The Aztecs take on Syracuse in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament
The Orange are a tough out-despite what others say
Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher discussed the matchup with Syracuse and their daunted zone.
The Aztecs have their hands full against Syracuse.
The San Diego State Aztecs won the regular season and Mountain West Conference tournament crown to earn a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their opponent: Syracuse.
The Orange were a hot topic after the Selection Show on Sunday, as many people think they shouldn’t have earned a spot. Either way, they are in, and they poise a tough matchup for any team, even the Aztecs.
The last time these two teams met was in 2021 on the USS Midway, outside, in a game the Orange won pretty easily. However, the roles are reversed this time, with the Aztecs as the higher seed.
“I’m glad we’re not playing them on an aircraft carrier,” Brain Dutcher said in a press conference “I think with the absence of wind we might even be able to make some threes this time.”
The Aztecs shot 1-18 from beyond the arc, and partially the wind, but mainly because of the Orange and their tough, unique 2-3 zone, which is also something Dutcher mentioned.
“We haven’t played against a 2-3 zone the entire season. We’re going to see one for 40 minutes, so I’m glad we’re going to have the time to prepare for it,” Dutcher said.
The 2-3 zone is Syracuse’s staple forever, it seems like. Head coach Jim Boeheim, who will go down as one of the greatest college coaches in the history of the game, has mastered that scheme and is a huge reason why Syracuse is a tournament staple essentially every year.
“Jim Boeheim is a master coach. He knows how to get a team ready to play,” Dutcher said. “He’ll be ready for us and we’ll have to play well in order to have a chance to win.”
The good news is that the Aztecs have won 14 straight and played some of the best team defense in the entire country. While they haven’t seen anything like a 2-3 zone, Dutcher acknowledged that “Air Force tried to zone us” earlier in the season.
Nonetheless, Coach Dutcher is one of the best there is, and while rumors have swirled of him going to Minnesota to take the vacant Gophers job, he’s enjoying every second, including this “trust fall” after cutting down the nets in Las Vegas.
I’m here for the Brian Dutcher trust fall.
— Jon Schaeffer (@jonschaeffer) March 14, 2021
The Aztecs will have their work cut out for them, and Dutcher and his staff will do their best to figure out how to get past that zone.
“We’ll go back and watch tape and find out what teams have had success,” Dutcher said when asked about the zone. “Part of the job is studying what was effective against them and try to find those areas and exploit them.”
The Aztecs will do their best to be ready, even more considering last year’s squad was 30-2 and likely headed for a one or two seed before the cancellation of the NCAA tournament due to COVID-19.
San Diego State wins the Mountain West regular season and tourney titles. Still incredible to think this program was awful before Steve Fisher and Brian Dutcher arrived a little more than two decades ago.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 14, 2021
For Dutcher and the team, this is something they’ve been waiting for. Furthermore, Steve Fisher and Dutcher together built this program from the ground up. Now Coach Dutcher has lost a total of six games in the past two seasons, a pure testament to the tutelage of Fisher.
“Just trying to make the kids believe they’re better than they are,” Dutcher said when asked if he took any intangibles from the legendary Steve Fisher. “If they start doubting themselves they have no chance to win. I like a team that’s confident.”
This Aztecs team is confident, especially with seniors Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel who returned to school with one thing on their minds: the NCAA Tournament.