Two and a half years ago, San Diego State had a 30-2 record and was in prime position to earn a high seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament. It never happened because the event was cancelled due to COVID-19.
30 months later, expectations are again high for the Aztecs entering the 2022-23 season and their head coach — Brian Dutcher — isn’t shying away.
When asked this week on the College Hoops Today Podcast if this current San Diego State team can eventually reach the same level as the team that won 30 games in 32 attempts during the 2019-20 season, Dutcher didn’t hesitate.
“I think you can say that,” Dutcher said. “You have to go on the floor and prove it. That’s the beauty of basketball. Until you put them on the floor, until you see how they meld as a team, until you see how selfless they are, and how hard they want to win on the defensive end — then we’ll know how good we’re going to be. Those answers will come quickly with the schedule that we’re going to have.”
That early schedule will severely test the veteran Aztecs, who return six players — Matt Bradley, Nathan Mensah, Lamont Butler, Aguek Arop, Adam Seiko, and Keshad Johnson — who are in their third, fourth, or fifth year of college basketball and were a part of last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament. The 6-4 Bradley (16.9 points, 5.4 rebounds) is a serious candidate to be Mountain West Player of the Year while the 6-10 Mensah (seven points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) is the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Dutcher is also bullish on a troika of transfers in Jaedon LeDee (TCU), Darrion Trammell (Seattle), and Micah Parrish (Oakland), with Trammell and Butler the primary candidates to replace Trey Pulliam at point guard.
Before Thanksgiving, San Diego State will host BYU, travel to Stanford, and face Ohio State in the first round of the Maui Invitational, an event that also features Arizona, Cincinnati, Creighton, Texas Tech, Arkansas, and Louisville.
“That field is incredible,” Dutcher said of the Maui Invitational. “We’re on the same side with Arizona and Cincinnati and on the other side you’ve got Creighton, Texas Tech, Arkansas, Louisville. I mean that’s as good a field as you’re going to find anywhere.”
Earning key wins early in the schedule will be critical to this program’s hopes of earning a high seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West had four teams in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but only one other team from this league — Wyoming — is currently ranked in the ROTHSTEIN 45.
Nevertheless, Dutcher has a strong level of confidence with the group that he’s about to coach and for good reason. San Diego State has experience, size, a go-to scorer in Bradley, and a potential breakout star in the 6-9, 240 pound LeDee, someone that Dutcher said “could average a double-double”. With LeDee and Mensah up front, it’s going to be awfully hard for opponents to get easy opportunities at the rim.
“I think this goes back to the team with Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas, and Billy White (2010-11),” Dutcher said. “We — like that team — really rebound the ball at an elite level. I think this team is going to be able to rebound the ball at an elite level.”
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