San Diego State: The Best NCAA Tournament Team You Know Nothing About

By: 03.27.14
Xavier Thames

Xavier Thames (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher gathered his team around before tip-off of their NCAA tournament opening round matchup against New Mexico State. As seen in SDSU’s Confidential Video–“We’re Advancing”–Fisher is heard telling his team, “Everybody in the world is watching…some teams will become house hold names and somebody on those teams will never be forgotten…why not us?”

Why not? For those unfamiliar with the Aztecs, they were picked by conference media before the season to finish in fourth place in the Mountain West after the loss of Jamaal Franklin to the NBA, and key players Chase Tapley, James Rahon and DeShawn Stephens to graduation. They were a team with just two returning starters, including Xavier Thames, the lone returning senior and leader of the Aztecs. He was joined by newcomer senior Josh Davis, a graduate transfer from Tulane, and together, they kept SDSU a relevant team. They’ve now returned to the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight season.

In just the second game of the season, the Aztecs took their first loss at home on Nov. 14, falling 69-60 to the Arizona Wildcats, who were ranked No. 5 at the time in the USA Today Coaches Poll. After that loss, SDSU took off and went on an outrageous 20-game winning streak that no one saw coming, which included wins against ranked opponents Creighton and Marquette as they eventually captured the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy tournament championship.

During their 20-game winning streak, if you weren’t too busy watching the NFL Playoffs on Sunday, Jan. 5, the Aztecs did something that hasn’t been done before since 2006: They defeated the Kansas Jayhawks on the road at the Allen Fieldhouse, snapping the Jayhawks’ 68-home game winning streak against non-conference opponents. Matter of fact, SDSU ended up being the only team this year to defeat Kansas at the Allen Fieldhouse, which is arguably the toughest arena to play in for any visiting team.

Sure, they may be known to play in a mid-major conference, but after capturing the MWC regular season title, the Aztecs went from being unranked at the beginning of this season to finishing ranked No. 11 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll. They earned a No. 4 seed in the West region in this NCAA tournament, and will seek revenge against No. 1 seeded Arizona from their first loss this season.

Bragging rights will be on the line as SDSU will be coming in with a “Why Not Us?” mentality after having to earn their respect all season from the national media.

It could be fair to say that this Sweet Sixteen rematch will determine who’s really the top dog of college basketball in the West. The Aztecs want revenge as the Wildcats will look to hold their ground as the favorites coming in. There are plenty of new factors that could play a significant part in changing the outcome of tonight’s rematch.

For plenty of SDSU fans, they’re glad to be playing the Wildcats again for many reasons. They defeated UCLA last year in the Wooden Classic, a Pac-12 school at the same venue where tonight’s game will be held–the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. They also defeated Marquette to win the Wooden Legacy tournament over Thanksgiving weekend at the Honda Center–this venue has shown to be kind to the Aztecs as of late. Being just a 1.5-hour drive up from San Diego, California, you can bet there will be a ton of black and red in the building, but the feel of homecourt advantage won’t be as easy the way Arizona fans travel too.

Keep reading for more on tonight’s big matchup…

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