An Air Force men’s basketball team in serious need of a victory begins a stretch where it plays three of the next four at home on Saturday.
“We’ve got to take advantage of it,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
San Diego State (9-6, 1-1 Mountain West) is first up Saturday at 2 p.m., followed by UNLV (9-6, 3-0) on Wednesday and then, after a trip to No. 7 Nevada, Boise State (7-8, 2-0) will visit Jan. 22.
If Air Force (5-10, 0-3) hopes to make the climb up the conference standings it envisioned before the season, this is the kind of stretch where it must find the answers that have baffled it during a skid that has brought five losses in six games.
San Diego State has won nine of its last 10 meetings with Air Force, including the last three.
Player to stop
Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State: The sophomore forward is averaging 18.7 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists over his past three games. He made 10-of-14 shots and scored 23 points with 20 rebounds in a pair of victories over Air Force last year.
What has changed?
Last year, particularly in the first meeting in San Diego, the Aztecs used their height and length on defense to clog the passing lanes and keep Air Force on the perimeter. The Falcons hoisted 27 3s as a result and made just six. This year, San Diego State isn’t quite quite as tall, with a projected starting lineup that goes 6-foot-1, 6-3, 6-6, 6-6 and 6-10. It’s still a tall roster, but last year there were two 6-10 players.
What Air Force needs
The Falcons desperately need to identify a consistent No. 3 scoring option behind Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan. Seemingly each time a player has stepped into that role — be it A.J. Walker scoring 20 points against Missouri State, Keaton Van Solen putting up 16 vs. Utah State, Caleb Morris scoring 31 points over two early December games — they have failed to replicate it.
What San Diego State needs
Over the past four years, the Aztecs have outscored Air Force by an average of 21 points when shooting 30 percent or better from 3-point range. When they’ve shot under that mark, they’ve outscored the Falcons by a margin of five points. The Falcons have generally stayed tight in a zone and dared San Diego State to shoot from long range. When the Aztecs have been able to, these games haven’t been close.