- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Arguments like this can be easy. Let's walk through the steps.
First, you note a team's low preseason expectations. Then, you compare those low expectations to their surprising early-season performance. Lastly, and most importantly, you chastise "people" (or "everybody" or "college basketball" or "the so-called analysts," which is my personal favorite) for "sleeping" on this surprisingly effective team.
Rinse, repeat. See how simple that can be?
A day after their 67-59 victory over Marquette, and three days after an 86-80 victory over Doug McDermott and Creighton, it is immensely tempting to apply this rubric to those surprisingly stout San Diego State Aztecs. It would also be disingenuous. I didn't expect San Diego State to beat Creighton and Marquette this early in the season; I didn't expect Steve Fisher to avoid the dreaded "transition year" in his 12th season in Viejas Arena; and I don't think very many other people did, either. But just six games into the 2013-14 campaign, the Aztecs and Fisher have done exactly that.
How? For starters, Fisher's team is playing characteristically tough defense, the same kind of defense his teams have thrived on since their breakthrough in 2011. San Diego State is holding opponents to 0.95 points per possession to date, 26th in the country; the only teams to score more than a point per trip against them are Arizona (which won 69-60 at Viejas) and Creighton, which put up 80 points in a loss.
Really, that may be the most surprising thing about San Diego State to date. The Aztecs are scoring a bit, too. They put up 86 points in 69 possessions against the aforementioned Bluejays. That looks like a function of Creighton's defense, sure, but still: The Aztecs are averaging 1.10 points per trip, rebounding 37.3 percent of their misses and posting a 51.9 percent free throws-to-field goals ratio thus far. Senior guard Xavier Thames is shooting 59.3 percent from 3-point range to start the season. J.J. O'Brien and and freshman Matt Shrigley are 40.0 and 56.5 percent, respectively.
That brings us to the big question: Can SDSU keep this up? The Aztecs are shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range this season. Maybe that's what they are, but it's doubtful; but Thames and Shrigley won't flirt with 60 percent all year. Meanwhile, Aztecs opponents are shooting just 60.2 percent from the free-throw line. Both of those stats will regress to the mean eventually.
But forget that, at least for now. It is just barely December, and a fresh, seemingly transitional San Diego State team without Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley is 5-1, with wins over Creighton and Marquette. That is a success all to its own — and a genuinely surprising one at that.