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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 01/26/2011

Why you should care about tonight's San Diego State-BYU game

By Eric Prisbell

Here is why you should care about tonight's San Diego State-Brigham Young matchup, one of the best matchups of the season and arguably the best in the history of the Mountain West Conference:

San Diego State story: It's hard to believe it has been nearly 20 years since Steve Fisher coached Michigan's Fab Five to back-to-back national title games in 1992 and 1993. In his 12th season at San Diego State, Fisher, who won the 1989 national title at Michigan, has built the Aztecs into a national contender despite the absence of the resources that exist at most top programs. The Aztecs have chartered a flight only once during the regular season in Fisher's 12 years, according to this report that cites several other disadvantages. Early in his tenure at SDS, Fisher used to keep game tickets in his pocket to give out to folks he saw on campus. Now, general public tickets have been sold out for the remainder of the home schedule. In recent years, other non-BCS teams have emerged as strong national contenders, even for a year. There was St. Joseph's in 2004; Gonzaga throughout the past decade, Memphis, which came within a few free throws from winning the 2008 national title; and Butler, which was a halfcourt shot away from winning last season's crown. But San Diego State's story is compelling, as well. The Aztecs were never ranked before this season.

Jimmer Fredette's story: Fredette has become a fan favorite in the college basketball world. He leads the nation in scoring and has virtually unlimited shooting range. He'll take 30-foot shots during the normal flow of a game. Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis says the only thing that can effectively guard The Jimmer: Halftime. He grew up in Glens Falls, N.Y., where his older brother, T.J., taught him how to conceal his emotions on the court. T.J. also brought Jimmer along to a medium-security prison to play pickup ball against inmates. T.J. is a rapper whose song "Amazing" is dedicated to Jimmer. T.J. will perform at the Marriott Center tonight before the biggest regular season game of his brother's career.

What is at stake: Both teams are in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Only one can probably get it, and that team may need a sweep of the other in the regular season. As of today, unbeaten San Diego State is fourth in the RPI; BYU is first overall in the RPI. Win or lose, both teams should get an RPI boost. Fisher is not one of those coaches who says it would be better for his team to have a loss headed into the NCAAs. "I want to be undefeated when we go into 'Selection Sunday,' Fisher told FanHouse. "It won't happen. Probably won't happen. But I'd like to have that happen."

What to watch: San Diego State has an imposing front court with Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas. But I'm most interesting in the guard matchup featuring SDS's D.J. Gay and Fredette. Obviously, Fredette gets all the pub, but Gay is someone worth keeping an eye on the next two-plus months. Playing at the Marriott Center is, in a word, hell. BYU is 29-1 at home the past three seasons. Fisher is 1-10 at the Marriott Center, which he has said is an "impossible" place to play.

By Eric Prisbell  | January 26, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
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