An EVT roundtable discussion on the San Diego State men’s basketball team and the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs will play the College of Charleston Cougars in the 5/12 matchup in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament when the official First Round kicks off on Thursday. The Final Four will be played in Houston on Saturday, April 1, and the champion decided on Monday, April 3.
How far will the Aztecs go in this year’s tournament?
Andre: Sweet 16. The Aztecs have a team built to win a few games in the tournament this year but have also proven in recent history to underachieve when these tournament games begin. Closing out the Conference Tournament Championship gives them a massive boost of confidence they will ride into two wins this weekend. Their strength and physicality will wear down Charleston, and a potential 4/5 matchup with Virginia could be decided by who gets to 50 points first. The bracket is set up well for the Aztecs to make their third Sweet Sixteen, and after shooting poorly for all three games in Las Vegas, the offense will do enough this weekend. Their run will end when they match up with the overall 1 seed, Alabama, in Louisville on March 24.
Paul: Round of 32. SDSU has two very winnable games in front of it, but the question remains if it can do enough offensively to move on to the second weekend. Defense and physicality should be enough to get by Charleston. Virginia, its likely opponent in the next game, is a different story. The Cavaliers are ninth in the NCAA, allowing 60.6 points per contest. The Aztecs have yet to prove they can win a slow-paced, half-court slugfest. They are at their best sharing the ball, but the tendency of the past few tournaments is they revert back to isolation on offense. Should that happen, it will another early exit for Brian Dutcher’s squad.
Sam: Sweet 16. It is time for Brian Dutcher to finally get over the hump. He and the Aztecs have come agonizingly close to wins over Houston and Creighton in his tenure, but San Diego State has enough to beat Charleston. The Cougars live and die by the three-pointer, something the Aztecs are set up well to defend. Their physicality matches up well with the Cougars, who have only played one NCAA tournament team (Kent State). San Diego State would likely play Virginia in the second round, who they match up well against. The Cavaliers are a good defensive team, although they rank lower than the Aztecs in Kenpom on both offense and defense. A low-scoring game favors the Aztecs, who are poised for their first trip to the second weekend since 2014. However, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, playing in Louisville, are just too talented for the Aztecs.
Tron: Round of 32. The Aztecs’ defense is good enough to slow down just about anyone, but while the offense is improved, they’ve struggled against other elite defenses. The Aztecs are 3-5 against top-50 KenPom defenses. The three wins were all at home (BYU, Nevada, Boise State). Charleston has the 75th-ranked defense, which is good, but the Aztecs should still be able to score. Virginia, the likely draw in the 2nd Round, ranks 25th defensively. That’s likely too much to handle, especially on one-day prep. Plus, at the pace Virginia plays at, it’s hard to build a real lead, so SDSU’s history of stuttering in close games makes the Cavaliers even more dangerous. Should Furman pull off the upset, things change, as they rank 183rd defensively.
Austin: Sweet 16. The Aztecs will finally get the monkey off their back of winning a game in the NCAA Tournament under head coach Brian Dutcher. They have a favorable matchup against Charleston, a team that has not seen SDSU’s strength of defense. If they face Virginia in the Round of 32, it will be a complete rock fight, with the winner being the first to reach 55 points. Virginia’s offense is weaker this year than the Aztecs. SDSU has plenty of experience in gritty games. If fans want to scoreboard watch, look out for West Virginia, they are a dangerous nine seed that will cause problems for Alabama. If they can beat the Tide, SDSU’s path to the final four seems possible.
Which four teams will make the Final Four?
Andre: Alabama, Marquette, Texas, UCLA. Outside of Alabama, each of the other three 1 seeds has major concerns heading into the start of the tournament. Marquette and Texas come into the tournament as red hot 2 seeds who are peaking at the right time. Shaka Smart, the current head coach of Marquette, had great success in the Tournament at VCU, leading an 11 seed to the Final Four in 2011. UCLA is battling injuries to Jaylen Clark and Adem Bona, but Bona is expected back, and they have enough talent and experience to make another Final Four run. Duke, Creighton, and Arkansas are three teams that can make a run to the Final Four as a non-top 4 seed.
Paul: Kansas, Arizona, Duke, Houston. The Midwest is probably the weakest bracket. Someone has to come out of there, so Houston is the pick throwing on a dart board. Duke is always talented, and they enter the postseason playing well. Arizona’s size will lead them to the Final Four. Kansas has played winning basketball in the tournament of late, and that experience will benefit them this year.
Sam: Alabama, Duke, Texas, and UCLA. The Crimson Tide are extremely talented. They’re coming off a 19-point win in the SEC tournament final. They’re the top-ranked team in the country, and they’ve got plenty of options to score with. Duke, who struggled early in the season, has figured it out late, and they’re coming off an ACC tournament title. They’ve got a tough first-round game with Oral Roberts, but if they can get past Max Abmas, a Final Four trip is on the cards for new head coach Jon Scheyer. Texas is another team that is peaking at the right time, coming off a huge win over Kansas in the Big 12 tournament. The physicality of the conference will give them the edge over a talented Houston team in the Elite Eight. UCLA has struggled with injuries of late, losing Jaylen Clark for the season, but it looks like the Bruins will get center Adem Bona back for the tournament. The Bruins have had plenty of success in March recently, and another trip to the Final Four is on the cards, especially if they can stay healthy.
Tron: Alabama, Marquette, Houston, UCLA. I don’t have much of a reason why. The Tournament is such a crapshoot, so I just go with my gut.
Austin: Houston, UCLA, Arizona, Marquette. Houston should be the most likely team to make it here if Marcus Sasser is healthy. They are the best all-around team. But their weakness is strength of schedule. UCLA and Arizona have been two of the best offensive teams in the nation all season. The loss of Jaylen Clark for the Bruins is big defensively, but they have so much tournament experience to endure. I think the East Bracket will have chaos. Teams such as Oral Roberts, FAU, and Providence are all sneaky good and will cause problems for the higher seed in the bracket. I think Marquette sneaks out. My Cinderella pick to make the Elite Eight and come up short is Texas A&M. Wade Taylor IV is one of the best point guards in the nation, and they play solid defense. I think Texas peaked too early in the B12 Tournament and will regress to how they’ve played for the majority of the year. Being the 2 seed in the Midwest, I think A&M upsets them in the Round of 32.
Which team will be crowned the national champion?
Andre: Alabama. Brandon Miller is the best player in college basketball and will be a top 3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Nate Oats has a lot of talent surrounding Miller, and the team dominated the SEC all season.
Paul: Back-to-back titles are in store for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks. They are the strange defending champ and number 1 seed that isn’t generating buzz about its title aspirations. The Jayhawks play in the best conference in America, the Big 12. They were the only team in that conference with a winning record on the road. They will be cutting down nets again.
Sam: Alabama. The Crimson Tide are just that good. They pair a top-20-ranked offense with the third-best defense in the country. They played in one of the toughest conferences in basketball this year, and they won both a regular season and a tournament title. Nate Oats has built a team for March. The legal issues involving Brandon Miller are tragic, but with Miller not charged with a crime, he’ll play in the Tournament. Alabama is the best team in the country this year, and their path to the title runs through Birmingham, Louisville, and Houston, meaning they’ll have plenty of fans wearing crimson in attendance. It won’t be easy, but they’ll win their first basketball national title in school history.
Tron: I’d love to say Houston to get (technically) a mid-major school to win, but I think it’ll be Alabama.
Austin: Houston. Kelvin Sampson is a tremendous coach. Last year he led the Cougars, a team relying on defense and winning close games, to the Elite Eight. They were missing one of their best players, Marcus Sasser. This year’s team has the same philosophy, and Sasser should be good to go. Almost their entire lineup averages double figures in points. Also, the Final Four is being played in Houston, a massive home-court advantage at the biggest stage.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.