Former IU Aide Offers SDSU Insight

Former IU aide and current Wyoming assistant coach Eric Jackson provides in-depth analysis of Indiana's first-round NCAA foe, San Diego State. Jackson's Wyoming team faced the Aztecs three times this year, including a match-up last weekend's Mountain West Conference final...

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If there's one person who knows what's in store for the Hoosiers on Tuesday, it's former IU assistant and current Wyoming assistant coach Eric Jackson.

Jackson is a first-year assistant under Steve McClain at Wyoming, which dropped a 69-64 overtime game to San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference final Saturday. An administrative assistant at IU a year ago, Jackson's Wyoming team played SDSU three times this season, losing 78-77 in overtime in Cheyenne, Wy., and then dropping a 19-point decision in San Diego March 1.

As Indiana has prepared for its 9:40 p.m. EST Thursday matchup with the Aztecs, most of the attention on Steve Fisher's squad has centered around MWC Player of the Year Brandon Heath and forward Marcus Slaughter. But Jackson thinks a third Aztec could play a big role in the game's outcome.

"The x-factor is (Mohamed) Abukar," Jackson said. "That kid has the ability to knock down jump shots, he's a slasher and he can score inside. He's kind of like Marco (Killingsworth) in terms of talking a little bit. He's kind of their heart in that regard."

The 6-10, 216-pound Abukar is a junior who transferred from Florida last December. Since becoming eligible at the start of second semester, Abukar is averaging 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists. He had one of his best games against Wyoming in the 91-72 win March 1, scoring 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting.

His presence gives San Diego State a pair of big bodies on the front line IU will have to contend with.

"He's going to be a big factor, especially in terms of how they decide to handle him and Slaughter," Jackson said. "If you double Slaughter, now you're leaving a guy that can make plays wide open. I wouldn't expect Indiana to double. I'd suspect Indiana will play them straight up."

Abukar might be the x-factor, but if the game comes down to the last couple of minutes, Jackson says it will be Heath that the team turns to. The 6-4, 198-pound Heath led the MWC in scoring with 18.5 points per game, while his 95 3-pointers and 84.9 percent free-throw shooting were also conference bests.

"Heath is a handful," Jackson said. He's not one of these get in the gap, drop it off kind of guys. But when they get into an up and down game, that's when Heath becomes really dangerous. If you give him open looks he's not going to miss too many.

"If the game gets down to a one or two-point game, Heath is the guy."

So who does Indiana use on Heath? Most likely a handful of Hoosiers. Indiana has generally rotated players like Rod Wilmont, Marshall Strickland and A.J. Ratliff on high-scoring perimeter players, and Jackson suspects IU Coach Mike Davis will do that again Thursday night.

"They'll probably just run a lot of guys at him - I would," Jackson said. "That's what we tried to do. Our point guard, our two guard, our three guard. A guy like Wilmont who has some size and strength is probably a good matchup on him. Strick should be able to guard him at times. All those guys, even a guy like A.J. (Ratliff), who tends to struggle against guys that are really physical, he can match-up with him because and Heath's not that type of physical player."

Heath isn't the only perimeter threat at Fisher's disposal, though. He aso has 6-0, 190-pound senior John Sharper, who's averaging 8.8 points and shooting better than 41 percent from deep. He's a former walk-on who earned a scholarship two years and has been a key contributor He's started only three games this season, but he averages more than 25 minutes per game. He's exclusively a 3-point shooter, as evidenced by the fact 184 of his 216 shots this season have been 3-pointers.

"He can shoot it lights out," Jackson said.

The 6-9, 220-pound Slaughter, meanwhile, is coming off a huge junior season in his own right. He averaged 16.6 points and 11.0 rebounds, making him the first San Diego State player to average a double-double since Michael Cage did it more than 20 years ago.

"Slaughter is the guy throughout the game that's going to get you rebounds, run the floor, he's going to make defensive plays," Jackson said. "He's the guy that grinds it out all night."

That trio leads a San Diego State team that won both the MWC regular and postseason titles while going 24-8 overall and 13-3 in conference play. Fisher's squad averaged 74.2 points per contest as well while shooting 39 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

"Offensively, transition is No. 1 with them," Jackson said. "When they're out and running, they are really good."

Defensively, Jackson said they like to bring more than to defend the post, a style that most teams have used to try to contain IU's leading scorer, Marco Killingsworth.

"They like to double the post a lot," Jackson said. "That's one of the things they do all the time. I'm curious to see if they continue to do that against Indiana, because that's a huge gamble because of how well Indiana shoots it from the perimeter. It will be interesting to see if they do what they usually do – which is double the post – of if they are going to try to play Marco straight up and say nobody else is going to beat us." Top Stories