Wednesday, December 30, 2015

MW Conference Starts with Wyoming; Be Ready

All games on the schedule are important, even though our Aztecs didn’t seem to have that outlook a few times. But now the Mountain West Conference schedule starts with a home game against Wyoming tonight at Viejas. And we’d better all be ready – the team, The Show and the crowd.

The Cowboys are not a great team, but good. They are 7-6. Their close 76-72 loss to Cal was one of their better games. Sagarin ranks them #177, but the Aztecs are a non-threatening #82, well below where we’ve been in recent years.

After a lot of tinkering, Coach Fisher made key changes in the starting line-up for the Kansas game. But it did not produce better shooting, better rebounding, or better ball handling; and it did result in a 13-point loss, worse than the betting line.

I’m sure not privy to Coach’s thinking but my guess is we will see that same starting five; maybe fewer coming in off the bench. Seeing Skylar Spencer back at the start was encouraging to me, he brings such an important defensive strength. And I am convinced that Winston Shepard is going to take charge starting with the conference games. Trey Kell, Dakarai Allen, Ben Perez, Angelo Chol have been in and out. The rest will probably ride the bench.

Coach always has stressed how important the Viejas support has been – The Show and the ticket holders. But this year, I’d have to say, we’ve been off as much as the team. Now let’s get it all together. Make it like it was at least for a part of the Kansas game, before half the crowd bailed out.

Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer (photos by Ernie Anderson)
GO AZTECS! Get the conference race started with a big win!


Monday, December 21, 2015

Which Aztec Team Will Show Up?

So far, this has been a baffling basketball season for our Aztecs. Some good games, some terrible. Some better-than-expected individual performances, some disappointing.

Now comes what is sure to be the toughest game of the whole season, and we get the Kansas Jayhawks right here on our home court. I think for once this season, The Show will really show, along with the rest of the crowd. Should be a wild night.

The key question: Which Aztec team will show up? The casual one that was humiliated by USD? The one that looked totally lost against a very good and aggressive WVU? Or the more typical Aztec team that throttled a then-ranked Cal and also dominated Nicholls by 37 points.

Another question: Which players will carry the load. Certainly true Freshman Jeremy Hemsley has developed even faster than expected, and Trey Kell is proving to be what he couldn’t quite be last year when forced into an awkward role.

But the starting line-ups have hardly been what we expected. Zylan Cheatham has shown he’s all we hoped for, but still needs to play more under control, Winston Shepard has played well in parts of games coming off the bench. Skylar Spencer still is a great shot blocker and now shoots FTs better right-handed.

There is no doubt in my mind that Coach Fisher and his staff will sharpen this team and the Aztecs will be a player in the MW. But maybe not in the dominant role anticipated. The game with Kansas, Tuesday, December 22, will tell us a lot. If you are a ticket holder, you’d better be there to do your part!

Jeremy Hemsley, Zylan Cheatham (photos by Ernie Anderson)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hawaii Bowl Odds Switch – Aztecs Now Favored

The early betting line for the Hawaii Bowl showed Cincinnati a 2-point favorite, but I never believed it. Now, with their star QB not making the trip, the line seems to have reversed and I see our Aztecs favored by 2. That's more like it!

From what I’ve read, the Bearcats are a high-scoring team, but without a strong defense. Their record is 7-5. Best wins probably the 34-23 over Miami, FL, and 19-16 over East Carolina. Among their losses, was a 38-24 to BYU and a 53-46 by powerful Memphis.

Their biggest offensive weapon is their passing game, led by 6-4 QB Gunner Kiel, a transfer from Notre Dame. He has thrown for 2,777 yards, with a 65.2% completion average, 19 TDs and 11 INTs. For their running game, the Bearcats QB hands off to three capable backs, who have run for almost equal 727, 717 and 697 yards. So watch out. However, there is a significant change because Kiel did not make the trip for “personal reasons.” That should change the match-up, as the odds switch indicates.

Their head coach ain’t exactly chopped liver. Tommy Tuberville has been a successful big-time head coach for 18 seasons, including stops at Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech, and now in his third season at Cincinnati. His biggest year was 2004, when he went 13-0 at Auburn. 

A lot of Bearcat positives, but I like our Aztecs because they have been on such an impressive roll, with nine straight wins after a sluggish 1-3 start. The defense has become tougher and tougher, and turnovers have been a big factor. The offense is led by DJ Pumphrey and his 1,554 yards rushing, plus another 397 receiving. Passing has not been a huge factor but the fact that there have been no INTS in the last 11 games tells you our quarterbacking has been steady under Maxwell Smith and Christian Chapman, when the Redshirt Freshman filled in for the injured Smith in that crucial 27-24 MW play-off win over Air Force. And our Red Zone success has been sky high – 93.62%!

This Aztec team already ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites. A tribute to Rocky Long, his staff and the whole team. Now bring home another win – make it 11!

Aztec Grand Slam: MW Offensive Player of the Year (DJ Pumphrey), Defensive Player of the Year (Damontae Kazee), Special Teams Player of the Year (Rashaad Penny) and Coach of the Year (Rocky Long). All photos by Ernie Anderson.