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The Mountain West Conference slate was not as competitive as the San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team anticipated.
Instead of decent competition from the top half of the schools, the Aztecs were only challenged by Utah State and Colorado State.
It’s tough to fault the Aztecs in drawing the Syracuse zone in a first-round matchup. Given that Utah State did not advance in the tournament, it’s easy for everyone across the country to point fingers at a weak top-to-bottom conference.
The silver lining for the Aztecs’ postmortem is to look back at the non-conference schedule as a strong barometer for where the Aztecs were really at in terms of worth.
Here is our complete schedule for 2021.
— San Diego State Men's Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) November 17, 2020
+ Saint Katherine
Non-conference record: 6-1
Big West, 1-0.
They proved to themselves and the national media that they would be a 2021 tournament team without Malachi Flynn.
It helped the Aztecs early that they went 2-0 against the Pac-12. Of course, we know now that UCLA provided a ceiling for the Aztecs’ expectations. Without star Johnny Juzhang in early November, the Bruins looked like a different team than the eventual Final Four product.
Going into ASU was proof that the Aztecs were legit, and the game against UCLA was not a fluke.
The Pac-12 runs through Viejas.
— The Show (@TheShowSDSU) December 11, 2020
Going 2-1 against the WCC was solid work, and losing to BYU provided a decent floor of expectations for the Aztecs. St. Mary’s continues to struggle in competing with the Zags, especially since BYU has taken over the 2nd seat in the WCC. So despite the hurt egos of Aztecs fans around, losing a Q1 game to the Cougars wasn’t horrible.
Given self-imposed COVID travel restrictions, the Aztecs did not have to get on a plane to play these teams. The farthest distance traveled was to Tempe or San Luis Obispo. Take your pick of given routes taken. When you factor in the national media and tournament committee overlooked how competitive the Pac-12 actually was, this is one of Brian Dutcher’s best non-conference schedules assembled.
2021 Non-Conference Schedule
In this way-too-early-ideal non-conference for SDSU basketball, we include this year’s Wooden Legacy MTE in Anaheim, where currently USC headlines opposite SDSU.
The full bracket won’t likely be released until July, but there is still a good chance these two will meet. This is a 6-game opponent list with an outstanding slot for the unnamed MTE opponent.
— Jon Schaeffer (@jonschaeffer) April 9, 2021
2 Pac-12 Teams (USC + Oregon)
1 A10-MWC* (St. Louis)
1 Midwest Mid-major (Drake)
1 WCC (USF)
1 DIV. II (Cal State San Marcos)
– It would be nice to play a buy game against a team like Cal State San Marcos and would rather see their “buy-game” to really just be UCSD, who would be in their 2nd year in the Big West.
– The Aztecs should consider another Pac-12 team that has consistently shown up in NCAA Tournaments but hasn’t played head-to-head in decades. The California, Arizona Pac-12 schools have consistently been in rotation, but it’s time to bring in states north of California.
*If the A10-MWC Challenge resumes this year, one would imagine the Aztecs going to the school closest in distance instead of flying across the country to face off against Rhode Island. St. Louis was a bubble team in 2020, and having them on the schedule in 2021-2022 would benefit their 2022 resume.
– Dutcher can schedule good mid-majors that aren’t tied to the west of the Rocky Mountains, and booking strong competition like Drake on the resume works out. Drake opened the season with a win against Kansas State, and then when 2-1 against Loyola Chicago during conference play.
– As for a WCC opponent and keeping it in the state of California. SDSU vs. St. Mary’s doesn’t have the same energy as the 2009 NIT, and knowing the Aztecs don’t want USD and have recently ran through the middle of the WCC standings. The signs point to USF being their best bet in 2021.
On the whole, this way-too-early-ideal non-conference schedule would have two preseason Top 25 teams (USC and Oregon), according to CBS. As it has been the last few years, the Mountain West goes through Viejas, and with a schedule like this, there’s more potential to pull in quality Q1-Q2 victories.
Erwin Mendoza is a contributor to the East Village Times covering San Diego State Basketball and lives in the Pacific Northwest. Follow him on Twitter at @erwinsports.