Julius Erving Award nominee Matt Mitchell looks to be the star for SDSU

Credit: AP Photo

Credit: AP Photo

The San Diego State Aztecs had one of their best seasons in program history last season when they went 30-2 (17-1 MWC). 

The Aztecs won their first 26 games of the season and got as high as No. 4 in the AP Poll. They were widely expected to be a No. 1 seed late in the season before dramatically losing to Utah State in the Mountain West Conference finals. 

Brian Dutcher’s team was likely to be a No. 2 seed in March Madness after the loss, which would have matched Steve Fisher’s (and Kawhi Leonard’s) 2010-2011 team for the highest seed in program history. Days after the loss, it was announced that the NCAA D-I Men’s Basketball Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. And just like that, one of the best seasons in Aztec history was over. San Diego State has never advanced past the Regional Semifinal. Many were expecting this team to be the one to do it and potentially bring a championship to San Diego, but they never got the chance. 

The Mountain West has released its schedule for the conference slate, but a non-conference schedule has yet to be released. With the season set to begin on November 25, it is likely to be out soon. Teams are expected to play no more than 27 regular-season games, which means nine non-conference games for the Aztecs. 

It sounds like SDSU will be playing in the Diamond Head Classic in Orlando in December, along with Saint Mary’s, Missouri, and Central Florida. Their non-conference opponents may also feature BYU, who just went 24-8, and an exciting Arizona State team that went 20-11. 

Many will be wondering how different this season’s SDSU team may look after losing three starters from last season in potential first-round pick Malachi Flynn (17.6 PPG), Yanni Wetzell (11.6 PPG), and sharpshooter KJ Feagin (9.1 PPG).

All three were transfers and only played one season for the Aztecs. The main question is: Who will be the next man up? 

The answer to that is Matt Mitchell. 

Mitchell, who tested NBA Draft waters during the offseason, decided to return to San Diego State for his senior season. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward started last season as the sixth man but moved into the starting lineup for the last 19 games after Nathan Mensah was sidelined due to a respiratory ailment. 

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell was named first-team All-Mountain West last season after averaging 12.2 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game. He was also much more efficient, raising his shooting splits from 40/33/75 to 47/39/87. 

The Riverside native played a big role for the Aztecs during his freshman and sophomore seasons, playing 26 minutes per game each season and ranking third on the team in scoring both seasons with 10 points per game. 

After the 2018-2019 season, where San Diego State missed the NCAA Tournament, Mitchell was expected to be “the guy” heading into last season. Then the Aztecs got Flynn, Wetzell, and Feagin, and Mitchell gave that up for the good of the team and helped guide the team to a 30-2 record. 

Now, this season, Matt Mitchell gets to be the guy, and he knows so. In a recent interview, he spoke about his role on the team. 

“I do believe to a certain extent that this is my team along with Jordan [Schakel],” Mitchell said. “The experience we have, we’ve been on the floor together, we know how to play together, we know how to get things done, we know how this program goes…so I see it as my team, as me and Jordan’s team and we’re running the show.”

Mitchell is ready to run the show alongside senior guard Jordan Schakel, who averaged 10 points per game last season and shot 43% from behind the arc.

This week, Mitchell was nominated as a preseason candidate for the Julius Erving Award, which goes to the nation’s top small forward. Some notable candidates on this watch list are Jalen Johnson (Duke), Wendell Moore (Duke), Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky), and Ziaire Williams (Stanford). 

In Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology update on October 7, he had the Aztecs as the No. 11 seed in the South Region.

In this unpredictable upcoming season, Matt Mitchell is ready to be the star for San Diego State as he aims to keep the Aztecs on the map. 

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Bobby Murphy
Bobby is currently a Junior at Arizona State University and is majoring in Sports Journalism in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is from San Diego, loves to write, and has a deep passion for baseball, football, and basketball. He also co-hosts the "Devils Talking Padres" podcast and is a contributor for ZonaHoops.com.
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