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Knudson: Showdown II: What’s at Stake


By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. Insider
February 22, 2011

Make no mistake.

This is a really big game.


When BYU visits San Diego State on Saturday, the stakes will be far greater than just the Mountain West Conference regular season championship. Not-so-small details like a No. 1 national seed in the NCAA tournament and the NCAA Player of the Year award are also part of the big picture.

If BYU wins, they will sweep the regular season series from the Aztecs and claim their second win over a Top Ten team. It will likely move them back to the top spot in the RPI rankings. If SDSU wins, they take over the Conference lead and likely lock up the top spot in the Conference tourney seeding, plus keep their hopes for a top national seed very much alive.

There is, of course, a whole lot of basketball left to play. Many things can happen between now and Selection Sunday. In fact, something could happen before they meet this coming Saturday. The Cougars still have a home date with Colorado State before they can turn their attention 100% to the Aztecs.

SDSU has the week off to rest before facing BYU.

Not often do things go “according to form” in college athletics. Still, you have to like the chances of this thing playing out and ending up with both these teams ranked in the Top Ten on March 13. The question is, will they (or any other MWC team) do enough damage to each other to knock them out of the running for a top national seed?

First, it’s not likely that Colorado State will be able to upset BYU and send the Cougars into San Diego coming off a loss. The suddenly sputtering Rams have the look of a nice car that’s been filled up with some low-grade gasoline and can only move in fits and spurts. Even in some hard fought wins recently, CSU hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders. Things came to a head in a damaging loss to UNLV on their home court Saturday.

Yes, the Rams will arrive in Provo wounded and thereby dangerous. But they just don’t appear to be able to match the offensive proficiency of BYU. They came close but couldn’t do it last month in Fort Collins. They were playing better then than they are right now.

Assuming BYU reaches San Diego intact, both record-wise and health-wise, it comes down to if the Cougars sizzling offense, which somehow seems to be even better when Jimmer Fredette is not scoring 40+ but instead has everyone else getting involved, can outgun the Aztecs. Or whether SDSU can make it a grind-it-out, physical, defensive struggle, which plays greatly to their strength.

Not since the days of Michael Cage have the Aztecs been so dominant on the boards.

Cage, you might remember, was a first round draft pick, and played for five teams over 15 years in the NBA. He led the league in rebounding in 1988. The new man on Montezuma Mesa is Kwahi Leonard, a double-double machine who is equaling the kind of rebounding production that Cage posted in red and black two and half decades ago.

There are physical similarities between the two Aztec legends. Broad shoulders and big hands, and while Leonard is a couple of inches shorter than Cage and not quite the defender at this stage of his career, the SDSU sophomore is a little better offensive player and his play at both ends will be critical for the Aztecs chances Saturday and in March.

With the recent spate of upsets near the top of the polls, it’s conceivable that the winner of this game and maybe more importantly, the winner of the projected third (rubber match?) in the MWC tournament title game, could earn a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. This would be comparable to TCU’s Rose Bowl bid in terms of a non-BCS conference team crashing the big boy’s party.

And let’s not forget Fredette is still the leading contender for National Player of the Year honors. If he goes off for 40 or more against the Aztecs (again) this weekend and/or in March, Jimmer will probably cement the award. If the Aztecs shut him down and come away winners, it could open the door for the Eastern Block voters to torpedo Fredette’s chances in favor of one of their lesser candidates.

Story lines abound. Showdown II will probably go the home standing Aztecs way, thereby setting up Showdown III in Las Vegas in March.

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