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In comparison to recent San Diego State University basketball teams, the 2013 squad isn’t overly impressive.
Many think that this group lost its shot at a national championship after losing to the Connecticut Huskies in the Sweet 16 in 2011.
The 2012 squad failed to get out of the first round without Kawhi Leonard, who left for the NBA, or D.J. Gay, who graduated the year before. So far, the 2013 team has put up the worst record for SDSU basketball since the 2007-2008 season and has struggled to find a balance between veteran leadership and the talented freshmen and sophomores on the team.
The SDSU team has always followed Head Coach Steve Fisher’s philosophies and won on the back of good effort and tough defense. The games they’ve lost have often come as a result of long droughts from the offense, which struggles when streaky shooters James Rahon and Chase Tapley can’t hit open shots. Without a true big man on the team, the offense revolves around crisp passing and knocking down shots.
Tapley, in particular, is a player that I’ve been watching closely as he’s moved from a young shooter to a veteran leader alongside two-time Mountain West Player of the year Jamaal Franklin. Despite the fact that Tapley has had the worst field foal percentage of his college career this season, and that his three-point percentage and scoring are down from last year, it seems as though he has become a more consistent player in clutch moments.
Now, heading into a matchup against New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference Tournament and his final March Madness as an Aztec, Tapley could shine bright enough to carry his team to a stage they haven’t seen since that 2011 loss to UConn.
When Boise State beat the Aztecs on March 9, Tapley his just 5 of 14 shots and just 1 of 7 of his attempts from 3-point range. He also had fewer rebounds, fewer assists and fewer steals. In a rematch against the Broncos Wednesday night, Tapley made 7 of 12 shots (including 3 of 6 from 3-point range) and added 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals to his 17 points.
Franklin will have a decision to make after the final NCAA tournament game: whether he’s ready to enter the NBA Draft. Unfortunately for Tapley, he grades out as an undersized shooting guard with below-average athleticism in the NBA. This is not just the last chance he has at getting past the Sweet 16. This could be his last chance to persuade an NBA general manager to take a shot on him next season.
If the Aztecs want to return to the Sweet 16 and go even further, their veterans will have to carry them there. Franklin has shown remarkable consistency throughout his three seasons in red and black, which has often left it up to Tapley to sway the game in SDSU’s favor. Some consistent play over the next few weeks could yield big results for a team that has become known more for its let-down losses.