That disappointing non-con story line for San Diego State?
It’s a little easier to throw out after the Aztecs won the Diamond Head Classic.
SDSU ran through Southern Miss, Tulsa and San Francisco, and were only really tested by the Dons in a championship game that was tight until the final ten minutes. Winning three games in four days isn’t easy, but this wasn’t a murderer’s row.
Although they lost the title game, San Francisco may leave with more impressive wins (Utah, Illinois State). Still, it was an important trip for the Aztecs.
“We definitely needed that,” Zylan Cheatham told the San Diego Union-Tribune after the game. “It does a lot for us mentally. We needed to see some wins, some wins away from home. Moving forward, we know what we’re capable of, or at least we have an idea now.”
Cheatham’s development may be the biggest story out of Hawaii. The sophomore forward and tournament MVP was a consistent source of offense, scoring 47 points on 14-of-21 shooting over the four games. That’s big news for a thin frontcourt dealing with an injured Malik Pope, who hurt his knee in the Diamond Head opener and missed the next two games.
So where does this leave the Aztecs, who are just two weeks removed from a three-game losing streak that zapped them from the national conversation? An at-large bid is still a flicker, but not viewing them as a threat to tear through the MWC might be a mistake.
They’ve defended well, albeit not to their lofty standards. Jeremy Hemsley has flashed star potential, and talented Missouri transfer Montaque Gill-Caesar has yet to work himself into Steve Fisher’s rotation. And SDSU might still own the league’s best non-con win: a 77-65 victory over Cal in Sacramento on Nov. 21.
The point? There’s still a high ceiling in San Diego.
Here are three teams that could challenge an Aztec program that has gone 46-8 in MWC play over the past three seasons.
The Wolfpack have lived up to lofty preseason expectations. Missouri State transfer Marcus Marshall (20.2 PPG) has transformed Nevada’s offense, and is as dynamic a scorer as there is in the conference. Cameron Oliver continues to look like a first round prospect, adding the three pointer (44.1 percent on 59 3PA) to his rim protecting prowess.
Nevada doesn’t have a bad loss and enters MWC play on a six-game win streak, although they did most recently just squeak by sagging UC Santa Barbara. The Wolfpack aren’t at-large material at this point, but they’re a very real threat to win the regular season title.
It takes some imagination, but a 1-1 stretch in late November illuminated the Broncos’ potential. They took Oregon to the wire in Eugene, holding the Ducks’ offense to just over a point per possession in a three-point loss. The Broncos turned around two days later and flustered an athletic SMU offense in a nine-point home win.
Boise State has one of the league’s best all-around players in Chandler Hutchison (17.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG). Disappointing losses to Mississippi State and Evansville show that the Broncos aren’t without faults, but they’re a balanced team with a star. That could be enough in this year’s MWC.
Allen Edwards has violently revved Wyoming’s pace in his first year. After the program played excruciatingly slow under Larry Shyatt, the Cowboys’ adjusted tempo (KenPom #9) is far and away the fastest in the MWC this season.
The Cowboys have done a good job taking care of the ball given all the possessions, but that’ll get more difficult as the schedule gets better. They’ve gotten to 10 wins (including a seven-game win streak) but done so against largely weak competition.
Does being an odd duck make them a threat?