We’re 14 weeks into the college basketball season and the San Diego State Aztecs are still undefeated. Oh, so of course they are unanimously ranked No. 1 in the country. Nope. The AP and Coaches poll both have them ranked at 4, despite everybody else in the country having a loss.
There is a clear and somewhat understandable reason for this and that is strength of schedule.
The narrative whenever these mid-majors, most notably Gonzaga every year, are really good is “But who have they played?” In a year where the playing field is more level than ever, I find what San Diego State is doing exceptionally impressive (yes, impressive enough to be ranked No.1).
The critics do have a valid point in the “who have they played” question. The Aztecs, for better or for worse, find themselves in the Mountain West, which not being a power five conference hurts their resume. There could be an argument in past years about how weak of a conference the Mountain West is, but this year it is among the best “mid-major” conferences in the country. The conference is littered with talent, experience and major resume wins against quality, big name opponents.
— Aztec M. Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) January 16, 2020
San Diego State has beaten No. 21 ranked, heavily underrated Creighton by thirty-one. Beating anyone by that margin is impressive, let alone holding the eighth best offense (in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency) to 52 points. That standout win is complemented by double digit wins against Iowa and Utah.
They had a decently challenging non-conference slate and they dominated every team in their way. It’s not their fault that their schedule is the way it is and they did everything in their control perfectly. I can now point to a 12-0 start to the Mountain West, but to the casuals (who are apparently the AP), that won’t mean anything. Because that is the case, I’m going to explain why the Mountain West is so underrated. The second best team (record wise) in the conference is Utah State.
The Aggies boast wins over LSU (undefeated in the SEC) and more recently against a Florida team who by March could be a Final Four contender. So, we know that Utah State is legitimately good. What did San Diego State do against them then? Two wins by a combined 21 points and, frankly, neither were even that close. In between those wins they beat a New Mexico team at one of the toughest venues in the country by 28.
This is a Lobos team that has transfers who previously started at Texas A&M, Kansas, Ohio State and even UConn (we miss you Vance Jackson). The Mountain West is going to shock some people come tournament time with potentially four or five teams making the dance. San Diego State is wiping the floor with all of them.
No. 1 in the NET today for the 5th straight day and the 26th day overall this season.
Third-straight week in AP Top 5.
— Aztec M. Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) February 3, 2020
How are they doing it? They don’t have a Kawhi Leonard or a first round pick in their team. Instead, they have six guys shooting over 37% from three, unselfish guys happy to just “do their job” and a top 10 defense anchored by 6-foot-10-inch Nathan Mensah. Third year head coach Brian Dutcher has an eight-man rotation that he’s comfortable can match up against anyone in the country, and I believe him.
People are still going to say that the Mountain West is weak and that the Aztecs haven’t played anybody. They have six games left in the conference and all they can really do is hurt their perception. If they have not gotten the respect they deserve now, wins against Air Force, Boise State and Nevada aren’t going to do anything to change that (although they should). Without even bringing strength of schedule into the conversation, 18-22 year olds winning and performing this consistently is something to marvel at.
San Diego State may very well go the entire regular season undefeated and they won’t be ranked No.1 at any point. In March the Aztecs will be a very popular pick in brackets everywhere to be upset early in the tournament. I have feeling they don’t care about either of those things. San Diego State is just going to continue doing what they’ve done all year: win.
Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.