With a little more than two months until college basketball season tips off, the Mountain West Conference released its schedule for the conference regular season. The TV scheduling is still unknown, but the matchups are set. Each team will play eight opponents twice (home and away) and two opponents once.
If you were to hypothetically ask Coach Brain Dutcher or players on the team if they have any games circled on the schedule, they most likely would give you a professional answer of putting all their focus into November 9th, the official tip-off to the Division I season. Still, there are intriguing matchups for conference play.
As viewers of the Mountain West know, there are no easy games. Due to familiarity, stiff competition trips into altitude, and sporadic travel schedules, there can be difficult stretches that can have a damaging effect on a tournament resume.
On December 28th, SDSU begins its conference play at home against Air Force. The Aztecs are 34-6 at home against the Falcons. Quickly following the game is a New Year’s Eve road test against UNLV. SDSU is used to this venue early in the year. Last season, SDSU played its first conference game at Thomas & Mack Center on New Year’s day. They pulled out a victory even though both of their starting point guards were sidelined.
January 7th is the first circled game of the conference schedule. On a week of rest, SDSU will travel to Wyoming for its first altitude trip of the season (barring a late non-conference road addition). Last season, the Aztecs went 2-3 in games over 4,000 feet in elevation, but one of their wins was in Laramie (Nevada was the other win). The Cowboys are expected to be the biggest threat to the Aztecs this season, with Hunter Maldonado and Graham Ike returning and the addition of three key transfers.
The following week, the Aztecs stay in San Diego during their winter break. They have home games against Nevada and New Mexico on January 10th and 14th. They both have struggled in recent years in Viejas Arena.
If there’s a schedule spot that already has Coach Dutcher’s gears turning, it is the ensuing road trip. On January 17th, SDSU travels to Fort Collins to face Colorado State. The Rams defeated the Aztecs at home last season in a game that featured a historic SDSU comeback that fell just short in the closing seconds. This scheduling spot is interesting because four days later, SDSU faces Air Force in Colorado Springs. It may be easier to reside in Colorado for the week, but Coach Dutcher is known to limit altitude fatigue by traveling the day of the matchup.
The Aztecs will then return home for a test against Utah State on January 24th. The Aggies have won four of the last six matchups against the Aztecs. But they have never won inside Viejas Arena. Four days later, San Jose State will come to Montezuma for the only matchup between the teams in the regular season. This is also the last back-to-back home stretch for the rest of the season.
The final nine games of the regular season feature increased travel and short rest. The Aztec coaching staff is well accustomed to this from last year.
On January 31st, SDSU starts a stretch of three games in a week. They first travel to Reno, Nevada. This will be the first game since 2017-2018 that the Aztecs will not have to face the Wolfpack on the road for their senior night. On February 4th, SDSU will face Boise State for the first time all season in Viejas Arena. A game that will certainly be circled as the Broncos won all three matchups last season by a combined seven points, including a last-second win in the Mountain West championship. Three days later, the Aztecs will get back on the plane as they face the Aggies in Logan, Utah, two weeks after their first matchup.
February 11th, the Rebels will make their trip to Viejas Arena. The Aztecs are 7-1 in their last eight home matchups against UNLV. But the one loss is a Rebel win that will be remembered in infamy as it ended the 26-game win streak of the 2020 Aztecs. Three days later, SDSU will travel north to Fresno State. This will be the only matchup of the season. Considering the familiarity the two teams have with one another and the contested battles last season, this could be a blessing for the SDSU record column.
The Bulldog game wraps up five games in two weeks for the Aztecs. They will then briefly exhale before entering a difficult concluding stretch to the season. After a week of rest, the Aztecs will face Colorado State at home. SDSU is 19-4 against the Rams at Viejas Arena.
Next, SDSU will endure another week of three games in seven days which also includes back-to-back road games. They will first travel to the dreaded “Pit” to face New Mexico. Due to the elevation and hostile atmosphere, it can be a difficult place to play in. The Aztecs are 12-30 on the road against the Lobos. Three days later, the Aztecs get their second crack at the Broncos as they travel to Boise to spoil their senior night. Finally, the Aztecs will celebrate their senior night as Wyoming will come to the Mesa. A game that could loom large to decide who wins the regular season championship.
Assuming that there are no stoppages, this season will be smoother than the previous year from a rest and travel perspective. After last year’s late COVID pause, the Aztecs had four days of rest only once and played five different stretches of three games within a week. SDSU will only have to endure two difficult periods of three games in seven days this year.
Additionally, the conference was diligent in its schedule alignment as the final games of the schedule may loom large for who hangs up a banner for the 2022-2023 season.