The 2022-2023 SDSU Men’s Basketball season kicked off at Viejas in front of a speckled but enthusiastic crowd of Aztec fans for an exhibition game vs San Diego Christian. The cross town matchup with the tiny NAIA school in El Cajon has become an annual tradition of sorts and the Aztecs are always appreciative to have this game as a warm-up.
As we detailed in our starting lineup article, the Aztecs’ starting five was the same one vs. UCLA in a closed door scrimmage: Darrion Trammell, Lamont Butler, Matt Bradley, Keshad Johnson and Nathan Mensah.
“It’s good to be back in Viejas, the electricity in the building it never changes. This building is electric all the time and the kids appreciate it.” said Brian Dutcher as he embarks upon his sixth season as Aztecs head coach.
The surprise of this lineup was that Butler played point guard with Trammell in an off ball guard role. Another surprise was that the Aztecs didn’t send Mensah out to the 3 point line to initiate a pick & roll on Butler’s defender. Instead, SDSU used more ball movement on the perimeter and feeding Mensah in the post.
The Aztecs got clean looks but just missed their open shots early. They were down 4-2 at the 1st media timeout. After a wholesale substitution, the 2nd unit started to get the team rolling. Adam Seiko hit a 3 and Jaedon Ledee followed that up with 2 of his own.
SDSU put its foot on the pedal and didn’t let up the rest of the game winning in blowout fashion 102-52.
The Team at First Glance
One major difference from the defensive strategy of a year ago was the use of the full court press. The Aztecs guarded San Diego Christian’s ball handler as soon as the ball was inbounded and it caused 25 turnovers with 38 points created off of them.
Butler and Trammell had 7 steals combined. It will be interesting to see if Coach Dutcher continues to press teams to disrupt their offensive sets and create turnovers.
The depth of this Aztec team really showed as their was no drop off in talent between substitutions. Freshmen Elijah Saunders and Miles Byrd played really well in their first college game action. LeDee finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds off the bench.
Nathan Mensah struggled to make shots in the post, but did grab 5 rebounds.
Keshad Johnson and Jaedon LeDee are monsters. They both showed the ability to hit 3’s which will spread the floor. If they get an open shot from behind the arc they’ll take it every time. That was refreshing to see.
The team is full of specimens like Ledee, Bradley, Seiko, Butler, Johnson and Saunders. They are all very much in the best shape of their lives, but if there was one who truly surprised the most, it had to be Saunders. By the eye test of his athleticism and skill, it’s very difficult to believe he is a freshman. He will get playing time without a doubt.
Another highlight of note was Darrion Trammell’s ability to distribute effectively. There was many times where he’d have a potential target on the perimeter, survey the interior for a better option and make a decision very quickly. He is a true point guard.
In Conclusion …
This team needs to start games faster. According to Mark Zeiglar of the SDUT against UCLA the Aztecs were outscored 18-2 early on in the closed door scrimmage. Before storming back they ended up losing by 2 points with a 89-87 final score. The first five minutes of the game against San Diego Christian College were similarly unattractive.
“The first half we didn’t scout at all really.” Says Coach Dutcher after the game when made available to the media. “We kind of took what they did, a lot of hand-offs, we guarded our own man and tried to duck under. Second half, I thought let’s just try to switch everything. Switch all the hand-offs, all the screens. So we switched a lot second half and I just wanted to see if we can handle half time adjustments and we did.”
“In the first half we didn’t grade out very well, just a lot of mistakes but it’s first live action in front of a lot of people. For guys like Jaedon, his first game in two years. So we’ll take what we learned this first game and take the next step forward against Fullerton.”
To start the game San Diego State committed 4 turnovers and shot 2-9 from the field. The immediate struggles made some spectators a bit skeptical about all they hype. That quickly changed however. Although only scoring 7 points in the first 6 minutes, they ended the night with 102.
Scoring that many points at the college level no matter who the opponents are is difficult. It takes a lot of chemistry and trust to distribute the ball that freely—two things this team will need plenty of.
SDSU next faces Cal State Fullerton to open the regular season next Monday, November 7 back at Viejas Arena.