“Aztecs–Final Four Team-or-Team in Trouble”
They are back home, saddened by what has happened to them the last two weeks of the basketball season.
They lost the chance to have a perfect regular season a week ago, when beaten at home. Then they lost the chance to win the Mountain West Conference tourney, beaten on a neutral court.
This Aztecs season is not over, but there is some reality now, they may be living on borrowed time.
The record is (30-2), and yes they could still get the #1 seed in one of the regionals next weekend on Selection Sunday, and possibly head to the Madison Square Garden regional. Yes they would wind up playing out here in the LA Staples Center regional as a #2 seed.
But they could also wind up ‘one-and-done’ too as March Madness begins.
But there are other things now to be considered, to be feared.
The look on Coach Brian Dutcher’s face on Saturday afternoon in the final minutes of the (59-56) loss to Utah State, told the entire story.
His team was fatigued. It was not playing its in your face defense. It’s 3-point shooting went away. His star forwards were taken out of the flow of the game.
Dutcher had a glazed look in his eyes, as if he had run out of answers, as new questions and problems surfaced.
Tell me when you have seen an SDSU team lose a 16-point lead in a game. Tell me when they could not defend the perimeter shots. Tell me when they allowed entry passes into the paint down on the block so often. Tell me when was the last time you saw this squad go 5, 6, and 8-minute spans without scoring a basket.
SDSU has now had 6-games in which they were in trouble in the last 3-weeks, most of which they were able to rally back from. A team that has come back from being down by double digits to Air Force, Boise, USU, CSU, UNLV, failed to do it against a Utah State team that has 2-players, Sam Merrill and Neemius Quinta, and not much else.
USU’s guard drilled all those 3-point shots in the 2nd half. The center ran free on the baseline for entry passes and got points in and around the paint with his 7′ frame.
It was an awful day for State’s big guns. Malachi Flynn went (6-20) shooting. KJ Feagin threw up bricks (3-11) and got schooled by Merrill at the other end. Matt Mitchell had a substandard (1-7) shooting game, and Yanni Wetzel disappeared when they needed him most.
SDSU shot 35% in the second half, and let USU hit 69% of its second half shots in a 15-minute span.
Stunning that USU came from 16-down to win. Stunning they could win even though they went 19-straight possessions without a basket in the first half.
3-games in 3-nights, with a shortened bench is taking a toll on SDSU. Dutcher’s decisions on who to use, when to use them, seem to be coming back now to haunt him.
Maybe the re-emergence of Nathan Mensah, even with limited minutes of play off the bench, will be the catalyst to get Aztecs basketball back to where it should be. Firepower at one end, fierce defense at the other.
Maybe this nearly 10-days off stretch before the first round of the tourney gets underway will be the tonic to return to form.
Yes, what happened Saturday…it only counts as one loss, but what we have seen happen the last couple of weeks has to be alarming for a team that had been rock solid consistent, with a tough as cement personality at both ends of the court.
The look on Dutcher’s face caught my attention late in the game. The sullen look on the faces of his players post-game has to cast doubts in their hearts how much farther they can go in the tourney playing the way they are.
They are not at home any more. There is no ‘Show’ support from Viejas Arena. They are not doing all the things that made them unbeaten and unchallenged most of the winter.
San Diego State is not the same team anymore. Might be fatigue. Might be scouting reports. Might be the player rotation. Might be the level of teams they are playing. Might be SDSU has peaked, and others have caught up.
Aztecs basketball, just doesn’t look right, right now. Not now, not at the most important time of the year. They should be concerned. The fans should be too.