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Tennessee vs. San Diego State Q&A

The guys at Mountain West Connection do a great job, and today we're sharing a Q&A with their San Diego State writer Sam.  His answers to our questions our here, ours will be there later on today:

1. Tennessee fans feel they got a raw deal from the selection committee with a six seed.  Do SDSU fans feel the same way being an 11, and if so, why do you feel like the committee undervalued this team? 

We definitely feel we got the job from the committee but at the same time this is only our sixth bid ever to the tournament so maybe we should do some winning first before we open our mouths. We graduated 4 of 5 starters off of last year's team so understandably this has been a year to grow together as a team. We have a lot of talent but none have them have ever played together before and it showed early in the season with some bad losses to some bad teams, especially on the road. To put it in perspective though, Tennessee finished the season with a 14 RPI and SDSU finished the season with a 18 RPI. Obviously RPI isn't an end all be all, but it doesn't make sense that one of those teams is an 11 seed and one of those teams is a 6 seed. We have 9 true road wins, 4-5 vs RPI top 50, and 3 wins over top-25 opponent including #8 in the country on a neutral court. Not to mention win the conference tournament of the MWC who put 4 teams into the tournament, the same amount as the SEC. For comparison, Cal, an 8 seed, has a 20 RPI, only 1 win over a rpi top 50 team, and lost in the Pac-10 tournament in a year where the Pac-10 was one of the worst conferences in the country.

2. Talk about the play of freshman forward Kawhi Leonard, and how he's grown over the course of the season.  Was anyone expecting him to be this good this quickly?

It is certainly no surprise that he is good as he was selected as the best college basketball player in the entire state of California. I don't anyone expected him to be this good especially as a freshman. He plays with the confidence of a senior; he hit 8 straight free throws at the end of the MWC tournament final to seal the win. At the beginning of the season he was rebounding the ball like crazy but never go into the offense at all. Gradually he started working himself into the offense and eventually got enough confidence to start scoring inside. One of his biggest strengths is offensive rebounds, especially his own. He racks up offensive rebounds when he gets second and third chances on his own shots inside. He also will take shots from the outside occasionally when he has open looks. He's not a huge scorer though he's a very unselfish player. He's generally able to position himself where he thinks the rebound will come and has the hops to come down with it most of the time.
3. Opposing guards have put up some huge numbers against the Aztecs in many of their losses - talk about SDSU's defensive philosophy, how much zone/man/pressure they play, and if there are specific reasons they've given up big numbers to guards.

We generally play a man coverage. One of Coach Steve Fishers biggest philosophies is to guard as hard as you can in all 40 minutes of the game. I think coach Pearl has said that the Aztecs and Vols do have very similar defenses. We have been able to hold opponents to low scores by being able to slow the game down. Guards have been able to score big on us for two reasons. First we have trouble guarding people driving to the basket before we get our defense set. Jimmer Fredette absolutely tore us up this year, they were the only MWC team we weren't able to beat. Secondly, we allow too many open looks from the outside. Sometimes we focus too much of our attention guarding the paint that we lose someone on the outside and give them open looks.
4. With so much scoring balance among this team, is there one guy in particular among the starters you look to have a big game against the Vols, or to be more important than the other's to SDSU's chances for success?

We don’t really have one guy who we need to have a good game but I'd say most importantly DJ Gay would be the guy to look at. He played all 40 minutes in all 3 games in the MWC tournament and our only other real guard has a broken wrist in his not shooting hand. He is our workhorse and always the guy hitting the clutch shot when we need it the most. He did not have one turnover the entire 3 games of the tournament. He needs to keep that up if the Aztecs want to have a good shot at winning.
5. What's the most important thing SDSU needs to do to beat Tennessee?

Limit turnovers. Tennessee plays the press and a pressure defense that creates tons of turnovers and SDSU has been prone to turning the ball over especially earlier in the season. If the Vols are able to create turnovers that lead to quick scores, the game could get out of hand rather quickly and be over early. UNLV plays a similar press and created 18 turnovers in the MWC championship game. The Aztecs will have to do better than that to beat Tennessee.