UNLV and San Diego State both landed elite prospects from Findlay Prep as part of last year’s recruiting class, but Anthony Bennett and Winston Shepard have experienced vastly different levels of success as college freshmen so far.
As teammates last year, Bennett and Shepard helped Findlay Prep go 29-1 and win the National High School Invitational. Bennett was ranked No. 7 in the Class of 2012 by Rivals, while Shepard, a wiry swingman, was No. 21. When Bennett committed to UNLV, he was touted as the school’s best recruit in 20 years. For SDSU, Shepard was hailed as the best recruit in Aztec history.
Bennett has exceeded that hype from Day 1, averaging 19.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and last week he was included as one of 25 players on the watch list for the Wooden Award. So yeah, he’s made the college transition quite well.
Shepard, on the other hand, has faced a rockier road for SDSU. It started before the season with some off-court trouble, and he served a three-game suspension early in the season for impermissable benefits. And on the court, he’s struggled to integrate himself into the Aztecs’ veteran-laden lineup.
In 19.7 minutes per game, mostly off the bench, Shepard is averaging 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds, and he’s shooting just 32.7 percent from the field. The advanced stats tell the same story, as he grades out as SDSU’s worst offensive and defensive player (among regulars). On offense, he’s producing a miniscule 0.567 points per possession (Chase Tapley, for comparison’s sake, leads the Aztecs at 1.083; Bennett is at 1.177), and on defense he allows 0.982 points per possession.
That doesn’t mean Shepard is a bust. He’s a talented player who’s still trying to figure out his position at the college level, and to his credit, he appears to be working hard and has played better as of late. But he hasn’t made the kind of instant impact Bennett has.
So far, UNLV appears to have come away with the better Findlay Prep product. The Rebels hope it will make a difference on the court on Wednesday night.
San Diego State ranks just 97th in the nation in rebounding, pulling down 37.4 per game, so you’d expect the Rebels (eighth nationally at 42.8 per game) to have a big advantage there, especially when they play their big lineup with Mike Moser, Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch on the court at the same time.
But SDSU has more than held its own when going up against teams with superior size. When the Aztecs played No. 3 Arizona on Christmas (a 68-67 win for Arizona), they won the rebounding battle, 32-29, despite Arizona having 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle, as well as big forwards like Solomon Hill, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett getting significant minutes.
Part of that is because of Franklin, who covers up a lot of the Aztecs’ size deficiencies by grabbing 10.3 rebounds per game. Despite measuring just 6-foot-5, he pulled down eight rebounds against Arizona, tops for both teams. As we covered yesterday, keeping Franklin off the glass will be a key for UNLV.
The Rebels have struggled against zone defenses at times this season, but that probably won’t be a concern against SDSU. Aztecs coach Steve Fisher is strictly a man-to-man practitioner, and his team has played zone on less than 1 percent of their possessions this year.
“They’re a terrific man-to-man defensive team,” said coach Dave Rice. “They do a very good job with their scouting report, and then when you throw in the experience of their guys and understanding their defensive system, they’re very good at playing man-to-man.”
Franklin is the Show
It’s no surprise where San Diego State wants to go with the ball — Jamaal Franklin is at the center of everything the Aztecs want to do on offense. He uses 23.3 percent of his team’s offensive possessions, according to Synergy data, which is a huge number. By comparison, UNLV’s highest usage player is Anthony Bennett, who is involved in 18.8 percent of the Rebels’ plays.
X marks the spot
If the Rebels are looking for weak spots in the San Diego State defense, they won’t find many. But junior Xavier Thames might be the guy to attack — opponents are shooting 43.5 percent against him on isolation plays, which is just about the only negative statistic throughout the entire team. Can Anthony Marshall take advantage?
Prediction: San Diego State 78, UNLV 70
Player of the Game: Chase Tapley — 20 points, four rebounds, two assists
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