On Friday November 10th, the San Diego State Aztecs tipped-off their 2017-2018 men’s basketball season against San Diego Christian College. In what was the beginning of a new era in Aztecs basketball, SDSU was victorious 91-52.
For the first time since 1999, Steve Fisher was not on the bench for the Aztecs.
Fisher retired at the end of last season and Brian Dutcher has taken over the program in what is his first job as head coach. Dutcher is highly respected in college basketball, and a lot of pundits expect instant success in his first season.
In this piece we will take a look at what needs to happen in order for SDSU to make the NCAA tournament. After all, anything less than an invitation to the “Big Dance” is no longer consider a success at SDSU.
Obviously the head coach is new and has a great chance to prove himself. During the Steve Fisher era, SDSU developed an identity of being a hard-nosed, defense first squad. A lot of people expect coach Dutcher to try to install a bit more of pace on offense and try to get into the offensive sets earlier in the shot clock. As far as the rotations are concerned, I think we will see redshirt freshman Jalen McDaniels make an impact early on. He has a big frame at 6´10¨ and can really help SDSU rebound the ball better which is something they struggled with all last season. Also don’t sleep on freshman Jordan Schakel, he was highly rated by ESPN.com and other outlets.
What’s not New:
Though the underclassmen are promising, there is no doubt that this team will only go as far as the upperclassmen takes it. Jeremy Helmsley, Trey Kell and specially Malik Pope have always shown great potential, but have sometimes struggled with consistency. If they can find the necessary consistency, there is no question in my mind that SDSU has a great shot at the Mountain West regular season championship and a tournament bid.
The first part of the Schedule features three home games and a road game against Pac-12 school Arizona State. The home games are against San Diego Christian College, McNeese State and Eastern Illinois. Those are very winnable games and set the Aztecs up for a quick confidence booster before heading to the Wooden Legacy classic in Fullerton. Once there, SDSU is scheduled to play Sacramento State and after that either Georgia or Cal State Fullerton depending on results.
After that tournament the Aztecs will return to San Diego to play the Torreros in what has become a great cross town rivalry. Then comes what in my opinion will tell whether or not this team is ready to compete for the Mountain West title, the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge. In that tournament SDSU will face Gonzaga. For those who don’t remember, last season Gonzaga played North Carolina in the National Championship game and came very close to winning it all. That game will take place on December 21st at Viejas Arena.
After that comes conference play. The most dangerous team in the Mountain West is Nevada. Actually a lot of national publications have picked the Wolfpack to win the conference. SDSU travels to Reno on February 2 and Nevada comes to Viejas arena to close the regular season on March 3. Other than the Wolfpack, I think New Mexico is the biggest threat to SDSU. The Lobos have a great home court advantage as teams normally struggle to win at “The Pit”.
SDSU has 29 regular season games. In order to qualify for the tournament, I think they have to go 24-5 and make it to the Mountain West tournament final. In college sports, not every win is created equal and style points matter in order to impress the selection committee. That is why the games against Arizona State and Gonzaga could be crucial for the Aztecs. If SDSU manages to sweep those schools and win the ones they are supposed to, I think there is a very good chance they will be dancing in March.