As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just about one month from now - and to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, written by Torres Online. college basketball writer Zac Krull (with Torres pitching in to lend a helping hand here or there)
In case you missed it, we've already previewed the Memphis Tigers, then hit the Illinois Fighting Illini, Wyoming Cowboys, Xavier Musketeers, Michigan State Spartans, Alabama Crimson Tide and on Monday, the Arizona Wildcats. We also covered Dayton, a Top 25 team at A-10 Media Days, Alabama Crimson Tide.
Today, Austin Montgomery looks at the San Diego State Aztecs. Brian Dutcher brings back a group that returns virtually everyone off an NCAA Tournament team - and a group good enough to make the Aztecs' first Final Four.
San Diego State Aztecs
How it Went Down in 2021-2022
Brian Dutcher has turned San Diego State into a gritty basketball power in one of America's more relaxed coastal cities. And in 2021-2022 the Aztecs made the NCAA Tournament for the third time in Dutcher's five seasons as head coach (remember, they were a potential No. 1 seed in 2020 when the Big Dance was cancelled because of Covid). Unfortunately, they're still looking for their first tournament win under Dutcher, falling in dramatic fashion in the opening round to Creighton. San Diego State led 62-53 with just over two minutes left, before Greg McDermott's club put on a historic rally.
Overall, it capped a successful season for Dutcher and the Aztecs, but also one of ups and downs.
Early, it was mostly downs, as a young team struggled to close out games. The Aztecs failed to come back from a 15-point deficit against BYU at Provo, then got run out of the gym against USC in the John Wooden Classic. SDSU had another big non-conference matchup at Michigan, where they battled against Michigan on the road losing 72-58. But wins against lower power conference teams in Arizona State and Georgetown, along with a win against Saint Mary's at the Jerry Colangelo classic- (although the game was hidden on Flo TV) started to pick up steam heading into league play.
The team needed to grow on offense, and Cal transfer Matt Bradley stepped to show he could be the guy on a good team. The win against Saint Mary's was a turning point as the Aztecs hit their stride in January. A 79-49 complete domination against preseason conference favorite Colorado State on CBS put the Aztecs on the map. They would continue to stifle teams with their hard nose defense that ranked second in defensive efficiency last season.
On the other side, the Aztecs weren't great offensively, but good enough. Bradley was the only player to average double digits, but when San Diego State was on, they were perfect in rock fights. Per the Three Man Weave's Alumnus, SDSU was nearly perfect (20-1) when they held their opponents below 0.95 points per possession. They went on a hot streak at the end of the season, winning 12 out of their last 13 games. The one loss came on the road against Boise State by a single point.
Overall, the Aztecs won 21 games in the regular season and finished 13-4 in conference play.
Through the ups and downs, SDSU still contended in the Mountain West. The conference had four NCAA tournament teams, and the Aztecs made it to the conference tournament championship game for the fifth consecutive season. They were one possession short of cutting down the nets losing 53-52 to Boise State in the final. Trey Pulliam and Matt Bradley had the ball in their hands with 30 seconds left.
Out of the Aztec's eight losses, four were by one possession, and they only lost to two teams that didn't make the NCAA tourney field.
They overachieved in what was supposed to be a rebuilding team for the SDSU program.
Now, to the fun part: How SDSU builds on that success.
What You Need to Know About 2022-2023
Key Returners: Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler, Adam Seiko, Aguek Arop, Keshad Johnson, Tyler Broughton, Nathan Mensah,
Key Losses: Keith Dinwiddie Jr., Trey Pulliam, Demarshay Johnson Jr., Chad Baker-Mazara
Key Transfers: Darrion Trammell (Seattle), Jaedon LeDee (TCU)
Key Freshmen: Miles Byrd, Cam Lawin, Elijah Saunders
The Aztecs return four of five of their starters from that 21-win team that was a stop or two from playing eventual champ Kansas in the second round.
They also bring back a team of grown men.
Most importantly, Matt Bradley, who is using his extra year of Covid eligibility, will return as the team's leading scorer. Also back is senior Adam Seiko, an experienced captain. He won't fill up the stat sheet, but he does everything right. He brings the defensive intensity off the bench and makes all the plays that don't reveal themselves on the scoreboard.
Let's not forget they return one of the best defensive centers in the country, with Mensah handling the middle. Another player who used his extra year of eligibility, he is the last remaining marquee holdover from the Aztecs magical 2020 season where they finished 30-2 before Covid shut down the season. He has become one of college basketball's premiere shot blocking centers, averaging 2.2 per game last season.
Finally, the Aztecs got the point guard that could take this team to the next level. Many people don't know him, but you soon will; Darrion Trammell will be basketball's most exciting mid-major guard. The Aztecs need someone who would create their offense. Trammell does just that. He averaged 17.3 points and 5.0 assists at Seattle U. He was a two-time first-team WAC player and was the preseason conference player of the year last season. He can shoot the ball anywhere on the floor and has the vision to create for others. According to Three Man Weave Almanac, he was listed as the 12th most impactful transfer. He will be able to replace the production Pulliam provided at the point guard position, and should team with Bradley and senior Lamont Butler Jr. to form one of the most explosive backcourts in college basketball - not just the Mountain West.
The Aztecs also got transfer Jaedon LeDee from TCU. LeDee will give them another athletic wing. LeDee was a former top 75 recruit and is a perfect system fit for this team.
Brian Dutcher once again put together an aggressive non-conference schedule. They open the season against Big West tournament champion Cal State Fullerton then immediately host BYU the same weekend. After playing BYU, they go on the road to play Pac-12 foe, Stanford on November 15th.
Then, they head to Maui for what should be a LOADED Maui Invitational field. They open up against Ohio State, which is a projected preseason NCAA Tournament team. Should the Aztecs win, they will likely get a preseason Top 25 team in the second round. Oh, and on the other side of the bracket: How about a pair of preseason Top 10 teams in Creighton and Arkansas, as well as a potential matchup with a preseason Top 25 squad in Texas Tech.
Point being, by the time the Aztecs leave Maui, they very realistically might have faced three likely NCAA Tournament teams.
Oh, and if that enough, things don't stop there. After they return to the mainland, they face Saint Mary's, a team they played last year, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Finally, the Aztecs open up conference play against Air Force on December 28th. The Aztecs do have an impressive stretch run to end conference play. Their last four conference games are at home against Colorado State, at the Pit in New Mexico, at Boise State, and they finish off the regular season against Wyoming at home. That is an opportunity for three quad-one wins to end the season, and a trip to the Pit is never an easy task. The Lobos will have a very improved squad. The days of cake walking over the Lobos may end this season.
Brian Dutcher will have his best team since the 2020 squad that was going to be a top 2 seed in the tourney before Covid struck. For that to happen, Trammell is going to have a Malachi Flynn type of impact. They return defensive stalwart Nathan Mensah and their top scorer in Bradley, and add talented transfers that will impact winning.
The Aztecs are tough, experienced, and talented. They are the team that is going to surprise some folks this season.
The best part, we are going to see how good they are early in the year at the Maui Invitational. This team needs to get San Diego State over the tourney hump. The Aztecs last had a tourney victory seven years ago. That changes in 2022-2023.
This team is the clear favorite in the Mountain West. We will see the Aztecs deep in the March conversation once again.
No. 30 - Memphis Tigers
No. 29 - Illinois Fighting Illini
No. 28 - Dayton Flyers
No. 27 - Wyoming Cowboys
No. 26 - Xavier Musketeers
No. 25 - Michigan State Spartans
No. 24 - Alabama Crimson Tide
No. 23 - Texas Tech Red Raiders
No. 22 - Arizona Wildcats
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive