Writer’s roundtable: 2020-21 San Diego State men’s basketball season predictions

Then-junior+guard+Jordan+Schakel+points+after+a+play+during+the+Aztecs%27+68-55+win+over+Nevada+on+Jan.+18+at+Viejas+Arena.

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Then-junior guard Jordan Schakel points after a play during the Aztecs’ 68-55 win over Nevada on Jan. 18 at Viejas Arena.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

The last time The Daily Aztec did a San Diego State men’s basketball roundtable, we discussed the what-ifs to a 30-2 team and what could have been a big run in the NCAA Tournament. 

Eight months after the abrupt end to the 2019-20 season, the Aztecs are back on the court preparing for the 2020-21 season. 

We asked writers Amber Salas, Devin Whatley and Jason Freund their predictions and analysis for the upcoming basketball season at Viejas Arena, where a year ago there were sold-out crowds but will be empty this upcoming season. 

One of the biggest questions last year was the health of then-sophomore forward Nathan Mensah. How much will a healthy Mensah mean to the team this season?

Jason Freund: “How useful he was to the SDSU basketball team concerning his defense, he averaged 1.7 blocks per game and 6.8 rebounds to go with it. And in the 13 games that Mensah played when he was healthy, the team averaged 56.3 points per game. But when he got hurt, they allowed 61.6 points per game. I think having Nathan Mensah back in the lineup is going to be huge for this Aztec team because they have the shooting. They’ve got the offensive capabilities. They’ve got (senior graduate transfer) Terrell Gomez, (senior forward) Matt Mitchell, (senior guard) Jordan Schakel, but they need that defense, that big man. I truly believe Nathan Mensah is a guy you can put at the center position or the power forward position.”

Amber Salas: “I think he’s going to mean a lot to this team and he’s going to be key to the success this season. I think last year, he was such a dominant force on both ends of the ball. He could make plays when the Aztecs needed them to make plays, but he was also a super strong defender and with his size he was so strong on the court. His presence was really missed last year when he had that health issue. Having him healthy at full force will help the Aztecs a lot this year.”

Devin Whatley: “He’s everything. Now you have a guy that can protect the basket and be a defensive presence and provide that shot blocker every defense needs in order to be successful that I think SDSU didn’t really have last year. Offensively, he adds another big that can score at the rim. For Dutcher and the team, it adds another threat.”

The Aztecs bring in nine newcomers this year. Who will stand out?

JF: “Among the newcomers, I think it will be Terrell Gomez. This (is) a guy who is a graduate transfer who has seen the success San Diego State has had with their graduate transfers. Look at last season with KJ Feagin (who transferred from Santa Clara). Looking at the numbers that Terrell Gomez posted, he holds the CSUN record for three-pointers made with 293. He averaged 19.8 points on 49.3% field goal shooting. This guy was electric when he came onto the court and scored some baskets. Especially with Yanni Wetzell, (KJ) Feagin and Malachi Flynn leaving for professional basketball, inserting Terrell Gomez into a lineup with Mitchell, with (senior guard) Trey Pulliam, with Jordan Schakel, that is going to be a fierce addition to what is already an amazing SDSU offense.”      

AS: “I think I’m most excited to see Terrell Gomez. Everyone has been talking about his three-pointers and how well he is going to fit into this Aztec group and he really had that mindset of wanting to win. He talked about that as a big reason on why it was inviting to come to SDSU and transfer because he wasn’t getting it done at CSUN and knew that with the environment and culture San Diego State has that it would be a perfect place. I think with his mindset and the skills he has on the court, he is super fun to see with this group.”

DW: “I will say (freshman guard) Lamont Butler. I will say that because he is probably going to be coming off the bench, providing that energy off the bench, that spark. In terms of college basketball, bench depth is always important and the more scorers you can have, the more people you set up to be successful on offense. Lamont Butler is someone that can really add something to the table to counter what Terrell Gomez brings at the point guard spot. Lamont Butler counters that because he is a natural point guard. He can handle the ball, he can shoot it, he can score, he can defend and he’s like a guy that can replace part of KJ Feagin’s shoes.”

What are your expectations for seniors Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, both four year players in the program?

JF: “I expect them to be leaders. I expect these guys to come into this season knowing that it’s their last year to be here and their last (opportunity) to win some championships, win some terrific ball games. They’re going to come in to not just going to lead the team but introduce the system and guide the younger players to how San Diego State basketball works under Brian Dutcher and of course they are going to contribute because they were amazing players last year and I expect to be amazing players both on and off the court.”

AS: “I think it is going to be really awesome to see them both lead this team. They’ve both been stars on this team since their freshman year, so all four year. They have seen how this leadership works under guys last year and the other guys that have led this program. I think they really know what it takes to lead this team to success. They’ve been a part of successful runs. (They) went to the (NCAA) tournament their freshman year, should have gone last year so they know what it takes and what this culture of success means for the Aztecs and I’m excited to see how they’ll lead this team. I think Matt Mitchell’s going to have an amazing year. He really had to step up a lot last year and had some great numbers. I think he could definitely be in the running for Mountain West Player of the Year, so that will be super exciting, too.”

DW: “My expectations for Matt Mitchell are to be Mountain West Player of the Year, if not Mountain West first team and the same with Jordan Schakel. I think he needs to be All-Mountain West. Both of them have had games where they can go off and put up 15, 25 points, even 30 points. I think for them, the key to being successful this year is consistency. Last year I believe Jordan Schakel scored zero points in the Mountain West Tournament final. In these big moments, these big time games, they’re going to be so important. And when you have no fans in attendance, your talent as a player is going to matter more. I expect Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell to step up and fill in the gap that Malachi Flynn and Yanni Wetzell have left.”  

How far do you see the Aztecs going?

JF: “In terms of the (NCAA) Tournament, I’m expecting them to make it. I’m not sure it is going to be as good as the team we saw last year, undefeated for almost the entire part of the season, even very close to be No. 1 in the country. But I do expect them to make the NCAA Tournament, maybe as far as the Sweet Sixteen, maybe even a little further than that. But that’s the expectation. There will be postseason basketball if COVID-19 allows it.”

AS: “I think they have all the tools to be successful again and I think the biggest thing for them is the motivation and fire under them after what happened last season. With COVID they weren’t able to show the world truly how good they were in the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s going to be their motivation this year and head coach Brian Dutcher has talked about that in press conferences that they can’t change what’s done in the past, but you have all the success to do that same thing again. They’re just focused on winning basketball. I think the biggest challenge for them is staying healthy in crazy COVID times to make sure they are able to play those games, have a good record and get on their way again to the tournament.”

DW: “I don’t even know. I think they will be Mountain West Champions, but in terms of NCAA predictions, I can’t give that because with this nature of COVID-19 is, I don’t know if the season will finish. A lot of things can happen between now and when the season starts. I would say right now, I would expect them to win the Mountain West Conference, whether that be regular season or tournament, or both. I think they will at least win one, if not both.”

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