SAN DIEGO - The Aztecs are 6 1/2-point underdogs for Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup against Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, but don't count out Steve Fisher's team yet. Here are 5 reasons San Diego State will win the game and advance to the Elite 8.
1. X MARKS THE SPOT I need to start with the player Arizona coach Sean Miller called the "best guard in the country." Xavier Thames was the Mountain West Player of the Year, but he saved his best for Saturday night, scoring 30 points to lead SDSU past North Dakota State. Given the circumstances, it was the greatest individual performance in San Diego State basketball history. Any team with Xavier Thames has a chance to win any game.
2. POLEE POWER Dwayne Polee II has emerged as the second-most dangerous scorer on the Aztecs behind Thames. Back in November, when Arizona beat SDSU 69-60 at Viejas Arena, Polee didn't even play. The junior had yet to force his way into Steve Fisher's rotation. It will be a whole new ballgame with Polee added to the mix.
3. ASHLEY ABSENT Speaking of that November game, the Arizona Wildcats won't have one of their starters from that night. Brandon Ashley was lost for the season with an injury, giving the UofA a little less offense, rebounding, and depth than they had in their first meeting with SDSU.
4. BIG NIGHT FOR J.J. Junior J.J. O'Brien is one of the Aztecs' best all-around players, but he isn't considered one of the team's more dangerous offensive weapons. Except, against Arizona, O'Brien scored a season-high 19 points on 6 of 12 shooting. Do that again, along with production from Thames and Polee, and the Aztecs should have plenty of offense to beat the Wildcats.
5. WHERE'S WINSTON? Let's face it...sophomore Winston Shepard III did not have a good week. Other than a couple of late baskets against New Mexico State, Shepard's boxscore was notable only for turnovers and missed shots. Maybe Shepard is dealing with an injury, or maybe his mental game is off right now. Either way, there's a great player lurking inside of him, and if it comes out on Thursday night, watch out. Still, even a mediocre game by Shepard would be gravy after last weekend.