Air Force can use last year’s upset of San Diego State as inspiration, but it can’t use it as a blueprint.
Jamaal Franklin simply changes everything.
Franklin, the Aztecs guard and reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, sat out with a sprained ankle during the Falcons’ 58-56 upset last year at Clune Arena.
That victory was monumental for Air Force. It was just the program’s second win over a ranked opponent, it helped coach Dave Pilipovich shed his interim label and it provided confidence that has propelled the group to its best conference start since 2007.
Replicating that win Saturday at Clune Arena will be a tall task, considering Franklin wasn’t around the first time (he played in last seasib's first meeting, scoring 14 points in a 57-44 victory). There just aren’t many players in the Mountain West that can compare to the 6-foot-5 junior who is averaging 17.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
“Not like him,” Pilipovich said. “He can score, he was player of the year last year, grabs offensive rebounds, drives, scores 3, gets out transition; really intense player. I’d say he’s probably, in this league, he’s the guy.”
His skill set is unique to the league that has a few quality big men and a few solid guards, but few with the combined ability to slash and shoot. The best player to compare him with might be Air Force’s Michael Lyons. But while Lyons is largely quiet, Franklin is an emotional firecracker who won’t shy from showboating. He made the rounds on every highlight program earlier this year with a dunk in transition where he passed to himself off the backboard.
“He’s an emotional player,” Pilipovich said. “He’s the guy who will start hollering at some people. He’s had some verbals with some players and coaches and officials during games. He’s very intense.”
Air Force (13-6, 4-2 MW) doesn’t plan any drastic changes for its approach to Franklin, who is projected as a second-round pick in this year’s NBA draft.
With a short turnaround after playing Wednesday night (San Diego State will have had a week off before the game), Pilipovich kept his players off the court Thursday except for a little shooting and he’ll limit Friday’s practice to 90 minutes – not enough time to implement a new brand of defense.
Obviously San Diego State (16-4, 4-2) and Franklin can be stopped. In a 58-45 loss at Wyoming, the Aztecs’ only game at high altitude, coach Steve Fisher’s team scored just nine points in the first half and Franklin was held to 3-of-14 shooting.
Air Force’s plan will be to change defensive looks and, rather than worry about the points Franklin scores, focus instead on finding answers on the other end.
“We’ll mix up defenses at times to try to keep things at bay,” Pilipovich said. “We were able to score on them last year, driving the ball and getting some back cuts. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that again.”