Counting down until San Diego State-BYU
January, 26, 2011
By Diamond Leung | ESPN.com
From the students waking up this morning in the bitter cold outside the Marriott Center to the fans readying for watch parties all over Southern California, go crazy.
For the rest of the college basketball nation, this is your night, too.
That’s the message both BYU and San Diego State sent prior to the two top-10 teams colliding tonight in Provo. This game is huge, and the two programs unaccustomed to receiving this amount of attention didn’t do anything this week to downplay that fact.
"It's a big deal," BYU star guard Jimmer Fredette said. "Two top teams playing against each other in the Mountain West Conference, it doesn't happen all that often.
"If we can win it, it'll help us with everything."
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIJimmer Fredette leads the nation in scoring at 26.7 ppg.
To the winner goes first place in the Mountain West, a boost in the rankings and another bragging point for the NCAA selection committee to consider. The resulting national buzz doesn't hurt, either.
"Everybody will be talking about that game, and we like that," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.
But what these two teams are really after is, quite simply, respect.
San Diego State knew it was going to be good coming into this season, but did anyone know it would be this good? The upstart Aztecs are one of the nation's final two unbeaten teams at 20-0, and after getting ranked for the first time in school history, they've now ascended to No. 4 in both polls.
Pretty good for a program that's never won an NCAA tournament game.
Kawhi Leonard, its most heralded player, averages a double-double (15.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) as a sophomore and is an NBA prospect, yet was under-recruited even after a high school career that ended with him being named California's Mr. Basketball. He forms a versatile frontcourt with Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, and they can all score and handle the ball.
"The frontline of San Diego State, they get points all different ways," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "On the post, individual moves, points off of transition baskets when they’re running the floor and off offensive rebounds."
The one-loss Cougars, meanwhile, have seen Fredette go from small-town New Yorker to folk hero. The national scoring leader (26.7 ppg) is a legitimate national player of the year candidate. He’s scored 40-plus points in two of his past three games and can essentially make a 3-pointer from anywhere he wants.
"Fredette is, in my opinion, the player of the year," Fisher said. "It won't be a one-man operation [guarding him]. We're going to hope he misses some of the shots he takes."
Fredette doesn't share that sentiment.
"Hopefully San Diego State doesn't have anything we can’t dissect," he said.
The Aztecs are expected to run a number of different defenders at Fredette, and as point guard counterpart D.J. Gay said, "Everybody guards Jimmer Fredette."
Their attempts at containing him will be a sight to see, as will be the crowd's excitement for Fredette's every move inside the 22,700-seat Marriott Center.
It's a clash everyone will be watching.
A clash that can't get here soon enough.