Let’s all admit one thing. It was tough to watch.
The San Diego State Aztecs won the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles, which itself is an accomplishment. They earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and got slated with a first-round matchup against Syracuse.
The rest we know. Syracuse trounced the Aztecs and an ice-cold shooting night for SDSU in Indianapolis. The Orange ended the Aztecs season with a 78-62 victory and, unfortunately, that score doesn’t do justice to how rough of a game it was for the Aztecs.
The Aztecs Went Cold
The talk all week long was about the Syracuse patented 2-3 zone, something nobody really does in the NCAA. Jim Boeheim is the best in the business for lots of reasons, and the effectiveness of the zone is a huge reason why Syracuse has been a tournament staple for so many years.
Head coach Brian Dutcher was well aware of the zone, especially from the last time these two teams met on the USS Midway in a game the Aztecs failed to cross the half-century mark from the offensive end.
San Diego State shot just 35.8 percent from the field including a 27.5 percent clip from beyond the arc, finishing just 11-40 from three-point land. That’s enough to show you just how effective the zone was and how frustrating it was for the Aztecs as they couldn’t find an answer to their scheme.
Matt Mitchell and Terrell Gomez combined to shoot just 2-16 from deep and it was just one of those nights where the Aztecs couldn’t buy a bucket no matter what.
It was just one of those nights that the Aztecs will want to forget.
Buddy Boeheim Crushed The Aztecs Dreams
Another unexpected thing was how good Buddy Boeheim is. The Syracuse live and die by him offensively, and it was the same story on Friday night in Indy.
Boeheim exploded and caught the attention of the entire country, finishing with an incredible 30 points on 11-15 from the field, including a 7-10 mark from three.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 20, 2021
He was electric and unstoppable. He made shot after shot, with seemingly every Aztecs player taking a turn trying to guard him. Hands in his face, switching, double team, it didn’t matter. He was going to make it.
It’s almost unreal how effective he was on the offensive end against the Aztecs, who have been one of the soundest defensive teams in the country for the last decade.
He got hot in the first half and didn’t cool down at all in the second frame as Syracuse stormed out and put the Aztecs away early.
One thing is certain: Buddy can shoot the lights out of a gym on any given night.
What the Aztecs Could’ve Done Different
It’s always easy to sit back and criticize Dutcher, the staff, and the team for not figuring out a way to get around their zone. However, when you don’t see anything even remotely close to that all year, it’s nearly impossible, and that’s one of the reasons teams like Syracuse have so much postseason success.
They do it well, they do it often, and they give you fits and headaches like no other.
In all honesty, the Aztecs tried going in and out, tried driving it inside, tried shooting the three-ball, and nothing worked. It wasn’t that Dutcher didn’t have a game plan. Not at all.
It wasn’t that the team wasn’t ready. It’s just as simple as this: it wasn’t their night. Sure, everybody can point fingers at Dutcher and the staff, but they prepared, they watched the film, they did what they could.
After all, it’s called March Madness for a reason, just ask Ohio State.
2020-2021 a Success for the Aztecs
Sure, everybody wanted to see the Aztecs make a deep run, and for the seniors like Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, this isn’t the ending they were hoping for. Nonetheless, two title banners and seven losses over the past two seasons is nothing to be upset about.
Jordan Schakel's thoughts on the Aztecs' season-ending loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament: pic.twitter.com/8mYJJy221i
— 97.3 The Fan (@973TheFanSD) March 20, 2021
It’s way too early to have any idea what this team looks like next year, especially due to the NCAA allowing players to return for another year due to the COVID situation.
Either way, thank you to all the seniors: Mitchell, Schakel, Trey Pulliam, Terrell Gomez, and Joshua Tomaic, who fought all year long to get into the tournament.
Hopefully, Dutcher returns, and either way, the Aztecs will be a tough team next year and for years to come.