The #19 SDSU men’s basketball team begins their 2022-2023 season tonight when they host the Cal State Fullerton Titans at Viejas Arena. Tip off time is set for 7:00pm and viewed on YurView TV (channel 4).
Surprisingly the headline is true, the Aztecs are ranked #19 in the preseason AP Poll. This ranking marks just the 4th time in program history that SDSU has started the season ranked. With the potential to be a very special season, we wanted to take a quick look back on those 4 other teams that share this distinction.
#16 in 2014-2015:
Fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance in 2014, a combo of veterans in J.J. O’Brien, Aqeel Quinn, Dwayne Polee, Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer along with the highest rated recruiting class in Malik Pope, Zylan Cheatham, Trey Kell and Kevin Zabo formed the highest pre-season ranked Aztec squad. Unfortunately, this team did not meet expectations.
The regular season Mountain West conference champion lost to Wyoming in the Mountain West tournament championship game. This dropped the Aztecs an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. They disposed of St. John’s in the 1st round only to be buzz sawed by a bout of food poisoning and the #1 seed and eventual national champion Duke in the Round of 32.
A Jamaal Franklin/Chase Tapley led squad stumbled through the Mountain West regular season finishing in 4th place. After losing to New Mexico in the semifinals of the conference tourney, the 7th seeded Aztecs rebounded to beat Oklahoma in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, the season ended in the Round of 32 to hands of 15th seeded cinderella FGCU also known as Dunk City.
This team featured veteran players in D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White along with some guy who could play basketball really well named Kawhi Leonard. The Aztecs finished the year with a 34-3 record and a final AP poll ranking of #6. The Mountain West regular season co-champions blew out a Jimmer Fredette BYU team in the conference tournament championship game. The Aztecs earned their highest NCAA tournament seed ever at #2. The Aztecs reached the Sweet 16 in Anaheim where their season was ended by a flopping Kemba Walker and eventual national champion Connecticut.
So How Good is this years Aztec Team?
The common denominator between all of the previous Aztec teams who were ranked in the AP preseason polls is that they made the NCAA tournament field. The bare minimum floor for this year’s squad should be a ticket to the Big Dance. Aztec fans should expect this to happen.
They should also expect a regular season and conference tournament championship although not guaranteed. Vegas has made the Aztecs heavy favorites to win the conference championship. How far SDSU advances in the NCAA tournament will depend on their seed, matchups and momentum going into March Madness.
The 2022-2023 Aztecs could win a national championship but they could also get knocked out in the first round again. Both are not likely to happen. Considering where the Aztecs are ranked, a reasonable expectation is a Sweet 16 appearance. If this happens, the season can be seen as a success.
However, Aztec Nation has been patiently waiting for SDSU to breakthrough with a run to an Elite Eight or Final Four. For years, the Aztecs have underachieved in March with Coach Dutcher going 0-3 in the tournament since he took the reins from Steve Fisher.
SDSU has the deepest core of talent and experience they’ve ever assembled on one team. A run to the Final Four with this squad is in the realm of possibility and should shock no one if it happens.
Game #1: Cal State Fullerton
Cal State Fullerton made the NCAA tournament last year as an automatic qualifier out of the Big West. They did this behind their top three scorers; E.J Anosike, Damari Milstead, and Tray Maddox Jr; unfortunately those three are all gone now.
This year the team is being led by Jalen Harris and former Aztec recruit Vincent Lee. Lee was recruited by the Aztecs, however in the end he went to Nevada, although he never played there, and transferred to Cal Stat Fullerton. Neither was a double digit scorer, but along with a slew of transfers the two seniors will be counted on to lead early on.
Early on the season will be a time for the Titans to find their rhythm in game situations. Because of this expectations are low. They were picked to finish seventh in the Big West by the media in the preseason poll; and are heavy underdogs against #19 San Diego State. The current point spread is set to the Aztecs -21.
According to KenPom the Cal State Fullerton offense is expected to be in the back half of the NCAA, while their defense is ranked in the middle of the pack nationwide. In other words, expect them to struggle with the Aztecs’ defense and to have trouble stopping them on offense. Fullerton will be better as the season wears on and you know the Aztecs will not take them lightly.
Be sure to listen to the latest Sons of Montezuma ‘Kiss The Rings’ Podcast featuring our newest NIL team member, Junior guard Lamont Butler. He previews the new season and talks all about his experiences at SDSU thus far.