The Aztecs came off of eight days of rest to beat the St. Mary’s Gaels for the second year in a row. The final score was 63-53.
It was an important win for a season that has started slower than most fans had hoped. Here are some thoughts:
Seiko is on fire
Adam Seiko was near perfect putting the ball through the hoop Friday night. He went 4-4 from behind the arc and has hit seventh straight, going back two games. His percentage from deep has risen from 25% after the Michigan game to 43%. Coach Dutcher’s system relies on putting shooters around a skilled point guard. Pulliam can find open shooters (as evidenced by his six assists Friday night), but the shooters have not been there to make him look good. Over the last two games, Seiko has been helping to change that. Seiko can be a streaky shooter. He shot 41% from deep last season over the first 17 games before shooting only 18% over the last 10. If he is hitting shots, the Aztecs will be a tough team to beat.
Trusting the process
Coach Dutcher’s teams tend to play their best at the end of the season. SDSU is the only program in the Mountain West to make the tournament championship game each of the last four years, and they won two of them. The Aztecs are 37-11 (77%) in the months of February and March in the Dutcher era and 18-3 (86%) over the past two seasons. Coach Dutcher emphasizes getting the players to play their best at the end of the season. He tells the players that if they keep working hard, good things will happen.
So far this season, that had not planned out the way the team would have hoped. They were nine games in without a quality win. After beating St. Mary’s coach, Dutcher was asked what the win meant to him and said, “I can only tell (the team) so often to keep working hard, and good things will happen. Eventually, they have to happen.” It happened against St Mary’s. Hopefully, it will help the team, especially the new guys, continue to buy into the system and the culture so that they can once again play their best ball at the end of the season and win another tournament championship.
There is still plenty of time for things to go in any direction. The Aztecs have a lot of games left to play. Beating St. Mary’s was an important step, though. The Gaels have beaten some good competition this season (Notre Dame and Oregon on neutral courts.) They were a quad one opponent at tip-off Friday night and should remain that way over the course of the season. Getting that first quad 1 win is something the team can build off of, and it will improve their chances of getting an at-large bid. It is a win that says, “you need to take us seriously.” It will not be enough to secure a bid on its own, but it puts a foot in the door. Should the Aztecs get another quad 1 win, say against Colorado St. at home, they will have surpassed their total from last season, which would bode well. They will have multiple opportunities beyond the Rams to do so as well. The Mountain West is looking better than it has in recent years. There is potential for up to ten quad 1 or 2 games in conference play this season. As was said last week, it is not “win the conference tourney or bust” time just yet, and the win over St. Mary’s shows that definitively.
There is also still time for other teams the Aztecs have beaten to move up the rankings. A few weeks ago, every win the Aztecs had was quad 4 wins. Now they have four quad 3 wins just from those teams playing better. When asked about the nature of how the committee chooses teams for March madness, coach Dutcher said, “I know one thing, I cheer for Georgetown, Arizona St, St. Mary’s, anybody we beat I want to have a good season.” St. Mary’s is a start. With a few more opportunities for wins and other opponents improving their stock, the Aztecs can still build a resume worthy of an at large bid.