LOS ANGELES — The San Diego State Aztecs keep on winning. San Diego State’s defense dominated during their 80-52 win against Pac-12 foe Utah. The Aztecs improved to 12-0 and remained unscathed as college basketball’s rank of unbeaten teams dwindles.
The Aztecs absolutely orchestrated a Mike Tyson-esque beatdown against Utah. The game was a complete blowout. San Diego State dominated from start to finish, starting the game on a 7-0 run and never looking back. Malachi Flynn lead the Aztecs with 16 points while big men Yanni Wetzell and Nathan Mensah added 14 apiece.
The Aztecs’ win against Utah was their third win against a power conference foe; they have won all their games against Power 5 opponents by double-digits.
SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher was excited about his team’s 12-0 start and his big win against Utah on national television.
“It’s good to get national recognition, people out east don’t get to see much Aztec basketball,” Dutcher said. “Any time we get to play on a big stage to show people how good we are, we enjoy doing that.”
Here are more takeaways from one of the more impressive victories by a mid-major team this season.
1. The 12-0 record is not a fluke
The Aztecs are one of the three last unbeaten teams and they already rank No. 1 in the NET. They are top-20 defensive team on KenPom, and the Aztecs continue to grow offensively as scorers outside of Flynn continue to get better. They have already beaten a tournament-bound Iowa team and a good Creighton team by 20-plus points.
On Dec. 21, San Diego State added to its already strong resume by obliterating a Pac-12 team that dominated a top-10 Kentucky team 48 hours prior.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said afterwards that SDSU and Kentucky are more similar than one would think.
“They both have dynamic guards: [Kentucky guard Ashton] Hagans is great with the ball in his hands, Flynn is dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Krystkowiak said. “There are a lot of things we saw when we were prepping for this game that were similar. They are both physical teams, elite rebounding teams and they hang their hats on guarding. As an opposing team, you have your hands full when they have three or four different guys that can knock down shots.”
San Diego State passes the eye test. They have a versatile offense with multiple scorers and they have a strong number-one option in Flynn, who can get a basket whenever he wants. The Aztecs are furious on defense; they can guard just about anyone. This Aztec team is going to continue to get better and will be a group nobody wants to play in March.
2. San Diego State’s has a tough, championship-level defense
If college basketball had an All-American defensive team, San Diego State would have several guys that would be considered for it.
“We are very talented offensively, but the character of this team is reflected on the defensive end,” Dutcher said. “Utah was shooting 50% and we hold them in the thirties. This is a defensive minded team, and if we can continue, we will figure out how to score enough points to win. Our defensive rebounding has been elite, and we took the next step defensively.”
The Aztecs are elite at rebounding, guarding the perimeter, and forcing turnovers. SDSU ranks in the top 20 in several defensive statistics: they hold opponents to 42.3 eFG% (11th), shooting 27.2% from three (18th) and limit teams to earning 22.7% of offensive rebounds (18th), according to KenPom. Those are all the key ingredients to an elite defensive team.
Every single player on SDSU guards intensely, and it showed against Utah. The Utes missed 11 out of their first 14 shots and committed nine turnovers in the first 10 minutes of action. From that point, SDSU already built a 15-point lead and Utah never recovered.
“I think we are really tough, and it starts individually,” Junior guard Malachi Flynn said. “We are collectively tough group — we don’t quit or anything like that. The coaches demand toughness out of us everyday, and it’s something that just comes naturally.”
3. The Aztecs are versatile on offense
The Aztecs have formidable threesome in Nathan Mensah, Wetzell and Flynn, but the Aztecs have several important role players as well. The Aztecs have an experienced sixth man in Matt Mitchell, who started every game last season but now comes off the bench. He is a great defender and shooter, allowing the Aztecs to space the floor.
“We have a versatile group we can play inside and out,” Dutcher said. “We have great inside scorers with Yanni, Nathan, Joel [Mensah] and Matt [Mitchell]. Matt can stretch it out too along with Malchai, KJ [Feagin] and Jordan [Schakel]. We have a versatile inside-out attack. So we are not one dimensional: When we struggle inside, we can go outside. And if we struggle shooting, we can physically win inside. Today we had success at both. When we do that, we are hard to beat.”
Mitchell struggled shooting on Saturday, but his presence on the wing gave opportunities for Mensah and Wentzel to dominate the interior of Utah’s defense. The Aztecs had several different shooters, as six different players made three point baskets against Utah.
4. Malachi Flynn is one of the best guards in the country
Flynn was phenomenal against Utah, leading the Aztecs with 16 points on 5-10 shooting, shot 2-4 from three and also added eight assists and two steals.
Flynn is a two-way guard that leads the Aztecs with 15.6 PPG and 5.3 APG. He can beat any defender off the dribble and he has shot 48.6% from three on the season. When Flynn gets going, it open up the offense for SDSU’s talented bigs. Against Utah, Flynn either scored or assisted on 11 of SDSU’s first 15 points.
San Diego State team that is capable of making a long run in March, and they are going to need their top guard to deliver in big moments. Dutcher is lucky that he is Flynn to be that guy.