Three Reasons Why SDSU Can Win the Mountain West Tournament
Aztecs now believe they are the best in the Mountain West, and they’re playing like it.
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Aztecs Head Coach Brian Dutcher declared earlier this season that his goal was having the Aztecs playing their best basketball in March. Now that March has arrived, the Aztecs are running on all cylinders. They’re on a 6-0 run, and recently bested the top ranked teams in the Mountain West.
Saturday night’s 79-74 win against conference-winning Nevada Wolfpack was a high note to end regular season play. It was also a pointed reminder that the Aztecs can beat any team in the tournament.
During the last three weeks, San Diego State has rocketed from a 5-7 record and 8th place in the Mountain West- to 11-7, tied at 4th with Fresno State. For the Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, the Bulldogs are the 4th seed, and the Aztecs auspiciously attained the 5th seed, exempting them from Wednesday’s first round.
The Aztecs enter the quarterfinals against Fresno State on Thursday at 2:30pm PST. If they win, they likely face the Wolfpack again on Friday in the Semifinals. If they defeat the Pack, they may face Boise State or New Mexico in the finals. Three games, three days, three top teams.
Here are three reasons why the Aztecs might just become your 2017-2018 Mountain West Tournament Champions:
1. The Aztecs have finally found their rhythm.
For most of the season we’ve seen an Aztecs squad flicker with greatness, but lacking in consistently and synergy- until February. But why, exactly?
Talented veteran players Trey Kell, Malik Pope, and Jeremy Hemsley, have been at the core of SDSU’s basketball program in recent years and they are used to each other. Freaky-talented freshmen Jalen McDaniels, Matt Mitchell, and Jordan Schakle have also emerged with great contributions as newcomers- even securing starting positions.
Several versatile transfers including 7’1 Cal graduate transfer center Kameron Rooks and super-productive guard Devin Watson were added to the equation, and other talented back-up players like Nolan Narain and Max Montana are journeymen. Brian Dutcher is the new Head Coach as Papa Fisher steps away, and his assistants all moved up a rung. This was a program bursting with huge talent, but transforming in every way.
Now, these different forces are all in synch, and this team is playing excellent basketball. Most importantly, the Aztecs now believe they are the best in the Mountain West- and believing that is critical to winning.
2. The Aztecs are healthy. Opposing teams are nursing injuries.
FRESNO STATE is feeling the loss of 6’6″ star guard Jaron Hopkins for the season when he injured his ankle against Wyoming. Since he has left, the Bulldogs have been out of tempo and are 1-2, losing against Wyoming and New Mexico, and only beating Air Force.
NEVADA has an injury list that gets longer by the day. Jordan Caroline announced Monday he has a fractured finger (left pinky) on his non-shooting hand. The Pack lost Lindsey Drew with a torn achilles last month; Kendall Stephens is nursing a ligament strain in his shooting hand. Cody Martin had an achilles strain in January that he says is “better.” Making things worse: Darien Williams was dismissed in January.
Caleb Martin had a ligament sprain in his left foot in January said to take six weeks to heal, but he is playing. “He takes his shoe off every timeout and massages his own foot,” Coach Eric Musselman said.
Caleb Martin said to the Reno Gazette Journal: “I’ve never seen anything quite like this. At my last school (North Caroline State), we had a little more depth. Here, obviously looking at it we don’t have much depth, but it doesn’t feel like we’re lacking depth.”
3. Brian Dutcher is the most skilled first year head coach- ever.
We all know that Coach Brian Dutcher played second fiddle to Steve Fisher for roughly 28 years- both at Michigan and at San Diego State. His father was Head Coach for the Minnesota Gophers. Dutcher has probably forgotten more about coaching than some head coaches have ever learned.
Coach Dutcher knows how to handle pressure situations, and he is noting when and where to shift gears. He is finding his own stride, and this is most evident by the increasing support he is garnering from players, fans and the press alike. Dutcher has made smart decisions that have helped the Aztecs wage victories against some of the most talented teams the Aztecs have faced, including Nevada and Gonzaga.
Whatever happens: there will be plenty of Mountain West basketball to enjoy this week, and it’s quite probable that if the Aztecs don’t get their ticket punched for the NCAA Tournament, we will see them properly seeded in the NIT (National Invitational Tournament).
Go Aztecs and good luck to the rest of the field in this week’s thrilling tourney!