March Madness: SDSU Preview

Roosevelt High’s Matt Mitchell, currently starring at San Diego State, celebrates with teammates and friends after scoring 35 points in 2017 CIF SoCal D1 title game win over Corona Centennial. Photo: Mark Tennis.


With a pair of former California high school state champions serving in key starting roles, San Diego State has been one of the hottest stories this season in men’s college basketball. Can the Aztecs make a run in this year’s March Madness and get people fired up to include them in betting?

Regardless of what happens in the one-and-done format of the NCAA tournament, San Diego State has had a breakout season. The team’s present odds to win are not so great as Gonzaga or Kansas, but they continue to climb in the ranks according to SBS.

Head coach Brian Dutcher’s team completed its regular season on Saturday, Feb. 29, with an 83-76 road win at Nevada. The Aztecs had to come back from a 65-60 deficit in the second half, but broke the Wolf Pack’s 20-game Western Athletic Conference home court win streak and won on the road for the 13th straight time.

San Diego State’s only loss during a 28-1 season came at home (66-63) to a UNLV squad that the Aztecs defeated (71-67) in the first run-through of the WAC schedule. The team may have to beat UNLV again in the WAC tournament to secure one of four regional No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tourney. SDSU entered the WAC tourney ranked No. 5 in most national polls.

Strength of schedule is always a criticism of a team like the Aztecs coming from a mid-major conference and not being from one of the Power 5 conferences. The team’s biggest wins against opponents not from the WAC have been against Utah, Iowa and BYU.

Junior guard Malachi Flynn poured in a career-high 36 points to lead the win at Nevada and has been SDSU’s leading scorer (17.6 ppg) and ball distributor (148 assists). Flynn is from Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.) and came to San Diego as a transfer after starting his collegiate career at Washington State.

Two of the team’s other leading players are from California high schools who enjoyed winning CIF state titles on back-to-back nights at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento in 2017.

The first was 6-foot-6 junior forward Matt Mitchell, who averaged 25.6 ppg at Roosevelt of Eastvale and led the Mustangs to the CIF Division I state championship. Mitchell is averaging 12.4 ppg for the Aztecs and is their second-leading rebounder.

The next night, Richard Schakel was one of the key contributors for Bishop Montgomery of Torrance when it won the CIF Open Division state crown. Schakel, a 6-foot-6 guard who has always been an outstanding perimeter shooter, is averaging 10.1 ppg.

SDSU’s leading rebounder and third-leading scorer is 6-foot-10 senior Yanni Wetzell. He’s come to San Diego by way of New Zealand.

Rounding out the starting lineup has been Long Beach Poly grad K.J. Feagin. The 6-foot-1 senior guard completed the regular season with an 8.7 per game scoring mark.

As one would expect from a school that counts two-time NBA MVP Kawhi Leonard (M.L. King, Riverside) as an alum, there are a lot of others on the Aztecs’ roster from California high schools. The list includes freshman Keshad Johnson (San Leandro), sophomore Adam Seiko (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon), sophomore Caleb Giordano (Temecula Great Oak) and freshman Jared Barnett (Los Angeles Westchester).


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