Wednesday, February 9, 2011

San Diego State Aztecs on the rise

In sports, there's a general statement the majority of players have abode by from a young age - "Practice makes perfect." There's a team in San Diego that can attest to that.

With a three-headed monster comprised entirely of seniors, inspiring play by sophomore Kawhi Leonard, and timely and consistent contributions from bench and role players, the San Diego State Aztecs find themselves holding the number six ranking in the NCAA. At 24-1, the Aztecs are indisputably enjoying their best season of all time, having been ranked in the AP top 25 for the first time in school history early in the year.

It wasn't always like this, though. Following a moderately successful 2006 season in which the Aztecs won the Mountain West championship, earned a berth to the NCAA tournament and were subsequently eliminated in dominant fashion by Indiana in the first round, SDSU was overlooked by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee from 2007-2009.

Having won three games in the National Invitation Tournament in 2009 and setting a school record for single-season wins with 26 and earning an NCAA tournament berth in 2010 (which ended with a first-round loss to Tennessee) the Aztecs entered this year's 2011 campaign with high expectations - however, nobody could have seen San Diego State being as dominant as they have been this year; except for head coach Steve Fisher, in his 11th year at SDSU. Following the Aztecs' upset of then-11th ranked Gonzaga on November 17th, Fisher had this to say of his team, "We have a great basketball team. We have a long, athletic, smart, tough team that most importantly plays very hard and they share the basketball. They get caught in the most important thing, which is 'how can I help this team win'. I expect to be doing a lot of just that this year." Fisher, of all people, knew what he had on his hands - and it has become apparent that he knew how to handle such a talented squad.

Led by Fisher's offensive and organizational schemes, the Aztecs bring a balanced offensive attack to the floor every game. With four players averaging above 10 points per game and none above 15, San Diego State's opponents have found it difficult to focus their defensive attention on any specific focal point of SDSU's offense. In order of average points per game, Kawhi Leonard, point guard D.J. Gay, and forwards Malcom Thomas and Billy White form the quartet that has led San Diego State to victory night in and night out. Contributions from guards Chase Tapley (who has started 22 games) and James Rahon have also proven to be significant as the year has gone on. It is SDSU's stifling defense that is the true catalyst to the Aztecs' success. Holding their opponents to the 11th fewest points per game in the country, at 58.8, San Diego State's nightly oppositions (save for Jimmer Fredette of BYU, who scored 43 points in dealing SDSU its first and only loss of the season) have found it difficult to put points on the board.

With a home game against BYU looming on the horizon on February 26th, the Aztecs look to regain sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference and improve their national ranking in order to receive an optimal seeding in the NCAA tournament. With a trio of talented players graduating, many view this year's squad as SDSU's last legitimate national title contender for a few years to come. Only time will tell if the San Diego State Aztecs' men's basketball team will live up to the recently developed hype and attention it has received - one fact remains, though: if the Aztecs' young players can learn from their upperclassmen mentors, there is a bright future on the basketball court for SDSU.

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