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San Diego State’s defense makes them a contender in the Mountain West

Dec 2, 2013, 12:31 AM EDT

aztecs AP

With the loss of leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, there was a question of where San Diego State would find its offense in 2013-14. That was a big reason why the Aztecs were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West preseason poll, with few expecting Steve Fisher’s team to be capable of challenging defending league champion New Mexico.

In light of the Aztecs’ run to the Wooden Legacy title, which culminated with a 67-59 win over No. 25 Marquette on Sunday night, it’s time to adjust the thinking when it comes to what this team is capable of. Two days after defeating No. 20 Creighton Steve Fisher’s club rode its defense to victory, limiting the Golden Eagles to 39.3% shooting from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.

Remove Deonte Burton (13 points on 5-for-7 shooting; 15 points for the game) and Marquette shot just 6-for 21 in the game’s final 20 minutes. Combine that with San Diego State shooting 50% from the field, and it’s quite simple to see why the Aztecs are headed home with the title. The offense is still a work in progress, with senior guard Xavier Thames (career-high 29 points) and versatile sophomore wing Winston Shepard III (eight points, all in the second half) being their best playmakers. But with the amount of length and athleticism that San Diego State possesses, they’re more than capable of making up for those issues with a high-level performance on the defensive end of the floor.

And given some of those pieces, San Diego State should be able to work towards being a more efficient offensive team. Tulane transfer Josh Davis hasn’t produced to the level that many expected when he arrived on campus but he’s been a factor on the boards, averaging 8.0 rebounds per game entering Sunday’s action and grabbing 11 in the win over Marquette. There’s also J.J. O’Brien, who’s dealing with an injured right hand, and underclassmen such as Dakarai Allen (eight points) and Matt Shrigley (five points) who will also be called upon throughout the course of the season.

Rome wasn’t build in a day, and the same can be said of the San Diego State offense. But as they work to get better on that end, it’s their defense that makes them a serious contender to win the Mountain West. Prior to Sunday’s action the Aztecs led the Mountain West in both adjusted defensive efficiency (95.1, per kenpom.com) and turnover percentage, forcing opponents into a turnover in nearly 21% of their possessions. And it isn’t as if they’ve compiled these numbers against poor opposition either, as San Diego State’s already played games against Arizona, Creighton and Marquette.

Prior to the start of the season few expected San Diego State to be a serious contender to win the Mountain West, expecting this to be a season of transition. But in one weekend the Aztecs showed that they will be heard from in 2013-14, regardless of how much production they have to replace.