SAN DIEGO — Brian Dutcher isn’t running away from his dream.
With the team he’s about to coach this season at San Diego State, he absolutely shouldn’t.
The Aztecs — who are currently ranked 15th in the ROTHSTEIN 45 — return four of their top five scorers from last year’s team that lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton and will have seven seniors in their rotation during the upcoming season; four of those seniors are in at least their fifth year of eligibility.
All of those reasons is why Dutcher is very open about where San Diego State’s program aspires to be either this season or in the future.
“Our goal is to go to a Final Four and win a national title,” Dutcher said after Tuesday afternoon’s practice in San Diego. “But we have to win close games in the NCAA Tournament. We haven’t done that since I’ve been the head coach. I’ve lost a one possession game to Houston in 2018 and I lost a one possession game to Creighton last year. The only time we were blown out was when we lost to Syracuse in 2021 and the best team that we’ve had since I’ve been a head coach — the team that went 30-2 in 2020 — never played in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID.”
When asked if San Diego State’s overwhelming experience — having seven seniors in its rotation — gives this team a leg up on the others that he’s coached, Dutcher acknowledged how valuable that seasoning could be in March.
“That’s unheard of,” Dutcher said in regards to having seven seniors in his rotation. “Experience is the greatest teacher of all. We’ve had a lot of experience here and that’s why we’ve been so good.”
Before San Diego State can focus on a deep run in March of 2023, it first has to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs will have to endure a vicious non-conference schedule that features a home game against BYU on Nov. 11th followed by a trip to Stanford on Nov. 15th. San Diego State will then open the Maui Invitational against Ohio State on Nov. 21st and play the winner/loser of Arizona/Cincinnati the very next day. A third game in Maui will be against Creighton, Texas Tech, Arkansas, or Louisville.
The results of those five games will ultimately determine what type of seed that the Aztecs can earn on Selection Sunday.
“We have to win some of those games to be an at-large team,” Dutcher said.
San Diego State’s physical size is incredibly impressive in person. Beyond last year’s returnees — Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler, Keshad Johnson, Aguek Arop, Adam Seiko, and Nathan Mensah — the Aztecs also have one of college basketball’s most physically imposing players in former TCU big man Jaedon LeDee, who checks in at 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds. Dutcher said recently on the College Hoops Today Podcast that LeDee could average a double-double in 2022-23.
Oakland transfer Micah Parrish (12.1 points, six rebounds) will also have an impact on the wing at 6-6 and Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell (17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds) should aid Butler with ball handing responsibilities.
All of it looks good on paper, but Dutcher is quick to point out that no one truly knows for sure how good anyone is until things count for real.
“I won’t truly know how good we are until games start,” Dutcher said. “That’s life in coaching and for us to get where we want go go, we’ve got to be better in close games in the NCAA Tournament.”
San Diego State was 5-5 last season in games that were decided by five points or fewer or in overtime. The Aztecs’ final two losses of last season — against Boise State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament title game and against Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — were by a combined four points.
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