2020-21 San Diego State men’s basketball preview
No. 22/21 UCLA Home Wednesday, November 25
For the first time since 2011, the Bruins were picked to win the Pac-12 conference. Returning five starters on a team that played its best basketball late in the season has Westwood buzzing again.
Star Player: Guard Chris Smith averaged 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last year. In the preseason, he was named to the Pac – 12 First Team and the Naismith Preseason Watch List.
UC Irvine Home Friday, November 27
This is the second game of the impromptu multi-team event hosted by SDSU to open the season. The Anteaters were picked to win the Big West following a 21-11 record last season. They lost five key players from a year ago, including Grossmont High Product, Tommy Rutherford; however, they return two all-conference players.
Star Player: The Preseason Big West Player of the Year is Collin Welp. After earning Sixth Man of the Year and First Team All-Big West a year ago, the 6’ 9” Welp will look to improve on a season where he averaged 13 points and nearly six rebounds a game.
Colorado State Home Home Thursday, December 3 & Saturday, December 5, 2020
Early December brings an early conference matchup with the Rams of Colorado State. This game will be a dress rehearsal of the new scheduling format. CSU was picked to finish tenth in the preseason poll, but this low ranking should not distract from the talent making their home in Ft. Collins. Four starters from last year’s team that defied preseason prognostications in 2019 – 2020 return.
Star Player: Isaiah Stevens was named Freshman of the Year last season. He led the Rams in scoring (13.0 pts) and assists (4.6) per game. He started every game and hit a buzzer-beater to defeat Nevada 92 – 91.
No. 18/ 17 Arizona State Away Thursday, December 10
Picked to finish second in the preseason media poll, the Sun Devils are the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the AP and Coaches Polls. Coming off a 20 – 11 season, Bobby Hurley’s boys will provide a stern test anywhere for the Aztecs, but ASU boasted a 13 -3 record last season in Tempe. Lack of fans in the stands might take away some of that advantage, but for SDSU to come away victorious, they will need to play their best.
Star Player: Senior Guard Remy Martin was named a preseason All-American by the Associated Press. He is only the fourth Pac 12 player to earn such recognition in a dozen years. The 6-foot guard from Sierra Canyon High School who averaged 19.1 points and 4 assists a game last season was also named to the Preseason Pac-12 First-Team.
BYU Home Friday, December 18
BYU’s roster is frequently composed of missionaries from around the world. This year, though, it is the coaches who are the team’s best proselytizers. BYU lost six senior (citizens?) from last year’s team that finished the season ranked 18th in the country. They replace them with a bevy of transfers from all over the country. The Cougars picked to finish second in the WCC Preseason Poll have eight players who are former believers in other programs.
Star Player: Alex Barcello, a transfer from Arizona and a former top 100 recruit, was picked as a preseason all-conference selection. Coming off a season which saw average 9.3 points, the 6’ 2” point guard will be counted on to mesh all of the new pieces on the Cougar roster.
Saint Mary’s Away Tuesday, December 22
The Aztec close out their non-conference schedule by hosting the Gaels of St. Mary’s. Picked to finish third in the WCC preseason poll, St Mary’s lost more than 70% of their scoring production from a year ago. Replacing Malik Fitts and Jordan Ford, who both signed with the Clippers, will be a tall task; however; the calling card of Randy Bennett’s 20-year tenure at the East Bay school has been reloading year after year. Bennett’s school record 440 wins is 54 more victories than Steve Fisher had with the Aztecs.
Star Player: Matthais Tass, a member of the preseason WCC all-conference team, is 6’ 10” 245 pound junior from Estonia. Tass’ season was cut short by a torn ACL last year. Nonetheless, his potential was evident. He scored 15 points in an upset win over Utah State.
UNLV Away Thursday, December 31 & Saturday, January 2
UNLV continues to recruit like one of the top programs on the West Coast. Winning the offseason by bringing in the top class in the Mountain West is a summer tradition. Off the court success, however, has rarely led to on the court victories. Despite hosting the MW Championship tournament, the Running Rebels have not won the tournament since 2008 and have not made the final in a decade. Always talented and full of potential, the Rebels were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll.
Star Player: Bryce Hamilton. A top 150 recruit in 2018, Hamilton chose UNLV over Ohio State, Utah, and Arizona State, among others. Early on, he looked like yet another promising player who was derailed when he arrived in Las Vegas. In his first 40 games, he averaged only 5.4 points a game, but when he started Mountain West Conference play last year, potential met reality. Hamilton upped his scoring to nearly 21 points a game.
Nevada Home Thursday, January 7, & Saturday, January 9
Coming into year two of Steve Alford’s return to the Mountain West, the Wolf Pack has one of the youngest teams in the conference. Nonetheless, on the strength of Alford’s reputation, Nevada was still picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll. A pair of San Diego athletes bring a “stay classy” flair to Reno. Before moving to San Diego City College, Robbie Robinson prepped at Kearny High School, and Warren Washington played at Mission Hills in San Marcos.
Star Player: Desmond Cambridge will be introduced to the Mountain West this season after sitting out a year as a transfer from Brown. Cambridge was fourth in the Ivy League, averaging 15.7 points a game. He chose Nevada over Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, and Stanford.
Utah State Away Thursday, January 14, & Saturday, January 16
Sam Merrill was taken with the last pick in the NBA Draft. He became the first Aggie drafted since Greg Grant was selected in 1986. Mid-Major programs replacing NBA players on their rosters is not easy to do, and Utah State will take on the challenge this year. Picked to finish third in the conference, Utah State returns plenty of players from the Mountain West Tournament Champions. Utah State is particularly tough to defeat in Logan, where they have won more than 80% of their games since 1970. The Aggies last lost two home games in a row in 2016, a feat the Aztecs will try to accomplish in a span of three days.
Star Player: Neemias Queta was never fully healed from a knee injury last year. His conditioning was especially suspect given the limitations a knee injury have on building endurance. Despite these obstacles, Queta was still the best big man in the conference averaging 13 points and almost eight rebounds a game.
Air Force Away Friday, January 22 & Sunday, January 24
Pegged to finish next to last, the Aztecs’ faithful need no reminders of the difficult history SDSU has had at Clune Arena. If there is a trap game on the schedule, it is one of these two games. New head coach Joe Scott brings his Princeton Offense back for a second stint in Colorado Springs. The Falcon Faithful are hoping Scott’s second go-round is as successful as the first. In 2004, he led Air Force to their only conference title in program history.
Star Player: AJ Walker: SDSU fans are no strangers to the dynamic guard. Walker scored 18 points in the Mountain West Conference against San Diego State. For stretches of the game, Walker, not Malachi Flynn, was the best guard on the court.
Wyoming Home Thursday, January 28 & Saturday, January 30
Wyoming is one of the states allowing fans to attend games, but the Aztecs are more than happy to miss the opportunity to play in front of a crowd. Avoiding a trip to Laramie this season is an early present for the program. Cowboy Ken the Barrel Man and the rest of Poke Nation are hoping the program can build on their improbable Mountain West run from a season ago. Entering the tournament as the last seed, the Cowboys won two games and nearly knocked off eventual champion Utah State in the semi-finals. Picked to finish ninth in the conference preseason poll, Wyoming returns three starters from a year ago, including Kwane Marble III, the only freshman on the Mountain West Conference All-Tournament Team.
Star Player: Hunter Maldonado. A 6’ 7” junior from Colorado Springs, Maldonado filled the stat sheet averaging nearly 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists a game.
New Mexico Away Wednesday, February 3 & Friday, February 5
Picked to finish seventh in the Mountain West preseason poll, the Aztecs are scheduled to travel to Albuquerque for two games in February. The Lobos are currently preparing for the season at a community college in Levelland, Texas. A public order prevents any college basketball games or practices from occurring in New Mexico, jeopardizing this trip to the Pitt.
Star Player: Makuach Maluach. The only returning starter from a roster completely made overdue to graduation, transfers, and expulsions, Maluach averaged 9.6 points and four rebounds a game last season. The native from Sydney, Australia, needs only 41 more points to become the 37th Lobo in program history to score 1,000 points for his career.
San Jose State Home Monday, February 8 & Wednesday, February 10
The script for the Spartan Basketball Team the past few years was to see players develop in their program and then transfer to another school. This dynamic made it difficult for Coach Jean Prioleau to build momentum. Prioleau, now in his third season, leads a program picked to finish last in the Mountain West. San Jose State enters 2020 on a ten-game losing streak, though they came within one shot of knocking off the Aztecs in Viejas Arena.
Star Player: Seneca Knight. A Third Team All-Mountain West selection a year ago, Knight broke the recent trend of star players transferring out of the program. He averaged 17.1 points a game, including a 37 point performance against Colorado State and a 30 point game against UNLV.
Fresno State Away Thursday, February 18 & Saturday, February 20
Former SDSU assistants Justin Hutson and Tim Shelton are in their third season leading the Bull Dogs. Fresno State was picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll mostly due to a high roster turnover. How the roster develops will be a key storyline of the season. They added ten new players to their program this year. From experience, Aztec fans know FSU will be one of the best-coached teams on the West Coast.
Star Player: Orlando Robinson. The 7’ sophomore from Las Vegas averaged 12.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. Robinson boasts a skilled game with multiple post moves and ability to finish with both hands.
Boise State Home Thursday, February 25 & Saturday, February 27
Picked to finish second in the preseason poll, the team seen as most capable of unseating SDSU as regular-season champs is the Broncos. Last season, the roster of available players was sparse because Rice used five scholarships on transfers who were mandated to sit out a year. Now, with a full roster, Boise State has the length, skill, and experience to compete for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and an MW title.
Star Player: Derrick Alston Jr., the senior from Houston, TX, flirted with entering the NBA Draft this past year but withdrew his name and returned to college, announcing he had “unfinished business.” Chief among them is reversing his four-game losing streak to the Aztecs.
Mountain West Tournament Away Wednesday, March 10 – Saturday, March 13
SDSU’s five Mountain West Tournament Titles leads the conference, as does their 12 mountain west title game appearance. Getting to the finals has become a near-annual tradition. Since 2009, SDSU has made the final every year save two. They have won three titles in that time. They have lost five of their last six Mountain West Tournament Championship Games, including last season to Utah State.
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My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.
Excellent preview and breakdown of the season ahead!