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The #5 San Diego State Aztecs are preparing for a wild encounter with the #12 College of Charleston Cougars in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament.
#5 seeds are 95-53 versus #12 seeds since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It is up to the Cougars to buck the trend and knock out one of America’s better non-Power Five conference teams in the Round of 64.
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The College of Charleston, with less than 12,000 students, might be overlooked in size, but it is nothing to sneeze at on the basketball court. Its 31-3 record is tied for the second-best in the nation, and it closed the year on a 10-game win streak. Part of its winning run came with a CAA Conference Championship via a 63-58 win over the UNC Wilmington Seahawks.
The downside to the Cougars’ immaculate record is that it only had one matchup with a ranked opponent, then-#1 UNC, in the second game of the year, in which it lost 102-86. It did beat a Power Five opponent, Virginia Tech, 77-75 in the Charleston Classic final, which showed that it could compete against more prominent programs.
Another positive sign for Charleston is that lots of its wins were my comfortable margins. The most lopsided win came against Stony Brook just three weeks ago—Charleston won by 40 points (92-52).
Charleston’s best player can change on any given night, which is part of what makes it such a tough matchup. Five players— Dalton Bolon, Ante Brzovic, Reyne Smith, Pat Robinson III, and Ryan Larson—average at least 10 points, and they also have a sixth man in Ben Burnham, averaging nine points per night.
Burnham, who shot 44.6% from beyond the arc, is a must-cover on the perimeter. The whole team takes a ton of long-range shots which leads to a lot of rebounds, loose balls, and a hectic pace of play.
San Diego State, which plays on the West Coast and is in a non-power conference, is often hidden from the national stage, but don’t be fooled—this is a very strong program. The biggest compliment that can be paid to the Aztecs is that it has been the same team from the start of the season to the present.
SDSU capped off its season with 10 wins in its last 11 games, one of which was a 62-57 victory over Utah State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship. It achieved most of these through its tenacious defense, which allowed it to finish the year 35th in points per game allowed (64.4).
Nothing about the Aztecs is spectacular, but they play at a high level on both ends every night. They did not manage a win against a naked opponent in two tries, however, which could become a concern if they move into the later stages of the tournament.
Matt Bradley is the only player averaging double-digit points with 12.7. He is also shooting close to 38% from beyond the arc, which means that he will draw the toughest assignment from the opposing defense.
A potential problem for the Aztecs is that its top rebounder is only sixth in average minutes. However, playing against a team like Charleston that likes to jack up threes, having a traditional big man camping under the basket is not as important since the rebounds are “longer.”
The oddsmakers have made the Aztecs a 4.5-point favorite leading up to the Round of 64 showdown. Despite that, there is a real opportunity for Charleston to pull off the 5/12 upset that so many bracket-fillers are drawn to every year.
Both teams are used to winning games. That is of vital importance, even if the games weren’t against ranked opponents since the team morale is higher and players are more likely to make the extra plays that can decide outcomes.
Charleston’s approach of living and dying by the three is tough to account for, just as it is every year. Only one other team (Cornell) attempted more triples per game than the Cougars, and if their shot is falling, there is simply nothing the Aztecs—or nearly any team—will be able to do to stop them.
Based on that, the key for the Aztecs will be to lock in defensively. They gave up 87 and 78 in their losses to ranked opponents but only 58 in the conference championship, which makes predicting how they will fare against the Cougars difficult.
Even though history favors SDSU, Charleston’s style of play is so unlike most other schools that having the chance to steal 4.5 points is too appetizing to pass up. Based on that, the best San Diego State vs. College of Charleston pick is Charleston +4.5
All betting lines are current as of Sunday night, March 12.
Location: Amway Center in Orlando, FL
Game Time & Date: Thursday, March 16 at 3:10 p.m. ET
TV Network: TruTV
Streaming: YouTube TV, Hulu, FuboTV, etc.
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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