Chase Tapley is a star. A mere two games after he posted a career-high 33 points in an easy win over San Francisco, Tapley was at it again, this time leading all Aztecs scorers in 19. Tapley’s minutes are actually down from last season, as are several notable rate stats of his, but the senior guard is proving once again why he’s more than just a sidekick to Jamaal Franklin. Tapley is a star in his own right.
Franklin should be one. If only Long Sleeves was playing like the star that earned him Mountain West Conference player of the year honors last season, San Diego State might still be without a loss. He certainly didn’t resemble a star on Tuesday, when the junior posted a season-low 9 points on 2-of-6 shooting. In Franklin’s two toughest defensive tests in the non-conference (vs. Syracuse and vs. Arizona), he’s whiffed each time.
Winston Shepard will be one. The highest-ranked recruit to ever choose San Diego State is living up to the lofty billing. To the bare eye, Shepard’s season numbers are nothing short of an eyesore. They’re bad. But they’re also misleading. The freshman forward whom Steve Fisher poached from Texas is getting appreciably better by the game. An adept passer, Shepard can run point in a pinch, body up undersized 4s or stretch longer ones out on the perimeter. He had his best game of his rookie season on Tuesday in arguably the team’s biggest game to date.
Frontcourt not such a disadvantage after all. Even the staunchest San Diego State supporter will concede his/her team is weakest inside. The Aztecs are bereft of a true center and play undersized at the 3, 4 and 5 thanks to their three-guard, two-forward look. But that doesn’t mean the MWC preseason favorite is necessarily vulnerable down low. Facing two of the toughest frontcourt assignments in college basketball (Syracuse and Arizona) what with their size, length and athleticism, SDSU more than held its own. In fact, despite their heavy size disadvantage, the Aztecs outrebounded both the Orange and Wildcats (SDSU killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in the season opener). In all, the Aztecs own a top-100 (No. 79, specifically) rebounding rate in the country. Franklin’s rebounding expertise—he’s the best guard rebounder in America—and the improving play of JJ O’Brien are two big reasons why.