Photo by Kelly Smiley
San Diego State men’s basketball found out its destination, seeding, and opponent in the upcoming NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon in the Fowler Athletic Center.
The Aztecs (22-10) reacted with cheers as it was announced that the team will fly to Wichita, Kansas, as the No. 11 seed in the West Region, to face off against No. 6 University of Houston in the tournament’s first round on March 15.
Houston (26-7) comes out of the American Athletic Conference, meaning that the first-round will be a battle of mid-major teams.
Senior guard Trey Kell, named the MVP of the Mountain West tournament just a day prior, said that he does not view Houston any differently than a team from a Power Five Conference, and expects both teams to come out fighting.
“You just have to approach every game the same,” Kell said. “They’re a really good team. We feel like we’re a really good team. At the end of the day it should be a fun game.”
Kell was a part of the SDSU team in 2014-15 which made it to the Round of 32 in the tournament, and the senior said that he is excited for this years team to get to experience the magic of an NCAA tournament run.
“The main thing I’m so excited about is everyone gets to experience what the tournament is about, watching it from the couch and just hearing about it doesn’t do it justice,” Kell said. “You have to experience it and be in it to understand how crazy and how magical it really is.”
One player experiencing the big dance for the first time is forward Matt Mitchell, a freshman who started all but one game this season while averaging 10.7 points a game.
“For me its just a blessing to be out here. It’s a blessing to be out here and be able to do what I do best and help keep this win streak alive. And for the seniors it’s just one more game for them keeping their streak alive and keeping their college career alive,” Mitchell said. “So as long as we can keep doing that, and keep getting wins, I mean the NCAA tournament championship will be nice as well to put on my resume.”
Head coach Brian Dutcher said that he is happy for Kell and fellow seniors Malik Pope and Kameron Rooks to make it back to the tournament in their final year, but that it will also help motivate younger players, like Mitchell, as their careers progress.
“I’m happy for the kids, you never take these opportunities for granted and our freshman now are going to be excited to go, and they’re going to think they should go every year,” Dutcher said. “I want them to think that, but its hard to do, and we played well enough to put ourselves here.”
Dutcher will be going to college basketball’s most prestigious tournament for the ninth time as an Aztec, and said that watching the selection show alongside his team never gets old.
“I sat with the team and it never gets old, as many times as I’ve sat through them,” Dutcher said. “To see your name show up on the TV, show up on the board, and know your going to be playing a first round game is exciting. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing this.”
SDSU came into the season projected to finish behind only (eventual regular-season champion) University of Nevada in the MW standings, but just one month ago were sitting with a record of 13-10.
Following a 25-point loss to Nevada on Feb. 10, however, the Aztecs rattled off nine-straight wins, which Dutcher said is an exemplification of his team never losing faith in themselves.
“Coming into this year we expected to go to the NCAA tournament,” Dutcher said. “The path was not smooth, there were some road bumps along the way… but the team always believed that they were good enough. And we had to put a magical stretch together over the last four weeks to make that happen.”
Steve Fisher, who preceded Dutcher as head coach of the Aztecs from 1999-2017, was also in attendance, and said that the team never gave up and showed great resiliency in fighting through adversity.
“I think they’re steadiness and belief and trust to fight through some really hard times, when people were talking about how bad we were and how disappointing we were, and win the way we did, and now have the confidence we do, it’s a testament to everybody,” Fisher said.
Either the Aztecs or the Cougars will face off against the winner between No. 3 University of Michigan and No. 14 University of Montana, in the Round of 32 on March 17.