ASR and CuseConfidential.com went head-to-head to break down SDSU and Syracuse and who has the advantage in the backcourt, frontcourt and bench rotation.
San Diego State
Xavier Thames: The steady floor general returns for his second season running the Aztecs' up-tempo offense. Thames is at his best when he's penetrating and dishing it off to his teammates or slashing to the basket and finishing at the rim, but he spent the whole offseason working on his jumper and although he hasn't shot the ball particularly well in SDSU's two exhibition games, he won the three-point contest at the Aztecs' Midnight Madness event, so once he translates that over to live game action he'll be just fine. Thames was hampered for most of last season with a MCL injury, but he's back to 100 percent and says he's in the best shape of his life so he'll be ready to lead this team on a deep March Madness run.
Chase Tapley: Tapley started as a freshman on Steve Fisher's 2009-10 team which began SDSU's run of three consecutive years making it to the NCAA Tournament, and he'll likely have his most productive year as a senior. One of the better shooters in the country, Tapley led the team in scoring in both exhibitions and even displayed some added explosiveness on a couple of dunks. Tapley isn't the greatest athlete, but he's a wily veteran who can take over an entire game on the offensive end, is the Aztecs' most dangerous three-point threat, and is an active defender.
Michael Carter-Williams: The ultra talented sophomore was a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, but a year ago he was behind Triche, Scoop Jardine, and one of the top picks in the NBA Draft, Dion Waiters. Now he has waited his turn and right away you can see the mismatches he will cause because he is a 6-foot-5 point guard with long arms. On defense he is so long he will force other guards out of their comfort zone and on offense he can shoot and drive with no problem. One item that most guards are not known for is going down low and trying to grab rebounds. On defense MCW [as he is knows as in Syracuse] will look to start a fast break if he gets a rebound and on offense he will be looking for a big slam put back if he gets the chance.
Brandon Triche: The local product has started at Syracuse since day one. Despite being thrust into the starting lineup right off of the bat Triche has always deferred to upperclassmen, this season though he is that guy. He can score inside and outside and on defense he can be a great defender at the top of the Syracuse zone. Now that he is the go-to guy look for him to try and take over at times if the team starts to struggle.
Edge: SDSU. Carter-Williams can be special for Syracuse this season and Triche will likely take the next step to become a go-to guy, but Tapley is a light-out shooter who can take over a game by himself and Thames is a solid floor general who will need to show off his improved outside shot in this game.
San Diego State
Jamaal Franklin: The reigning Mountain West player of the year is SDSU's most talented player, a likely NBA first rounder, and will be the best player on the floor in this game. Franklin played as an undersized four last season out of necessity (and may see some time there again), but has slid back into the more natural wing position with the emergence of forward J.J. O'Brien. Franklin is good for at least two or three electric dunks per game, but is so much more than just a dunker. He can score and rebound at a high rate and has worked on his ball-handling and developing a more consistent outside shot in the offseason. He has an attacking mentality and will go head-to-head with anyone, but that supreme confidence also leads to turnovers and some head-scratching plays. In addition, there isn't a better player in the Mountain West with the ball in his hands at the end of a game.
J.J. O'Brien: After sitting out last season due to transfer rules, the former Utah Ute has already shown that he'll make a huge impact on this team with his versatility and smart play. O'Brien is SDSU's version of a do-it-all Swiss army knife, in the sense that on one possession he'll be defending the post and crashing the boards and the next he'll be dashing up the court with the ball in his hands leading the fast break. He's been lauded by his coaches and teammates alike as the one player who will surprise everybody this season, and after watching him in the exhibition games it's easy to see why.
DeShawn Stephens: Fisher says that Stephens is SDSU's best post player right now, and much of the Aztecs' success this season will depend on him. With James Johnson not eligible until the end of the fall semester, Stephens will be counted on heavily to crash the boards, block shots and provide solid post scoring and defense. The 6-foot-8 forward didn't play much organized basketball in high school, so he's still very new to the game and getting better every day. But he's uber-athletic, is adept at running the floor and he's added some nifty post moves on offense that he didn't have last season.
C.J. Fair: One of the top players coming off the bench in the past two seasons will now be in the starting lineup. His game is silky smooth and almost effortless, but he is the stat stuffer on the team he will score, rebound, and more. This season he has improved his outside shot and could become more of a threat.
DaJuan Coleman: The big power forward at about 6-foot-10, 280 pounds is more athletic than that may sound. He is one of three McDonald's All-Americans in the starting five for Syracuse. He is coming in with high expectations and he showed well in the exhibition season. Coleman is a big body that knows how to move, rebound, and score on the block. Orange fans are still waiting to see what he can doing and are anxious for the real games to get underway.
Rakeem Christmas: Started over half of the games last year as a freshman, but did not log all that much time. This year he will be back in the middle and trying to make fans forget about Fab Melo and he just might do that. Christmas is a better shot blocker and rebounder with an improving offensive game. He is a player that could have a stat line of 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks. He will be a double double threat all season long.
Edge: Syracuse. Franklin is dynamic on the wing, O'Brien can do so many things for SDSU and Stephens is much improved, but Syracuse is just too big, long and athletic. If Stephens and O'Brien can't hold their own down low, this could turn out to be the North Carolina State game all over again for SDSU.
San Diego State
Winston Shepard: The highest-rated recruit to ever choose SDSU right out of high school, Shepard has been the first player off the bench (along with James Rahon) in the two exhibitions. The Aztecs have a multitude of players who can bring the ball up the floor, but right now Shepard is the backup point guard and at 6-foot-8 he's been hailed as Jalen Rose 2.0. Right now Shepard isn't anywhere near the scorer that Rose was, but he can fill up a stat sheet with assists, rebounds and even blocks. He has great vision, can defend and play the 1-4 positions and will be counted on to have an immediate impact as a freshman. Shepard needs to work on his free throws and cut down on turnovers, but that will come with time.
James Rahon: When he's on his game, Rahon is a dangerous three-point threat. As a starter last season, he was hampered with a lingering foot injury and his shooting percentages dropped, but he's back to full health now for the start of his senior campaign. The coaches have praised his energy on the defensive end, and Rahon could get some starts this season when Fisher elects to go small, but he's more suited coming off the bench as an energy player and three-point threat.
Skylar Spencer: The freshman can be a shot-blocking machine for SDSU this season, and he'll be thrown into the fire early and play solid minutes right off the bat, but right now the freshman is still getting adjusted to the speed of the game. Spencer can finish in the low post but is very raw and won't be asked to do too much on the offensive end, at least initially. He'll make his biggest impact on defense.
Dwayne Polee Jr.: The preseason selection for Mountain West co-newcomer of the year (with UNLV's Bryce DeJean-Jones), Polee is ridiculously athletic and can play above the rim, but it seems like he's still trying to find his role on this team. He's been efficient in the two exhibitions (going a perfect 4-for-4 from the field), and at the very least he'll provide solid depth at the wing position. Coaches have said that he's improved his jumper, but that remains to be seen.
Matt Shrigley: Shrigley can come off the bench as a freshman and have an immediate impact on offense for SDSU. He's got a good three-point shot, can dunk it with authority and is a willing passer, but like fellow freshman Skylar Spencer, Shrigley still needs to get used to the speed of the game.
James Southerland; A season ago he really broke out as a threat on this Syracuse team. Southerland is one of the most versatile players on the roster as he can play shooting guard, small forward, or even power forward. He will be the energy guy for the Orange as he brings enthusiasm every time he gets on the court. He can make big plays on offense and defense, this season his big dunks could spark this team like Dion Waiters jams did last season.
Trevor Cooney: As a freshman he redshirted, but he didn't have a normal redshirt season. Jim Boeheim expects him to be a big part of this team and last year he logged the most playing time in practice. Coney will be the sharp-shooter on this team and could remind opponents of Gerry McNamara or Andy Rautins when he takes the floor for the Orange.
Baye Keita: The junior center is the "lunch-pail guy" for Syracuse. He just gets into the game and does his job rebounding, blocking shots, and if the ball finds his way into his hands on the block he can score. He is a very long player and tough to get a shot over. When he comes in for Christmas the Orange do not lose much.
Jerami Grant: Most likely he would see the floor a lot on many other teams, but for Syracuse his time on the floor could be sporadic. When he does get on the floor though he is a younger and a little bit taller version of C.J. Fair.
Edge: Syracuse. If James Johnson was eligible to play this would have been a "push," but right now Syracuse has the edge by the slimmest of margins. The Orange have key reserves who can provide three-point shooting, versatility and of course length and defense. Rahon will be solid coming off the bench for the Aztecs, Shrigley will provide instant offense, Polee has some serious potential and Spencer will be a defensive machine, but it remains to be seen how the newcomers will fare once the real games get underway.