20 Thoughts on the Aztecs heading into the Mountain West Tournament

Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

March Madness, some of the best weeks in sports, is finally here. March 9 signifies the beginning of the Mountain West Conference tournament. San Diego State will look to win its second straight championship and third in the last five years. Below are 20 thoughts on SDSU after finishing the season, winning nine of their final ten games. 

1. Matt Bradley

Matt Bradley is the engine to the Aztecs sports car, and he is flying by SDSU opponents. In the last week, he dominated. He was recognized for his efforts by the national media. He won Mountain West Player of the Week, which he has achieved before. In addition, ESPN and Andy Katz awarded him National Player of the Week.

Bradley scored a career-high 30 points against Wyoming and averaged almost 27 points per game for the week. He also averaged almost seven rebounds per game. Bradley continues to force defenses to shift their focus on him, but he does not let the extra attention phase him.

2. Bradley makes first team all-conference and wins newcomer of the year in the Mountain West coaches ballots.

Bradley means so much to this Aztec team. He garners two thoughts in this article. The media voted Bradley to make the Mountain West second team, but the coaches restored order. They voted Bradley as Newcomer of the year, and he made the All-Mountain West first team. “It’s a big accomplishment,” Bradley said. “There is a lot of talented players in this conference. To be recognized as first team and newcomer, it’s pretty special.” Bradley averaged 19.7 points in conference play.


3. Take some days off

There’s a reason why Coach Brian Dutcher put so much emphasis on the team finishing in the top five in the Mountain West standings. The five teams get an extra day of rest for the Mountain West tournament. With SDSU finishing the season with six games in 15 days, they must take advantage of the extra time off. They have four days off before playing their first game, Thursday night in the Quarterfinals. This is the longest they have had to recover since COVID-19 put their season on pause back in early January. Coach Dutcher, in the weekly press conference, said the team took both Sunday and Monday off this week.

Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

4. Significance of the final week of the MW regular season

The final week of the regular season for the Aztecs may have been the biggest of the season. The final week featured the tall task of three games in six days. Monday, the Aztecs defeated Wyoming in Laramie, a place the Cowboys were undefeated all season. The win was also the first Aztec win in elevation this season. Three days later, they celebrated senior night and faced a gritty Fresno State team that took them to double overtime.

Less than 48 hours later, they again traveled to elevation. With fatigued legs, SDSU faced a Nevada team that was fully healthy and rested. The Wolfpack had not played the prior three days. The Aztecs handled the challenge and showed resilience to win all three contests. Dutcher said it best after the Nevada game: “We found a way to win at the end of day in probably the hardest month we have ever played of Aztec basketball.” 

Even though the Aztecs have won nine of the last ten games, Dutcher still expects more. “Our best basketball is ahead of us, and that will start Thursday in the Mountain West tournament, trying to hang a banner and win three games in three days.”

5. Being the three seed in the Mountain West tournament

With the Aztecs winning nine of their last ten games, they worked their way up to a three seed in the Mountain West standings. This has its benefits as it avoids playing UNLV in the opening round on their home court and pushes a potential game against Boise State to the championship. It also comes with negative consequences. Their first game will be Thursday night at 8:30. If they win and advance to the semifinals, their next game will be at 9:00 p.m. Even worse, these times are likely to be pushed back further because of the games before them going long. Dutcher said in the presser, “It’s obviously easier to play the earlier games, but that’s not the slot we’ve drawn.”

The championship is a quick turnaround as it is played at 3:00 in the afternoon on Saturday. There is a reason why the three seed has historically struggled in this Mountain West format. In the eight seasons of this format, the three seed has only made the championship once and has never won. In tip times past 8 p.m. this season, the Aztecs went 2-1 as they defeated Georgetown and Fresno State and lost to USC.

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

6. MW competition

The Mountain West is as tough as it has ever been. Dutcher said, “The difference between seventh and first is paper-thin.” Given the parity, this tournament is up for grabs. Chances are there will be upsets. Assuming the better-seeded teams win, the Aztecs will play Fresno State then Colorado State before the championship.

A matchup against the Bulldogs is intimidating. The Justin Hutson-led team usually plays the Aztecs very close. Last week, they played SDSU in a nailbiter that went into double overtime. SDSU has contained Orlando Robinson in the two previous matchup. If the teams play on Thursday, expect a defensive slugfest.

Facing Colorado State will also be a challenge. The Rams have the conference Player of the Year in David Roddy, who is playing some of his best basketball of the season. The Aztecs may hold a +29 point differential against the Rams this season, but Colorado State led by 20 points in the second half of the second matchup that was decided by one point. No game will be easy in this tournament, but the Aztecs certainly got a tough draw with the late tip times on top of it.

7. Boise State

Boise State is the team to beat in the Mountain West. They won the regular-season title after going 15-3 in the conference, and they defeated the Aztecs in both matchups. But historically, the Broncos have struggled in the tournament. They are 5-11 all-time in the tournament– 3-8 in the quarterfinals and 0-3 in the semifinals, meaning they have never won the championship. The Broncos may be the one seed, but they have a difficult path to the finals. They will most likely play a difficult Nevada team in the quarterfinals and will face either UNLV or Wyoming in the semifinals. Making the finals will be a challenge. But if the Aztecs face them in the final game, they should feel confident with their chances considering how close the teams played in the regular season. 

8. Winning close games

Dutcher opened the press conference still satisfied with last week’s performance. “I’m extremely happy with how we finished the season.”

Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

In the final week, the Aztecs won in the final minutes against the Cowboys and won two games decided by one point. The offense and defense both had to make essential plays in both contests. Winning close games has been a challenge for the Aztecs this season. Coming into last week, the Aztecs were 2-3 in conference games decided by single digits. But winning three close games in the closing week should boost the team’s confidence when the pressure is at its highest. With the tournament coming around, the ability to make winning plays in crunch time will be essential.

9. Handling the press

The Nevada game may have ended in an Aztec victory, but SDSU’s ability to handle the full-court press raised eyebrows. With eight minutes left, the Aztecs led by 17 and seemingly had the game out of reach. Then, the Wolfpack brought pressure that made the Aztecs look completely out of sync. “They turned it up on us in the second half,” Trey Pulliam said. “They made us work. They hit us with something we weren’t prepared for.”

The press gave the Aztecs quite the scare as Nevada had three opportunities to take the lead in the final minute. The Aztecs finished with a season-high 19 turnovers due to the pressure. SDSU will have to work on their press break over their time off. Conference foes certainly saw the effect it had, so they will likely see this again throughout the tournament.

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Austin Tarke
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.

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