As we inch closer to a normalized 2021 college basketball season, rumblings about San Diego State’s schedule are becoming clear.
In a previous article, we speculated on what an ideal non-conference slate would look like and had reservations about the Mountain West-Atlantic 10 challenge.
It appears the two conferences also had misgivings about their partnership for this upcoming season. Despite no official word from either conference, multiple media sources have confirmed SDSU’s formerly scheduled game at St. Louis University has been canceled.
Sources: The Atlantic 10-Mountain West Challenge is not expected to be played during the 21-22 season. The inaugural event was cancelled last season due to COVID.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 11, 2021
On paper, it was a good matchup for one of the stronger mid-major conferences east of the Mississippi to take one of the best mid-major conferences out west. However, from the start, the MW-A10 challenge felt doomed. Logistically, travel time was a nightmare. George Mason University was scheduled to fly seven-plus hours from Virginia to play at Fresno State. UNLV was scheduled to take a four-hour flight to Richmond, Virginia, to take on VCU. Cross-country flights can be brutal especially coming off a loss in an arena literally across the country.
Challenges like these were created to showcase the strength of a conference, but until the base of the Mountain West performs better, challenges actually do the opposite for the league. In a post-COVID season, no conference makes sense for the Mountain West to be paired with that will raise the profile of the conference in a non-taxing manner. MW schools individually already schedule programs from conferences like the West Coast Conference and Big West on a yearly basis.
What this means for San Diego State
One of the main justifications for scheduling the MW- A-10 Challenge was to help teams who find it difficult to fill the non-conference portion of their schedule. Teams from around the country simply do not want to face the difficult travel to play at elevation in places like Laramie, Wyoming, or Fort Collins, Colorado. Opposing coaches know that winning in these locales is far more difficult than the computer numbers would suggest.
While the Aztecs face challenges in getting teams to come and play at Viejas, they should have no issue replacing the Saint Louis game. If anything, the cancelation allows SDSU more freedom to schedule an opponent closer to its geographical footprint. It may allow the team more flexibility as it tries to schedule an extra game against a power conference opponent or even a top-10 team like Gonzaga. At worst, if necessary, it could allow Brian Dutcher to schedule an A-10 opponent on his own terms with a home-and-home or a one-off game at a neutral site.
This season SDSU had one of the better matchups in the MW-A-10 Challenge. With leading scorer senior Javonte Perkins (16.9 pts a game) returning, Saint Louis is expected to be one of the better teams. In terms of resume review, a worst-case scenario would see the Aztecs losing out on a chance to play the eventual A-10 champion on the road and improving their NET ranking. A best-case scenario would see the Aztecs replace the game with a comparable team closer to home.
In any case, not having the challenge is good for San Diego State. Already saddled with an 18 game conference schedule, the school does need a 19th game mandated by the Mountain West. It may be a negative for other schools in the conference, but its cancelation is certainly welcomed for the Aztecs.