There’s excitement brewing on the Montezuma Mesa. Basketball season is upon us here in San Diego and the SDSU men’s team enters 2022-2023 ranked 19th in the nation. With that ranking comes perhaps arguably some of the greatest expectations in program history.
The Aztecs fell short in the 2022 NCAA tournament losing to Creighton in the Round of 64. It was a game the Aztecs could and should have won until a monumental collapse in the game’s final moments. The bitter loss left a feeling of unfinished business and unfulfilled dreams which helped to shape this year’s roster.
SDSU is loaded with talent and experience this season. Prior to the end of the 2022 season, Matt Bradley and Adam Seiko announced they would utilize their Covid year. After deliberating about turning pro, the reigning Mountain West defensive player of the year, Nathan Mensah, also decided to come back for another year. Aguek Arop “AG” who was arguably the best defensive player for the Aztecs during post season tournament play also announced his return.
Additionally, the Aztecs picked up two impact transfers. One being point guard Darrion Trammell from Seattle University. The other an all Horizon League defensive team wing from Oakland University, Micah Parrish. Junior Jaedon LeDee, a 2-time transfer from Ohio State and TCU, was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA rules while running the scout team in practice for the Aztecs.
Also returning are freakishly gifted players in point guard Lamont Butler and senior Keshad Johnson. These two are poised for breakout seasons and are both lock down defensive specialists who started on this team just a year ago.
Coach Dutcher and his staff landed 2 promising freshmen in Miles Byrd and Elijah Saunders. PF/Center Demarshay Johnson, a player with tremendous size and upside, is coming off a crucial year of development in the program. Meanwhile, Cade Alger, Jared Barnett and the Broughton twins all return from last year’s squad and will bring valued experience, work ethic and chemistry to the practice squad.
The accumulation of talent and depth has the Aztecs poised to go deeper into March Madness than they have ever gone before. SDSU’s practice sessions at the Jacobs Jam Center this season are sure to be more competitive than some of their Mountain West conference games.
The old adage that iron sharpens iron will help SDSU become battle tested throughout the season and should be an advantage heading into Las Vegas for the Mountain West tournament in early March.
Each season every NCAA team is allowed one exhibition game and one closed door scrimmage that is off limits to fans and media. The Aztecs recently scrimmaged #8 preseason AP ranked UCLA Bruins at Viejas Arena and it was reported to the media through sources within the team, that the Aztecs played the Bruins close losing 89-87.
While the full box scores for each team were not available, Mark Zeigler from the San Diego Union Tribune reported that 3 Aztecs stood out: Trammell (24 points), Bradley (18 points) and LeDee (14 points, 10 boards).
Without video, it’s difficult for anyone who didn’t participate to draw meaningful conclusions from the scrimmage about player performances. One thing hanging with a top-10 opponent in a full scrimmage does bring however—confidence.
The reality that the Aztecs can play with any team in the country should reflect well on how SDSU comes out to start the season as much as how the fanbase comes out excited with their support around the community.
SDSU will learn quickly if their preseason ranking is warranted. The Aztecs have showdowns in November with BYU at home and on the road to Palo Alto, CA at Stanford. Both opponents are ranked in the top 60 of the Ken Pom preseason ratings, a respected basketball metric.
Then the real test of the out of conference schedule happens at the Maui Invitational over the Thanksgiving holiday week. SDSU opens up against Big Ten program Ohio State (#32 Ken Pom). The next game will either be against Arizona (AP #17) or Cincinnati (#51 Ken Pom).
The other teams in the field the Aztecs could play in their 3rd game is a rematch of last season’s tournament opponent Creighton out of the Big East (AP #9), Arkansas of the SEC (AP #10), Texas Tech of the Big12 (AP #25) or Louisville of the ACC (#91 Ken Pom).
Preseason holiday tournaments tend to favor teams with experience, as it often finds teams stocked with blue chip freshmen time to acclimate to the college game. Check mark Aztecs.
If SDSU runs the table in November or finishes with a loss in the championship game of the Maui Invitational, we will know this Aztec team means business. If this happens, they will no doubt be ranked in the AP top 10 (top 5 if they win the Maui title) going into December where they get another marquee matchup with Saint Mary’s of the WCC (#47 Ken Pom) in Phoenix on December 10th.
This Tuesday, November 1 SDSU is set tip-off against San Diego Christian in an exhibition match at Viejas Arena at 7pm PST. Stay tuned for more Aztecs basketball articles and more at sonsofmontezuma.com.