Published on January 5th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
The San Diego State Aztecs Keep On Fighting
The loss of four starters from a Sweet Sixteen squad would most certainly doom nearly any college hoops program. But apparently for #24/#25 San Diego State, it was just a bump in the road.
The Aztecs were gutted this offseason, loosing senior starters Malcom Thomas, DJ Gay and Billy White and seeing sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard leave for the NBA.
Those four departing players were San Diego State’s top four scorers in 2010-2011, and together they averaged 48.3 points, 25.3 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game. Together they combined to score 66% of the Aztecs points last season.
And still the Aztects, a midmajor from the Mountain West Conference, reside in the Top 25 in both of the NCAA polls with a 12-2 record.
Attention, NCAA—you might want to start taking the Aztecs seriously.
They aren’t playing a cupcake schedule, either. They’ve beaten two top 25 teams so far this season—besting #23 Arizona on the road 61-57 on November 23rd, and then beating #23 California 64-63 in San Diego on December 4th. Their only two losses on the season are also to top 25, with a 77-67 loss to #12 Baylor and a 85-83 loss to #22 Creighton.
The 12-2 start is the second best start in school history, only behind last year’s 34-3 record in which the team won it’s first 20 contests. For a mid-major to contend at all, let alone peak into the top 25 a year after losing two-thirds of their offense—absolutely insane.
The biggest boon for the Aztecs this season has been the play of guard Chase Tapley, the lone starter from last year’s squad. After averaging 8.6 points on 48% shooting last season, he is San Diego State’s leading man with 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals on 52% shooting from the floor.
A pair of sophomore guards rounds out the Aztecs offense. Jamaal Franklin, who played just 8.1 minutes a contest last season, now starts along side Tapley and averages 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Xavier Thames averages 12.0 points and 5.4 assists, and has had seven or more assists in five games this season.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the Aztecs season is that it actually is a surprise. None of the ten players who see significant minutes are freshmen, and all have been with the team for at least one season. So it isn’t as if these players are coming out of nowhere—they’re just utterly exceeding all expectations.
“You never have to worry `Is he going to be on time for the bus? Is he going to be on time for the meeting?’ They’re always early,” Head Coach Steve Fisher told the media after the win against Arizona. “They like one another. Sometimes less is more. We’ve got nine guys, so they all know they’re going to play.”
The Aztecs made it to the Sweet Sixteen last season before they were beaten by the eventual Champion UConn Huskies. And while they were quickly written off—apparently, far too quickly—after losing last years starters, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if they pull off a few MORE surprises this March.