San Diego St. Aztecs vs. UAB Blazers Pick & Prediction MARCH 22nd 2024

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San Diego State was a No. 5 seed last year when it made a magical run through the NCAA Tournament before falling to UConn in the national title game.

The Aztecs (24-10) are again on the 5-seed line this year, and they embark on what they hope is another memorable run when they oppose 12th-seeded UAB (23-11) on Friday in an East Region first-round game at Spokane, Wash.

San Diego State has some key players back from the most famous basketball team in school history. The list includes Lamont Butler, who made the jumper as time expired to defeat Florida Atlantic in the Final Four and put the Aztecs into the championship game.

Butler is not about to discount another storybook charge through the tournament.

“This is March Madness, anything happens,” Butler said. “We have to go out there and just play hard. Control what we can control, we can try to win a game.”

Jaedon LeDee is the best player on these Aztecs but was a reserve on last season’s squad. He was named a third-team All-American on Tuesday thanks to averages of 21.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

“He was ready for his moment,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. “I let him play free offensively. He’s not a back-to-the-basket guy, although he scores with his back to the basket. He shoots the 3, he shoots the mid-range, and then he attacks off the dribble. Jaedon is very versatile and very talented.”

San Diego State has lost three of its past five games, including a 68-61 defeat against New Mexico in the championship game of the Mountain West tournament on Saturday.

But Dutcher maintains there is no concern over the recent level of play.

“It’s about matchups and who’s playing well, so there are no upsets in the tournament,” Dutcher said. “The hot hand wins in this thing.”

UAB certainly has been enjoying a hot stretch with five consecutive wins. The latest one was an 85-69 victory over Temple to win the American Athletic Conference tournament on Sunday.

The Blazers were 4-5 early in the season before kicking things into gear.

“I’ve been doing this as a head coach for 17 years, been in the game over 30, and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team that grew as much as this team throughout the course of the season,” said UAB coach Andy Kennedy, who is in his fourth season at the school. “I think they really started to trust and believe in one another, and once we found our formula and we developed the discipline to stay to that formula, I think we showed what we were capable of doing.”

The Blazers rely on a balanced attack with Yaxel Lendeborg leading the way with team-best averages of 13.9 points and 10.7 rebounds. He is tied for fifth nationally with 19 double-doubles and was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year, primarily due to his 72 blocked shots, 2.1 per game.

Eric Gaines averages 12.2 points and leads the team with 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Alejandro Vasquez chips in 11.3 points, and Efrem “Butta” Johnson averages 10.9.

The winner of the San Diego State-UAB contest faces either No. 4 Auburn or No. 13 Yale on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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