Team Needs Pt. 3 – Size

The point of this series was to point out skills rather than positions. Size isn’t really a skill. In a lot of ways, this can be seen as a cop out, because the Aztecs at the very least need a viable backup to Nathan Mensah. That being said, the Aztecs lost in the tournament to Syracuse, a team that started four players that were 6’6″ or taller despite the fact that their starting center was out with an injury. So yes, the team needs a big to backup Nathan Mensah, however, they could use more size across the entire roster.

As far as the backup center position goes, Aguek Arop has shown the ability to fill that role in spurts, but he has missed time every season with injuries, and at 6’6″ he doesn’t have the best frame to be a rim protector. The Aztecs could use another player to fill space and contest shots at the rim. It doesn’t need to be a world beater, just someone in the mold of a Joshua Tomaic or Kam Rooks.

The Aztecs have been reported to have spoken with Michael Steadman (Montana), and the discussion was likely focused on being Mensah’s backup. Aztec fans may remember Steadman as he used to play for San Jose State and averaged 9 points and 11 rebounds in two games against the Aztecs. He wouldn’t be the flashiest pickup of the offseason, but he could fill that backup role.

In addition to backup center, the Aztecs just need to get bigger. For the last two seasons in a row they’ve started four players who measured 6’6″ or shorter. Some of that was offset by Mitchell’s strength and physicality, and they were doing something right considering how many games they won. That being said, there’s no reason to think if they found a way to remain skilled while getting bigger that the success would end. It would only get better. Currently only two players on the roster measure bigger than 6’6″, Keshad Johnson (6’7″) and Mensah (6’10”).

A couple players that have been mentioned before that would help with getting bigger are Tanner Groves (Eastern Washington) and Timmy Allen (Utah). Groves is 6’9″, has great big man skills, and can hit the 3-point shot as well. He would be a great partner for Nathan Mensah, and would keep the team skilled while allowing it to be big. Timmy Allen is 6’6″, and can do most everything well on the basketball court.

In addition, the Aztecs have also been linked to Tari Eason (Cincinati) and Noah Gurley (Furman). Both players are 6’8″ and could play next to Nathan Mensah, but they have different play styles. Eason is a defensive monster with limited offensive ability. He is also younger with more room to grow. Gurley is more offensively inclined, but can hold his own defensively. Gurley can finish inside, he can hit outside shots, and he can pass out of double teams.

Overall, size won’t be the determining factor in terms of success this season. Coach Dutcher has shown he can have success with smaller teams. That being said, size makes things easier. I’m reminded of the Mountain West Tournament game against Nevada in 2018. They were the 20th tallest team in the nation according to KenPom, starting 4 players that measured 6’7″. The Aztecs however, were the 18th tallest team according to KenPom, and had a number of skilled bigs on the roster (McDaniels, Pope, Montana), as well as the 7’1″ Kam Rooks. The Aztecs were able to dominate the boards on both ends, and the bigs finished 13-17 (76.5%) inside the arc. That Nevada team later made a sweet 16 run. On that day though, they couldn’t handle the size, and it would be really fun to watch that happen again next season.

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