How the Aztecs Made the Final Four
HOW THE AZTECS MADE THE FINAL FOUR – The San Diego State Aztecs’ magical run to the Final Four has taken the entire nation by storm. Well, except for San Diego State fans and players.
At the beginning of the season, all eyes were on the Aztecs returning to the NCAA Tournament and getting revenge after a crushing first-round loss to Creighton. The year before, Buddy Boeheim exploded for Syracuse as San Diego State again lost in the first round, and the 2020 30-2 season was wiped away due to Covid.
The NCAA memories of the past had haunted SDSU and their fans, and all they wanted was a win in March Madness. This year, they got more than that, and they have now found their way to the first Final Four berth in program history.
The Road In March
The Aztecs’ path to March Madness was not a secret. They held the top spot in the Mountain West Conference all year long, lost tough games against Arkansas and Arizona in non-conference play, and they entered the MWC tourney firmly in the field. The Aztecs then won the MWC tourney and earned a 5-seed in the Field of 68, and, at the time, it felt like they might have been under-seeded.
Nonetheless, they fought off a feisty Charleston team and then made easy work of Furman to get to the Sweet 16. Moreover, despite a lot of people picking Charleston to get the upset, others saw a clear path to the Aztecs getting to the Sweet 16, and Virginia’s heartbreaking loss to Furman in the last seconds helped increase SDSU’s odds.
The Aztecs then frustrated Brandon Miller, a lottery pick and one of – if not the best – college basketball players in the nation. The Crimson Tide were the top overall seed, but Miller’s 3-19 outing from the field and the suffocating SDSU defense was too much for Nate Oats and his team. Even with Alabama coming out of the half surging and finding a rhythm, the Aztecs buckled down when it mattered most and rode the offense of Darrion Trammell to get the win.
Then came Creighton, the team that beat the Aztecs in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament after an unreal collapse. That loss was on their minds, but more than that, the program’s first ever Final Four trip was right in front of them.
The game against the Bluejays was a pure grind-it-out type of win, which is exactly what the Aztecs were hoping for. Creighton was having its way early on, but once again, terrific adjustments by Brian Dutcher and his staff changed the course of the game, and some clutch shots down the stretch – Nathan Mensah’s jumper was massive – helped the Aztecs. Nonetheless, this game will always be remembered for the controversial foul call that sent Trammell to the line with 1.2 seconds left, and ultimately gave the Aztecs a trip to Houston in the Final Four.
Aztecs Team Makeup
If you have followed SDSU for some time, this isn’t surprising. Brian Dutcher came to town as an assistant to legendary coach Steve Fisher back in 1999. The Aztecs then became a household name in college basketball, regulars in the NCAA Tournament, a popular preseason MWC pick, and made the Sweet 16 while sending players such as Kawhi Leonard and Jordan Schakel to the NBA, not to mention Jaden McDaniels.
This isn’t a Cinderella story. Rather, this is a long road to success that has finally reached the goal: A Final Four.
After the Creighton loss last season, both Matt Bradley and Nathan Mensah returned for one more year, and getting a victory in March Madness was a huge reason why. They wanted this. However, Trey Pulliam graduated, but the Aztecs responded by adding Micah Parrish and Trammell from the transfer portal, and Jaedon LeDee got his time to shine after playing at both Ohio State and TCU.
This team is a deep one, and Dutcher plays nine guys on a regular basis, as all nine of those players average 16 or more minutes per game and he can flip-flop any and all combinations, as we have seen in the tournament. In the Creighton Elite Eight game, Matt Bradley finished the game on the bench, and Dutcher rolled with others. It worked.
Ironically, only one player averages double digits in points: Matt Bradley with 12.5. But, once again, the Aztecs’ bread and butter is the defense, so much so that they tell players not to come here if they don’t want to play defense. In year’s past, the lack of offense has been a huge talking point for the Aztecs’ losses in the NCAA Tournament, but this year has been different.
Through the first four games, the Aztecs are allowing an average of 57.5 PPG, and only Alabama scored more than 60 points. It’s worked, and Brian Dutcher isn’t the least bit surprised. With Florida Atlantic on tap and a flurry of Aztecs fans and former players expected to come to Houston, if the defense shows up, they will be playing for the national championship.