The non-conference schedule has been announced, and Aztecs’ basketball fans are in for a treat. It should be one of the tougher and more exciting slate of games in recent memory.
The highlight of the schedule is a trip to Ann Arbor on December 4 against preseason top-five team Michigan.
“I couldn’t pass up on the Michigan game,” head coach Brian Dutcher said at a press conference Thursday. “They’re going to be ranked in the top ten, maybe top five when we play them… we will take that challenge.”
It is a quality opponent, on the road, with a lot of storylines involved. Coach Dutcher was Steve Fisher’s assistant at Michigan and recruited current Michigan head coach Juwan Howard as part of the “Fab-Five” class that won a national championship.
The Aztecs will return to Provo to play BYU on November 12th. BYU is projected to be a top 50 team. SDSU lost to BYU in Viejas last season despite a 35-point performance from Matt Mitchell, so they will be looking for revenge.
The Aztecs will play in the Wooden Classic this season on November 25th and 26th. They open against a solid Georgetown team and play either USC or St. Joseph’s on the second day. Georgetown won the Big East tournament last year, and USC is coming off an Elite Eight appearance.
The top competition is rounded out by St Mary’s and Arizona State University. SDSU will face the Gaels on a neutral court in Phoenix on December 17th. The Aztecs beat the Gaels on a neutral court last season 74-49. Arizona State comes to Viejas after SDSU traveled to Tempe last season, a game in which the Aztecs emerged victorious with a score of 80-68. Nathan Mensah played particularly well against those two teams last season, averaging 17.5 points and 14 rebounds between the two games.
“You schedule like this when you’ve had good success,” Dutcher added. “And we’ve had great success at San Diego State.”
The rest of the non-conference slate is made up of “buy games.” These are opponents SDSU pays to come to Viejas. They are usually inconsequentially designed to keep the team sharp and in game shape for the more demanding parts of their schedule. Of course, should they lose one of these games, it would be a huge blemish on their NCAA tournament resume.
Altogether, the schedule looks great on paper. If they win most of their games, they should have a great resume heading into Mountain West Conference play. Last season the Aztecs had three Quad One games throughout the regular season. The games were BYU at home and twice on the road against Utah State. The Aztecs did not win a Quad One game until their fourth try during the Mountain West Championship when they beat Utah State on a neutral floor. Before that game, the Aztecs were projected to be between an eight and an 11 seed in March madness, but beating a Quad One opponent bumped them up to a six seed.
Right now, there should be at least two Quad One games in the non-conference slate, three if the Aztecs face USC in the second game of the Wooden Classic. Teams like Georgetown, Arizona St. And St. Mary’s should all be Quad Two opponents. The conference season should add another three to four Quad One games and another three to four Quad two games. This schedule has much more top-tier talent than last year’s schedule. That high level of competition will help the Aztecs’ chances at an at-large bid to the tournament, provided they win a couple of the games.
Coach Dutcher did say that the Aztecs are “Still looking for one additional game, between Christmas and the conference opener… It will be more important to get our timing back after having three or four days off for Christmas.”
Here are the projected rankings of SDSU’s non-conference opponents by Barttorvik.com: UC Riverside (90), @ BYU (41), Arizona St. (56), UT Arlington (223), Georgetown (114), USC (24), or St. Josephs (234), Long Beach St. (285), @ Michigan (8), Cal St. Fullerton (222), Saint Mary’s (38), and UC San Diego (297).
“We’re deep again,” Dutcher said. “We have a deep roster. We have a talented roster, and it’s going to be a fight every day to find your niche and minutes in this program. That’s the way I like it, and that’s the way the kids like it.”