These Keys Will Help Get SDSU Back On Top Of The Mountain West And The Rest Of The Country.
The Aztecs haven’t made the NCAA Tournament the past two years, but if they improve on these four issues, they should return to the Madness in 2018.
“Major Key Alert!!!!” -DJ Khaled
Success is a relative term. Music producer like DJ Khaled views success on how many albums he sells. With his extremely popular Snapchat stories and hilarious catchphrases, he could be defined as successful in terms of popularity or wealth. In basketball, success is simply defined by one thing. Wins.
The San Diego State basketball teams of the past were severely unsuccessful by those standards. Steve Fisher changed the entire mentality of the program to the point where a successful season would be decided on whether or not they made the annual NCAA tournament.
While the Aztecs made a nice run in the middle of the decade, it’s time to face facts. Last year, was the second year in a row that the Aztecs missed the tournament. For a team that has grown accustomed to consistently making the tournament, both the fans and players were not happy with these consecutive results and rightfully so.
Changes are in order if they want to avoid a notorious three-peat. Eight months from now, the NCAA selection committee will gather together to select the 68 teams for the 2018 tournament. This guide will help to provide an early look at what the Aztecs will have to do to achieve “success” and claim a ticket to the Big Dance.
1) Every game matters!
Every team deserves respect from their opponents, but there are some games that are simply there for you to pad your record. So when you lose games to teams like Loyola of Illinois and the Air Force Academy, it sends a crystal clear message to the committee that they are wasting time even considering said team for March Madness.
San Diego State will most likely be playing USD again and already have a game scheduled with Bradley. Those games, plus the Mountain West bottom feeders, will present the Aztecs with prime opportunities to show that they have learned from their past mistakes and can win the games that they are supposed to.
In addition, these games can have hidden benefits besides adding another dub to your record. If you a blow a team out early, you can rest your starters, protecting them from injury and preserving their legs fresh for the postseason. Bench players can develop confidence as they gain valuable playing time and experience for future years and the fans don’t have to stress about another possible blemish on the team’s resume.
Overall, it allows the team to develop the chemistry and camaraderie that all championship squads possess. Every game should be looked at as an opportunity, not as a burden. Take care of business and the selection committee should do the same.
2) Finish on empty
Want to guess what number summed up SDSU’s season as a whole? If you guessed 11, you were right. That’s how many games they lost by eight points or less. ELEVEN! If they win half of those, they finish with a 25 win season. Win all and they finish with a minimum of 30 wins, head to the MWC Tournament title game and probably have a bid to the NCAA tourney locked up either way.
It was agonizing to be an Aztec fan watching them to struggle to close out games, especially when most games shouldn’t have even been close in the first place. It’s a time proven recipe that if you want to have success in March, you must be able to close out games.
This year is the last chance for SDSU to make a postseason run with the current core and with all the new arrivals, they should be able to make significant noise. Devin Watson and Jalen McDaniels have the potential to be game-changing offensive catalysts in the starting lineup this year.
The freshman duo of Adam Seiko and Jordan Schakel should be able to step in and make contributions with their elite perimeter defense and three point shooting, respectively. Patrick Fisher adds more veteran experience to a battle-tested group. All these pieces should be more than enough to win 25+ games, it’s just up to Brian Dutcher and Co. to get them to finish.
sAll the great teams have had a clutch factor, an extra gear at the end of the game. Closing out games last year could’ve gotten them into March Madness. Closing out games this year could prepare them to make their third Sweet 16 in program history.
3) Stay healthy
At the beginning of his career, Steph Curry was notorious for having two of the brittlest ankles in basketball. After making a change to his training regimen and by focusing on strengthening his core, he’s become a 2x MVP and one of the more durable players in the league.
The Aztecs know better than most that health is one of the most valuable commodities a team can have. From the start of the season last year, they were banged up and were struggling to put five guys on the court. Less players available means less rest for the ones healthy which in turn leads to a higher risk of injuries for those players.
With injuries also comes a struggle to build chemistry, which can lead to problems against efficient and disciplined teams. Just ask how the team how hard it was last year to build rhythm when a key player like Malik Pope misses eight games at the beginning of the season. San Diego State will need players like Pope,
Jalen McDaniels and the oft-injured Kam Rooks to play big roles (literally) consistently this year since they project to be one of the smaller teams in the conference. Yes, we are beginning to see the positionless basketball ideology manifest itself across all three levels of hoops, SDSU will still need all their available bigs if they want to defeat teams like Nevada who could theoretically start a whole lineup of players 6’5” or taller.
With the transfer of 6’9” Zylan Cheatham, it is imperative that the bigs are especially proactive in strengthening their bodies to avoid any lengthy injury time. Whether it’s running up the Coronado sand dunes or simply putting in work in the weight room, the Aztecs need to focus on injury prevention this summer and fall if they seek to still be in the hunt for a conference title/tourney bid in the spring.
4) Impress the committee
The selection committee has shown over the years that it values four things. In no particular order, they are conference championships, overall record, advanced analytics rankings and quality wins and losses. While the majority of SDSU’s non-MW schedule is set, there is still room for a few more games. While the Mountain West should be much stronger this year as Nevada and UNLV should be Kenpom Top 100 teams and possibly BoiseState/Fresno State as well, it’s always a good idea to add quality games to your non-conference slate.
Especially with the brand new rule about valuing quality road non-conference games, a mid-major team like the Aztecs should take advantage of the new insight into the committee’s thought process and load up on road games to fill out their schedule. SDSU is already scheduled to play Gonzaga at home, presenting the ideal situation to pick up a signature win, and Arizona State and Cal will make for nice resume boosters as well. Victories over the second best team in America last year and two PAC-12 schools is by no means a shabby way to start off the season, but they played these teams last year too.
Granted, they only won against Cal, but only playing three big name schools won’t exactly turn heads. A possible idea would be to re-up and play against Grand Canyon University again. State lost a close one in the desert last year and playing Dan Majerle’s squad would be a shrewd move as the Jackrabbits are finally eligible for the Big Dance and are the preseason favorites for the auto-bid from the WAC.
If the Aztecs can add GCU and find one or two more quality Power 5 opponents to play on the road before the end of the summer to finish up their pre-conference schedule, expect the selection committee to keep a close eye on the Mesa as long as the team makes it through the season without too many blemishes on their resume.
There’s little doubt that the glory days of SDSU basketball were earlier this decade. Kawhi and his crew made an unprecedented run and set records that could stand for a while.
However, things are lined up nicely for the latest group of Aztecs. Should they learn from their mistakes and fine-tune the issues listed above, the team should have the firepower to challenge the daunting 34 win mark set by the Klaw back in 2010-11. After all, records were made to be broken. Claiming a couple for themselves would be quite the successful season indeed.