ll be a first vs last matchup at home as the Aggies will welcome San Jose State into the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

The Spartans are 1-6 in conference play, with its lone win being against the team that it’s tied for 10th with in the standings, Air Force (OK, so maybe that means it’s not technically first vs last since SJSU has a tiebreaker to be 10th and AFA to be 11th, but I wasn’t passing up that lead).

That record, and SJSU’s overall 8-12 mark, hides what’s been a fiercely competitive team capable of going toe-to-toe with good teams. Five of their losses were decided either in overtime or by three or fewer points. Included in that tally is an 81-78 loss to San Diego State.

“They could very easily have five, six [more] wins,” USU head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “They played San Diego State down to literally the last 20 seconds.”

Offensive and Defensive Efficiency numbers via KenPom, all others via NCAA or College Basketball Reference

San Jose State’s ability to keep any game close comes from its fairly sound offense, based around being a solid shooting team.

“They’re very dangerous because they’re probably the best shooting team in our league,” Sprinkle said. “All their guys can shoot threes and they do a tremendous job with their pace and their offensive scheme to get guys three pointers.”

The Spartans have five rotation players currently shooting 36 percent or better from deep (four of those shooting above 38 percent) — MJ Amey, Tibet Gorener, Alvaro Cardenas, Trey Anderson and Diogo Seixas. That gives SJSU the ability to go four-out on offense and sometimes even five-out, able to spread the floor and either attack a relatively unprotected rim or kick out for open 3-pointers if the defense collapses.

The Spartans don’t go overboard with 3-point attempts, ranking a well-above-average, but not excessive, 50th in attempts with a 62nd-ranked team percentage of 36.5 to justify the volume. And there’ve been plenty of occasions where SJSU’s shooting has exploded with eight games of at least 10 threes made, tied for most such games in the conference. The peak of that 3-point shooting came against Fresno State where the Spartans drained 17 threes.

Aside from 3-pointers, the Spartans are highly capable in the pick-and-roll (though the efficiency is probably related to 3-pointers since running the pick-and-roll is greatly enhanced by being able to spread the floor). Cardenas has seen a massive jump in assists — 3.4 per game last year up to 6.1 this year — despite playing a similar number of minutes as last year (just 2.4 more minutes played per game) and has found a solid pick-and-role partner in Adrame Diongue, the 7-footer and transfer from Washington State. On plays where he attempts field goals off the pick and roll, Diongue is shooting 68 percent. He also gets a fair amount of points on cuts to the basket from the dunker’s spot.

While the offense can make the Spartans competitive in any given game, their defense is a big part of why they consistently lose a lot of games. Remember that 17 3-pointer game SJSU had against Fresno State? Yea, they still lost, giving up 85 points to the Bulldogs.

Clutch defense has been a particular thorn in the Spartans’ side. Looking at those aforementioned five losses in OT and/or by three or fewer points, you can isolate the last five minutes of those games and see the efficiency drop. Crunching the numbers for those exact periods of those game and it comes out to SJSU allowing 1.436 points per possession (for reference, if Utah State averaged that PPP in a game, they’d be pushing 100 points) and a 46.9 field goal percentage.

Isolating on the clutch defense isn’t giving enough credit to the defense for the entire game, which still isn’t all that great. They rank 285th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency and have allowed the most 80-point games of anyone in the conference (seven to be exact). The best, and perhaps only great, aspect of the defense comes from Diongue who averaged 1.8 blocks per game despite only playing 17.3 minutes. If he stays out of foul trouble (a bit of an if given he averages 3.3 fouls per game and has fouled out six times this year) there’s every chance he impacts the Aggies attempts to finish at the rim.

Projected Starters

Utah State: 18-2 (6-1, 1st in MW)

  • G — Darius Brown (6-2, Sr.) – 11.1 points | 3.3 rebounds | 7.0 assists
  • G — Mason Falslev (6-3, Fr.) – 11.5 points | 4.6 rebounds | 2.7 assists
  • G — Ian Martinez (6-3, Jr.) – 13.8 points | 3.4 rebounds | 1.7 assists
  • F — Great Osobor (6-8, Jr.) – 18.5 points | 9.7 rebounds | 3.0 assists
  • C — Isaac Johnson (7-0, So.) – 6.5 points | 3.3 rebounds | 1.0 assists

San Jose State: 8-12 (1-6, T-10th in MW)

  • G — Alvaro Cardenas (6-1, Jr.) — 13.1 points | 3.4 rebounds | 6.1 assists
  • G — MJ Amey (6-5, Jr.) – 15.8 points | 4.9 rebounds | 3.1 assists
  • F — Trey Anderson (6-6, Sr.) – 12.2 points | 4.9 rebounds | 1.1 assists
  • F — Tibet Gorener (6-9, Jr.) – 13.8 points | 4.6 rebounds | 0.7 assists
  • C — Adrame Diongue (7-0, So.) – 5.3 points | 4.7 rebounds | 0.8 assists

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