San Diego vs. San Diego State Preview


It’s the big one for San Diego. Sure Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU are the standard marquee games for any WCC team, but the Toreros have an additional major opponent each year in their annual rivalry game against the San Diego State Aztecs. Since SDSU has transformed into a national power, it’s brought even more notoriety to this City Championship game. And even when the Toreros come into the game looking outmatched, they play up to their opponent often making for an exciting game.

Last year Duda Sanadze put up a three pointer at the buzzer that would have won the game had it gone in, the closest the Toreros have come to shocking the Aztecs since Steve Fisher took them to new heights. So you can expect this year’s game to potentially be a lot closer than it might seem at first glance. With rumblings of the rivalry possibly being on it’s last legs, it should make the Toreros even more motivated for what could be their last shot for a while at the big dog in town.

This is the last year of the current home-and-home agreement that has been in place with USD and SDSU for a number of years. One reason the Toreros can compete with the Aztecs is they bring them to the friendly confines of the Jenny Craig Pavilion every other year. And San Diego State is the only marquee non-conference opponent to visit the JCP most seasons. Last year was one of those years, and sure enough the Toreros had a chance to beat them at the buzzer.

With threats to their ranking and status like that not being something the Aztecs can afford, this rivalry may go the way of many lopsided ones where the higher-ranked team chooses to discontinue it considering there’s little benefit to risking a loss against a weaker opponent. If they beat the Toreros, it’s what they were supposed to do. If they lose or even get stuck in a tight game like last season, it only hurts them. With so much risk and little to no reward, it would  be no surprise if they start to move away from this annual game. It would be a shame for a city that lacks many big-time collegiate athletic events featuring local teams, but it’s the reality of college basketball.

Unfortunately for the Toreros, they have to travel to the always raucous Viejas Arena across town and deal with The Show, one of the loudest student sections in the nation. The Toreros don’t tend to play well in big environments, and that’s even more true when they’re visiting their crosstown rivals. While the Toreros had a better team last year than they did two seasons ago, it’s still a notable contrast that they nearly beat the Aztecs last year in the JCP but lost by 16 points in an easy Aztecs win two years ago in Viejas Arena. So the difference in venue is a factor.

But that being said, the Toreros have one of their better teams in recent years and can hang with almost anyone. After nearly knocking off the Aztecs last year and garnering upsets over Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, the time is right for the Toreros to shock the nation with a big win. Let’s look at the matchup.



San Diego

Johnny Dee (21.1 PPG)

Chris Anderson (10.3 PPG, 8.5 APG)

Duda Sanadze (7.7 PPG)

Thomas Jacobs (7.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG)

Jito Kok (8.1 PPG, 3.0 BPG)

San Diego State

Winston Shepard (11.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG)

Dwayne Polee II (9.5 PPG, 2.3 SPG)

Trey Kell (8.7 PPG)

J.J. O’Brien (9.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG)

Skylar Spencer (4.2 RPG, 3.6 BPG)


San Diego

The Toreros had a full week last week with four games as part of the Wooden Legacy in Los Angeles. They beat Western Michigan in a non-bracketed game in the Jenny Craig Pavilion before going 1-2 in the bracketed games at Cal State Fullerton and the Honda Center in Anaheim. They opened with a loss to Xavier, followed by a win over Princeton, and finally a loss in a rematch with Western Michigan on Sunday.

San Diego State

The Aztecs will have over a week of time off heading into this game after three games to start last week in the Maui Invitational. They defeated BYU in double overtime, cruised to a win over Pittsburgh, and then lost a tight 61-59 game to #3 Arizona in the championship game. That was their first and so far only loss of the year.


Jan 4, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Christopher Anderson (00) dribbles the ball against the Brigham Young Cougars in the first half at Marriott Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports


Anderson has been a force this season adding double-digit scoring ability to his already stellar assist numbers. He will be heavily out-sized against the big and talented Aztecs, and how he performs will drive the entire USD offense. If he can put up decent numbers, the Toreros could stay in the game. If he regresses to the player he was at times last year that forced shots and regularly couldn’t break 5 points per game, the Torers will struggle. Last year he rose to the occasion with 22 points in the close loss to the Aztecs, one of his best scoring performances of the year.

Mar 20, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; New Mexico State Aggies center Tshilidzi Nephawe (15) fights for the ball with San Diego State Aztecs forward Skylar Spencer (0) in the first half of a men


The biggest players to burn the Toreros in the loss last year are thankfully gone. Josh Davis had a double-double for the Aztecs and Xavier Thames led them in points in that victory. The biggest returner from that team is Skylar Spencer, a guy who creates a nightmare of a matchup problem for the Toreros. Spencer had 12 points and 6 rebounds in the game last season, and at 6-10 he towers over most of the Toreros roster. He will be the tallest player on either roster to see signifcant playing time in this game. How Jito Kok deals with him inside and how Spencer defends against the smaller, quicker Toreros could help define how this game goes. If he is dominant inside, the Toreros have no chance.



It seems obvious, but in a mismatch like this one having solid outside shooting is critical. The Aztecs are much bigger and athletic. They will outrebound the Toreros, it’s not really even a question. So for San Diego to have any chance, their shooters need to be raining shots. Dee needs to put up his standard 20-30 points. Anderson needs to push 15-20 points. Sanadze and Jacobs needs to be in the 10-15 point range. Most of these points are not going to be had driving inside against the bigger Aztecs, so they will be shooting a lot of jumpers. If they’re falling, the Toreros will make it a game. If they aren’t, the only question will be how much they lose by in a blowout loss.


It relates a little bit back to the above about hitting shots. To make shots, you’ve got to take shots. If the Toreros come out conservative hoping to grind out a win, they won’t succeed. Playing in a hostile environment against a more talented team, they should go for broke. Drive the lane no matter how tight the defense. Take any shot where they get even a little space. With nothing to lose, they shouldn’t be worried about saving face. Nobody expects them to win, so better to go all out and put themselves in a position to win it even if it means losing by 20 if it doesn’t work. Better that then hanging around the whole game just to fade late and lose by a smaller margin like they have done in their other big games against Boise State and Xavier.


For whatever reason, the Aztecs tend to be sluggish at times against the Toreros. Perhaps it’s a lack of respect for a weaker opponent who hasn’t beaten them in years, but it’s a big reason why the Toreros were able to stay in this game last season. If San Diego can start fast and keep pushing the Aztecs, they can put them on their heels and force them to try and catch up. With the poor shooting displayed by the Aztecs often this season, that’s a recipe for success. If the USD shots are falling, keep shooting. If they are finding success inside as the bigs of SDSU play casually, keep pounding the ball down low. Once the Aztecs are forced to start shooting more, the Toreros will be playing with the advantage and have a chance.


The Toreros do indeed have a chance. There is a recipe they can win this game with, and they have the talent to do it even against a superior team in terms of size, talent, fan support, etc. But it’s a slim chance, and a lot has to go right for that to happen. Even at their best like they were last season against the Aztecs, the Toreros are still over-matched against a team this good.

Like many past City Championship games have gone, the Toreros should be in this one for a little bit. San Diego State will come out slow and shoot poorly keeping the Toreros in the hunt. But like their earlier close games this season, talent should prevail and cause the Toreros to fade out of contention well before the final buzzer. San Diego State leads by single digits at halftime and never allows the Toreros to quite get close enough to threaten in the second half.