Three thoughts on San Diego State’s 77:58 win over UC Irvine on Friday at Viejas Arena:
1. Who runs Cali?
Earlier this week, CBS Sports released its annual US map of the best college basketball program in each state. Filling California was UCLA’s blue and gold logo.
The SDSU players and coaches shrugged their shoulders. You are used to it.
A day later, they beat No. 22 UCLA 73-58. On Friday, they led UC Irvine in the second half with 28 points on the way to their eighth straight win against the Californian opposition.
The last time they played the Bruins, a 78-69 win in 2012 at the Anaheim Honda Center, the SDSU students sang “We run Cali” when the last few seconds had passed. You still do.
Pick your metric – head-to-head records, NCAA tournament appearances, participation. The Aztecs are 85-15 in their last 100 games against in-state brothers, including a 47-game winning streak earlier in the decade. You have participated in seven of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, most of them in the state. (UCLA was at six, Saint Marys was five, Cal four, USC was three.) They visited the state for an average of 10 years, often by more than 2,000 versus the next best.
The Aztecs have been 7-2 against the Californian schools of Pac-12 since 2010/11. Against the WCC, 12-2. Against the Great West, 18-0.
Against Southern California, 40-2.
There are also the closed-door scrimmages against USC and Stanford, which SDSU has regularly won, some by a large margin.
“You know, every year we just try to earn our respect,” said coach Brian Dutcher. “We’re trying to play right. We are a program here. We’re not just a one-season team. Ever since Coach (Steve) Fisher came here 22 years ago and I was lucky enough to take the lead, we’ve had a good culture. We expect to win every game we play.
“We respect our opponents. We don’t go around and hit our chests just to tell everyone we’re good. We’re trying to prove it on the ground. I think that’s what we’re doing again this year to prove that we’ve got some intensity and tenacity. “
2. Trust the process
When an NBA scout walked out of the Viejas Arena on Friday after seeing second Keshad Johnson score 13 points in 113 seconds, he confided, “You’re lucky enough to still have him.”
Many programs wouldn’t. The expectation of so many players these days is an instant hit, which explains why the number of Division I transfers is breaking new records each year. Don’t play, don’t stay.
Johnson only appeared in 18 of 32 games last season and not at all in the last seven games. He averaged 1.9 points and 5.9 minutes. His season highs in points (seven) and rebounds (10) started.
And it didn’t go, although some people at home suggested it.
“Of course there will always be people who want to share their contributions with me,” said Johnson on Friday evening. “For me, it’s all about the process of being great. Sometimes you just have to stick it out. Because of that, I’m here.”
Credit to Johnson and his family is to see, understand, and grasp the bigger picture. And to Aztec assistant coach Jay Morris, who cultivated this trust with them through the recruitment process.
This is also thanks to the SDSU program in creating this culture. Jamaal Franklin rose from a bench warmer on a 34-3 team in the 2010/11 season to 17.4 points per game and in the 2011/12 season to Mountain West Player of the Year. Jalen McDaniels went from redshirting as a freshman to an almost average double-double to NBA draft pick.
Now it’s Johnson’s turn. He made four 3-pointers all last season; He made three in two minutes on Friday.
Keith Dinwiddie Jr., the newcomer to Fairfax High in Los Angeles who made his Aztec debut in Garbage Time on Friday and immediately made a couple of 3s, is looking at it all. But he remains number 11 in a 10-man rotation and could face the same minutes Johnson had last year.
Johnson can put an arm around him and tell him to stay there to trust the process of being great. Lively, breathable.
“I just knew I had a reason I was here,” said Johnson. “Last year was just an incredible season. I just wanted to learn from Yanni (Wetzell), KJ (Feagin), Malachi (Flynn) and people like that. I didn’t expect to play that much last year. It was a learning process. “
3. Now it starts again
We are only days into the season and the mountain west could already be a league with a bid.
The circumstances are very much to blame as a competition in a year where the season started two weeks late and the non-conference schedule was cut short. It also doesn’t help that Mountain West expanded the conference schedule from 18 to 20 games, leaving a maximum of seven non-conference opportunities instead of the usual 12 or 13.
Fewer non-conferencing opportunities mean fewer attempts to take out the big boys, improve your league’s computer metrics, impress the NCAA selection committee, and get a full tournament coverage.
SDSU pulled its weight, beating preseason favorites in the Pac-12 and Big West by a total of 34 points. And it can take its case further with scheduled games against Arizona State No. 18, BYU and Saint Mary’s.
But here’s what the teams picked to finish in second, third, fourth, and fifth:
Boise State opened with a 68-58 loss at No. 17 Houston, where they shot 1 of 16 behind the bow, missed 11 free throws, beat 49-26 and was left behind by up to 20.
The state of Utah defeated northern Iowa but lost double digits to the Virginia Commonwealth and the state of South Dakota.
UNLV lost at home to Montana State 91-78 after being 18 points behind halfway and the Bobcats shooting 55.6 percent. The Rebels still have a chance of quality wins – they’re number 16 at the Maui Invitational in Ashville, NC, next week in North Carolina and playing in Kansas State – but Wednesday’s defense effort has provided little evidence that they’re going to take advantage of them .
Colorado State paused the program for two weeks after two COVID-19 tests, costing it non-conference games against Oregon State and Cal.
Meanwhile, the West Coast Conference has Gonzaga in # 1 and three other teams in the top 85 of the Kenpom metric (Saint Mary’s, BYU, and USF). The mountain has SDSU at 33. That’s it.