Root for the Aztecs.
In all seriousness, the goal of every Aztecs basketball season is not just to make the NCAA tournament but to win a couple of games as well. With that goal in mind, things get a little more complicated.
SDSU is currently listed as an eighth seed on bracket matrix. The 8/9 game is one of the worst spots you can be because even if you win the first game, the second game will be against a No. 1 seed and almost a guaranteed loss. The reason SDSU is so low on most bracket’s despite being in the top 20 in every major metric is their lack of quad 1 wins. Should SDSU win out but not gain any quad 1 wins, it’s very possible they stay in that 8/9 range. The goal is to move up to a seven or six, maybe even a five seed if things break perfectly.
What all needs to happen for that ideal scenario, though?
Out of conference games:
The Aztecs’ non-conference schedule looked really promising to start the season. It fell apart really fast. UCLA and Arizona State were the favorites to win the Pac-12. SDSU beat them both by large margins. They finished 4th and 9th respectively in the Pac-12, with Arizona State not even being a top-100 team. The Aztecs also beat St. Mary’s on a neutral floor by 25. St. Mary’s finished 7th in the WCC. None of those are great games to hang your hat on, at least on paper.
St. Mary’s and Arizona State are too far out of the picture to worry about much. They will stay as quad 2 wins. At the time of writing, UCLA was ranked 41 in the NET. Should they go on a run and win the Pac-12 tournament, it is possible they could finish top-30 in the NET, bumping them up to a quad 1 win for the Aztecs. So keep an eye on the Pac-12 tournament, and root for UCLA to win and to win big.
Within the Mountain West:
The Aztecs are in good shape in regards to the Mountain West tournament. They enter as a 1 seed, meaning they get a first-round bye and play the winner of the 8/9 game. The opponent will be either San Jose State or Wyoming. The game isn’t that consequential, as the Aztecs swept the series against each of those opponents, winning each of the four games by 20+ points. Wyoming will likely count as a quad 3 opponent, whereas San Jose State would be quad 4, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. Neither opponent will really help the Aztecs’ resume. Wyoming would be slightly better, but as long as the Aztecs win, they’ll be fine.
The semifinals are where things get interesting. The Aztecs will play the winner of the Boise State/Nevada game. Both of these teams played the Aztecs close. Aztec fans should root for Boise State, though. It’s not because Nevada is hot and a dark horse to win it all. It’s because Boise State has a significantly higher NET ranking (42 compared to 98.) If the Broncos beat the Wolf Pack, they will be a quad 1 opponent for the Aztecs in the semifinals. There is no situation where Nevada could be a quad 1 opponent. Therefore, beating Nevada in the second round wouldn’t help much. It would still be a quad 2 victory and may help bump the Aztecs up to a seven seed, but it also may not. Remember, the Aztecs’ main reason is so low is that they don’t have a quad 1 victory. Beating Boise State on a neutral court would solve that issue, with still an additional chance for a quad 1 win.
There is no guarantee the Aztecs make the final game. It is a pretty good bet, though, considering their status as a 1 seed and their history (played in 10 of the last 12 conference tournament finals.) The final game has the largest potential for variation, seeing as the opponent could theoretically be any of six opponents. It will likely be either Utah State or Colorado State, though. Utah State is currently ranked 47 in the NET, and Colorado State is ranked 50. They both make the cutoff for quad 1 opponents on a neutral floor as this is being written and are likely to move up the rankings should they make it to the final.
Since they both meet the criteria of being a quad 1 opponent, some hairs need to be split. Either opponent would be good as long as the Aztecs win. Colorado State would be the ideal opponent, though.
First off, the Aztecs mostly dominated the series against Colorado State. They did give up a 26 point lead and a seven-point lead in the last minute on some fluke plays, but that won’t happen again. They won the next game by 13. The Aztecs’ matchup better against Colorado State, and it showed during the season. While it would be sweet to get revenge on Utah State after the way last season ended, the most important thing is winning, and Colorado State likely provides an easier avenue towards that goal.
Colorado State also has a chance of getting an at-large bid even if they lose to the Aztecs. Utah State can only get in if they win the tournament, as they have too many bad losses. Colorado State doesn’t have any bad losses. They just don’t have many great wins. Their resume is sort of similar to the Aztecs. Beating Utah State would help them out in that regard, possibly enough to get them an at-large bid.
How does that help the Aztecs? It won’t mean much on paper, but as the committee is discussing where to place teams, they may look to record against other NCAA tournament teams. It could be used as a tie-breaker to give a team a better seed. It may not be likely to happen, but it would be nice to have just in case. So overall, if improving the Aztec’s resume is the primary goal, Colorado State should be the team Aztec fans root for to make it to the final. (A chance at revenge would be so sweet, though.)
So, in summary, the teams to root for (until they play SDSU) are Wyoming, Boise State, Colorado State, and UCLA to win the PAC-12 Tournament.