Can the Aztecs make another great run?
The 2019-20 season was a disappointment for San Diego State fans. Not because of what happened on the court, but because of what didn’t happen on the court. The Aztecs went 30-2 on the season and were set to receive a likely No. 2 seed in the March Madness Tournament. Then the tournament was canceled. The Aztecs were ranked 11th in offense and 10th in defense according to KenPom.
In the last 10 Tournaments, the eventual winner was ranked in the top 11 of both offense and defense 8 times. Only 2 teams were ranked in the top 11 in both offense and defense when the 2020 season ended, Kansas and SDSU. Is that a guarantee that SDSU would’ve made it to the national championship? No, but with arguably the best team SDSU has ever had, fans would’ve liked to see them try.
Now the Aztecs need to move on without Conference Player of the year, Defensive player of the year, and 2nd team All American Malachi Flynn. The Aztecs also have to fill in the roles of starters K.J. Feagin and Yanni Wetzell. It is a lot of production to have to replace, but there is hope for Aztec fans.
Coach Brian Dutcher returns a veteran crew in his 4th year as head coach. The starting lineup looks to have 4 seniors and a junior. Coach Dutcher likes to have veteran players, and fans have seen what he can do when he has veterans leading the team.
Matt Mitchell returns, a first-team all-conference player last year and preseason all-conference player this season. He is among the favorites for conference POY this season. Also returning is starter Jordan Schakel. Schakel is arguably a top 20 shooter in the nation and is a huge boon to the Aztec’s offense. He’s no slouch on defense either.
SDSU’s Matt Mitchell has one of the deeper bags in all of college hoops.
1st Team All- Mountain West.
12.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG & 1.7 APG.
— LEAGUE HIM (@LEAGUEHIM_) July 23, 2020
Some of the best news for Aztecs fans is that Nathan Mensah will be returning after missing most of last season with a Pulmonary Embolism. Mensah is arguably the best defensive big man in the conference. Having him on the back end to deny shots at the rim and clog up driving lanes should help the Aztecs have one of the better defenses in the country once again.
The frontcourt seems set, technically bringing back three starters (even though they never started in the same game.) The backcourt on the other hand is a question mark. Trey Pulliam showed flashes of brilliance last season, highlighted by an 18 point performance against UNLV where he shot 100% from the field. He seems like the front runner for one of the two guard spots.
The other front runner is grad transfer Terrell Gomez, 5’8” point guard from CSU Northridge. Gomez comes in as a scoring guard who is probably a better shooter than even Schakel. His addition gives the Aztecs two top 20 shooters in the nation, so expect a lot of 3 point shots and a lot of points.
Terrell Gomez is taking his talents to SDSU. CSUN grad transfer averaged about 20 points a game last season and was one of the nations top 3-point shooters. pic.twitter.com/Mm9m1PovQt
— Judson Richards (@Judson1360) April 7, 2020
Those five make up the likely starters. Coming off of a 30-2 season the Aztecs also have a deep bench as well. Players like Adam Seiko, Aguek Arop, Keshad Johnson, and grad transfer Joshua Tomaić look to factor into the rotation. There are also 3 incoming freshmen in Che Evans, Keith Dinwiddie, and Lamont Butler. Any of these players could find their way into the rotation or even the starting lineup due to the uncertainty at the guard spots.
Keshad Johnson may be the favorite to steal a starting spot due to his athleticism and size. Many people, including teammate K.J. Feagin, have said Keshad is heading to the NBA. Someone with that kind of potential should see a lot of minutes and at 6’7”, would help the Aztecs play bigger.
The Aztecs biggest strength is undoubtedly their ability to shoot the ball. Terrell Gomez, Jordan Schakel, and Matt Mitchell all combined to shoot 42.8% from deep last season. Those 3 players can hit shots from anywhere on the court. Teams that shoot the ball that well are capable of beating anyone in the country.
Size figures to be a weakness throughout the season. There are only 2 scholarship players on the roster listed at 6’8” or above. One of them is the aforementioned Nathan Mensah. Should his lung problems return this team will be in trouble, as opponents will be able to beat them up inside.
The facet of the game that will make or break this team is playmaking. Will anyone step into the shoes that were filled by Flynn last season. All these shooters will need someone to get them the ball. Trey Pulliam is the early favorite in that regard, but keep your eye on Matt Mitchell too. He has flashed playmaking potential but was never given the keys due to the presence of Flynn last season. If Matt Mitchell can add the drive and kick to his game this will be a complete team. Teams will have to choose whether to let Mitchell finish at the rim or leave a shooter like Gomez or Schakel open from deep.