San Diego State basketball fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated when Mountain West defensive player of the year Nathan Mensah announced yesterday that he would return to the Mesa for another season after considering opportunities to play professionally.
The Aztecs were favorites to win the Mountain West conference next year and return to the NCAA tournament regardless of Nathan’s decision. Bringing him back cements SDSU as the odds-on favorite to win the league and anything less than conference regular season and tournament champions will be seen by Aztec Nation as an underachievement.
The consensus feedback that Nathan received from the NBA was that he is not ready to play in the league next year. According to Mark Zeigler’s interview on 1360’s The Jon & Jim Show, Nathan needs to improve his post moves, becoming more aggressive in the paint which should draw more fouls and trips to the free throw line.
On defense, he needs to limit fouls on taller centers as he found himself last season in early foul trouble against 7 footers such as Michigan’s Hunter Dickenson and Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner. As reported by Zeigler, Nathan plans to put on 10 pounds to his frame in the offseason so that he can better absorb contact from centers on defense and become more physical in the paint on offense.
Many fans—myself included—were concerned that Nathan’s prolonged decision may cause the program to miss out on the few talented centers available in the transfer portal leaving the team without an experienced center on the roster.
7-foot center, and San Diego native, Warren Washington from Nevada was reported to have had interest in the Aztecs until he grew tired of waiting. Washington ultimately committed to play for Arizona State.
Last season the Aztecs had big men depth. However they lost Tahirou Diabate and Joshua Tomaic whose eligibility expired after the season. Aguek Arop was arguably the best interior defender at the end of the season, but concerns about his health and ability to remain on the floor still linger.
And then there are the newcomers. Demarshay Johnson is a promising young center but still very raw and may need more time to develop. Jaedon Ledee played center at TCU and Ohio State but is a better fit for the power forward spot where he can stretch the defense with his outside shooting and perimeter ball handling.
Mensah’s decision may be the most important addition the Aztecs made in the offseason giving the team its rim protector back. Mountain West opponents are going to have nightmares trying to figure out how to score in the paint again.
With Nathan’s return, the 2022-2023 Aztec roster is expected to be one of the most talented and deepest San Diego State teams ever. Before adding Mensah, BartTorvik.com ranked SDSU as the 12th best team in the country according to their projected analytics. With Mensah, they are currently 11th. Only two seasons have seen the Aztecs ranked higher in the national polls: the 2011 and 2020 squads that are considered the best in school history. It’s an embarrassment of riches SDSU has acquired.
New transfer Darrion Trammell chose SDSU over USC. Micah Parrish shunned his home state Michigan State Spartans to play for the Aztecs. SDSU has 13 scholarship players who could all have an impact next season. Many of the reserves on next year’s team are talented enough that they could start or play significant minutes at mid-major Division 1 schools. This level of depth is a luxury and hedges against injuries that may occur during the course of next season.
Once again, the sky is the limit for SDSU men’s basketball. Will this be the year of the deep tournament run we missed out on in 2020? This roster has the pieces to make the Sweet 16 and possibly the first Final Four run in program history.
BREAKING NEWS: SDSU Basketball vs Stanford to play in a home & home series beginning next season.
In what is being reported by Jon Rothstein, SDSU and Stanford are set to agree on a home & home that will give Viejas arena a return game vs the Cardinal in the 2023-2024 season. Times and dates are TBD, but if this comes to finalize, it will be a big PAC-12 opponent to add to an already competitive schedule this season.
The Aztecs open up the 2022 season in the exclusive Maui Invitational. Potential matchups will be selected against teams such as Arizona, Arkansas, Cincinnati, Creighton, Louisville, Ohio State, and Texas Tech.