After years in waiting, Brian Dutcher’s ‘Redeem Team’ has SDSU dancing with destiny

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When it comes to cutting down nets after each championship this season, San Diego State men’s basketball head coach Brian Dutcher has turned to face his team from the top step of a tall ladder.

Net in hand, he confirms his players’ commitment to catch him. Then, he turns his back to them, crosses his arms and completes a trust fall into interlocked, sturdy arms of the young men in his charge.

Some 24 years ago, Dutcher, the son of longtime and esteemed college basketball coach Jim Dutcher, took a similar leap of faith when he answered the call from his good friend and trusted mentor, Steve Fisher.

Brian Dutcher, who spent nine seasons as an assistant with then head coach, Steve Fisher with the Michigan Wolverines, and another 18 seasons with Fisher at San Diego State has reached the Final Four as head coach of the Aztecs.

Fisher, the former head man and NCAA championship winning coach at the University of Michigan, asked his former top lieutenant to join him in one of the biggest rebuilding projects in all of college basketball. Together, the two men with deep Midwestern roots have gone on to build one of the most successful programs on the West Coast.

On Saturday, Dutcher will lead his 31-6 and #5 seeded Aztecs team onto the Final Four court at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. This marks Dutcher’s fourth trip to the sport’s grandest stage, but it will be his first visit with SDSU.

Many consider these 2022-23 Aztecs to be a redeem team of sorts. Given how the 2019-20 team led by Malachi Flynn to a 30-2 record, never had the opportunity to play for a similar spot in March Madness due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak before the start of the tournament.

Given they’ve won both regular season and conference tournament championships and all the success in this years tournament, can you blame anyone for believing this is a team of destiny?

Brian Dutcher has been part of 536 victories, 16 Mountain West titles and 10 appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

But alas, there are four teams in Houston that feel equally as destined. SDSU will face another Final Four debutant in the Owls from #9 seed Florida Atlantic. The winner of Saturday’s matchup will face the winner of #4 Connecticut and #5 Miami on Monday for men’s college basketball’s national championship.

Dutcher knows the feeling of being a champion. He and Steve Fisher helped Michigan capture the title in 1989. The Wolverines and their outstanding coaching staff returned to the final game in 1992 and again in 1993.

At SDSU, Dutcher, the 2020 USA Today National Coach of the Year has carved out his own coaching legacy. Now in his 24th season coaching at San Diego State, his sixth as the head man, Dutcher has been part of 536 victories, 16 Mountain West titles and 10 appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Prior to this year, the Aztecs had never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. But the team broke that barrier with a stirring 71-64 upset of the tournament’s overall #1 seed Alabama. SDSU punched its ticket to Houston and its first ever Final Four after beating a tough Creighton crew 57-56.

In Dutcher, the Aztecs have a leader who has helped build and now sustain a culture based on a sense of family, unquestioned loyalty, strict dedication to craft and a fierce determination to succeed. A culture reflective of the mature, professional coach who grew up in the college basketball world and now finds himself two wins from standing on the top of it.

And should he be able to finish the climb, cut down one more set of nets, from another tall ladder and turn to fall, Dutcher knows his team, and perhaps all of Aztec Nation, will be there to catch him.

San Diego State’s NCAA Tournament Final Four semifinal game against Florida Atlantic is scheduled to tip off Saturday, April 1 at 3:09 PDT on CBS. San Diego Sports 760 will have the radio call.

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