I am an optimist when it comes to the San Diego State basketball team. I never lose the faith and some would call me a homer or even delusional, so when I looked at this team I thought it was good enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. That is not to say that at times I did not have my doubts that they actually would make the tourney, however I thought they had the talent to make it.
And make the NCAAs they did by virtue of the Mountain West automatic bid, which was given to them for winning the Mountain West tournament. They faced off against Houston in the first round and lost a nail-biter to the Cougars, ending their season sooner than we had all hoped. While we were all disappointed that the Aztecs did not advance, mainly because we all believed that they were good enough to make some noise in the tournament, I wanted to wait until the end of the basketball season to reflect.
With the national championship done, I look back before I look forward. I cannot remember the expectations that I had before the season, however I know how I felt during the year. For stretches I felt that this team was lost, as the one before it had been. However, this team, finally completely healthy, turned it on at the end and made it to the NCAA tournament. So was this season a success? I say resoundingly, yes it was.
There are a number of reasons why I think the season was a success. Firstly, it was coach Brian Dutcher’s first year and by taking the team to back to the NCAA tournament he gave his players some motivation for next year. People questioned whether Dutcher could follow in Steve Fisher’s footsteps. And when the Aztecs were losing the naysayers were out in full force. Dutcher has quieted them down and has something to build on after his first year.
Another reason why the season was a success was because this season hopefully puts San Diego State in an upward trajectory. Three years ago the Aztecs were in the NCAA Tournament. The following year they were in the NIT. Then they missed the postseason all together. Now the Aztecs are back in the NCAAs and hopefully are at the beginning of another streak of appearances.
The third and final reason why this season was a success was that the Aztecs developed some young stars. This season three freshmen starred on the team and with them in the fold for next year, unless Jalen McDaniels opts to stay in the draft, the Aztecs should have a formidable bunch for the near future. Matt Mitchell looks to take on a bigger role next year and Jordan Schakel will likely be commanding more minutes. These three players will help keep the Aztecs moving forward as a program and should step into team leaders sooner rather than later.