No. 20 San Diego State finished the regular season as Mountain West Conference champions, but the Aztecs don’t feel as if they’ve accomplished anything yet.
Top-seeded San Diego State (24-6) opens play against eighth-seeded Colorado State (15-17) on Thursday afternoon at the MWC tournament in Las Vegas.
Colorado State held on to beat Fresno State 67-65 in a first-round game on Wednesday afternoon.
San Diego State has won the Mountain West regular-season title four times in six seasons under coach Brian Dutcher and twice captured the tournament championship in that span, but Dutcher has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game with the Aztecs.
“We’ve been close, but we haven’t gotten over the hump,” Dutcher said. “Hopefully, everything we’re doing to prepare for the conference tournament will then lead us into the NCAA Tournament.”
The Aztecs have the depth and are in good health, putting them in position to make a long postseason run.
Six different players have appeared in all 30 games for San Diego State this season and three others have played in at least 28 games.
Matt Bradley is the only player averaging double figures in scoring for the Aztecs (13.0), but seven others average from 6.6 to 9.8 points, and seven different players led San Diego in scoring during conference play.
“We have guys that average 20-some minutes a game, where in a lot of these programs, guys are playing 32, 34, 36 minutes a game and that can wear on you over the course of a year,” Dutcher said. “Especially in the three-game and three-day situation, or an NCAA Tournament, quick turnaround, that depth should hopefully pay dividends.”
The Aztecs will be playing 350 miles away from their home arena, but Dutcher expects a solid contingent to be in the stands.
“Our fans travel, so it always feels like we have the most fans in the building,” Dutcher said. “Our Aztec fans are loyal, they’re passionate, they make that drive, and especially if we get by the Thursday game, they’re going to be there in force on Friday and Saturday.”
One of the keys for San Diego State’s success will be the play of senior point guard Darrion Trammell. He arrived with high expectations after transferring from Seattle and he combined for 39 points in his first two games with the Aztecs, but hit a rut early in conference play.
He delivered his best performance in a 73-71 win against New Mexico on Feb. 25, scoring 18 points while knocking down 4 of 9 shots from 3-point distance.
“Darrion’s game against New Mexico was a big moment for him,” Dutcher said. “We need him to play well. We need him to shoot the ball better than he shot it during the season, shooting like he did in New Mexico, and that makes us more dangerous.”
Colorado State pushed SDSU into overtime in their first meeting on Jan. 18, but ultimately lost 82-76 in Fort Collins, Colo. Lamont Butler led the Aztecs with 19 points and Micah Parrish scored 15 off the bench.
Jalen Lake scored 17 points and Isaiah Stevens had 16 for the Rams, who had five players score in double figures.
The Aztecs beat Colorado State 77-58 in San Diego on Feb. 21. Butler and Parrish again scored in double figures and Jaedon LeDee led the way with 14 off the bench.
John Tonje scored 18 for the Rams in the rematch and Stevens finished with 15.
–Field Level Media