3 things to look out for heading into NCAA Tournament: Coronavirus, extended rest and Nathan Mensah

Head+coach+Brian+Dutcher+throws+his+hands+up+during+the+Aztecs%E2%80%99+59-56+loss+against+Utah+State+at+Thomas+and+Mack+Center+on+March+7.

Kareem Jones

Head coach Brian Dutcher throws his hands up during the Aztecs’ 59-56 loss against Utah State at Thomas and Mack Center on March 7.

San Diego State men’s basketball didn’t walk away with a Mountain West Conference tournament trophy after losing to Utah State 66-63 in the final last Saturday.

Although the win gave Utah State an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Aztecs’ name will still be called on Selection Sunday at 3 p.m. 

Here are three things to look out for before the Aztecs begin their quest for a National Title.

1. Coronavirus and its effect on the NCAA Tournament

The NCAA, along with most professional sports, has quickly begun to realize the impact of the coronavirus and how it is going to affect its events going forward. 

Conferences have started to hold games without fans in attendance. The Ivy League canceled games altogether, as the league decided to cancel its conference tournament. Yale will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament based off its regular-season championship.

Division III games are also being held without fans, as their tournament games at Johns Hopkins University took place in an empty arena.

March Madness could be the next big sporting event to be impacted by the coronavirus’ impact.

SDSU has taken measures of its own, keeping teams informed about the threat of the virus and how to prevent it from spreading, according to men’s basketball head coach Brian Dutcher.

“We’ve kind of kept them posted as best we can. Everyone is aware of it, they’re all familiar with the medical condition,” Dutcher said. “The university health department and the CDC has done a great job of keeping everyone posted.”

With Ohio closing off all its sporting events to spectators, don’t rule out the possibility of California following suit.

Aztecs junior forward Matt Mitchell gave his thoughts on potentially playing in front of an empty arena.

“Weird,” he said. “Honestly, I think potentially if we were to play in an empty arena, I’d rather play in the JAM Center, that’s the way I feel.” 

Mitchell added: “I think fans and spectators are important to the game of basketball, I think they’re what makes the game fun and what makes it exciting.”

With their rabid fan base that has a tendency to travel, the Aztecs could feel the effect of playing without fan support a bit more than other teams, especially because the first two rounds are likely driving distance in Sacramento.

“Our fan base has become a big part of San Diego State and who we are is the student section, The Show, so I’d hate for it to come to the fact that our fans wouldn’t be able to come see (us),” Mitchell said. 

Dutcher touched on the issue further, referencing a comment from LeBron James, who jokingly said he wouldn’t play without fans in attendance.

Despite all the news surrounding the virus, Dutcher did have one sarcastic option for the NCAA.

“If we get an east coast seed I don’t think they should allow any fans in the building,” Dutcher said, “but if we stay west, I hope they let everyone in.”

He is referring to the Aztec fans’ ability to travel to wherever they will be playing in the tournament. Regardless of the location, coronavirus could have a huge effect on what the sports environment will look like for the time being. 

2. Getting over a Mountain West Championship loss

The Aztecs didn’t just lose the Mountain West championship game. They lost it in heartbreaking fashion, with Utah State senior guard Sam Merrill hitting a last second 3 with SDSU senior guard K.J Feagin right in his face. 

Those losses aren’t always easy to move on from, but time heals all wounds. 

In SDSU’s case, they’ll have plenty of time because of a conference tournament that occurred a week earlier than it did in years past. 

“Man, it’s a new week, new day,” Mitchell said a couple days after losing to the Aggies. “You just got to look past (the loss). You got to move on.”

Unlike when SDSU lost to Utah State in the title game last year, last Saturday did not mark the end of the Aztecs’ season as they will be an at-large selection for the NCAA Tournament.

The Aztecs will take this week to evaluate themselves.

“The first couple days will be self-study, try to get the Aztecs better over the next two or three days, and then come Sunday, we’ll learn who our opponent is,” Dutcher said.

Junior guard Malachi Flynn said he’ll use the time to let his body recover, especially after playing three games in three days.

“It’s nice to get a little rest,” Flynn said. ‘’I think we’re all just beat up from the three games, whether it’s little sprains or just little things here and there, but it’ll be nice to have that week and a half off before we’ve got to hit the road again.’’

3. Will Nathan Mensah be ready for the tournament?

Since his departure from the starting lineup due to respiratory issues, the Aztecs have had to play without sophomore Nathan Mensah who hasn’t played since Dec. 28

Even though SDSU has managed to win without him, there are moments where it becomes apparent they need size on the floor. 

Getting Mensah back for the tournament would be a huge boost to an Aztec team that ranked seventh in the Mountain West in offensive rebounds.

Dutcher is still hoping Mensah will be ready to go come tourney time.

“I’m holding out hope he can,” Dutcher said. “He’s in the medical protocol to check all the things and make sure that he gets cleared, so whether that happens or not, I’m not sure, I don’t have control over that.”

Mensah has been limited to non-contact workouts at practice, but he likes what he’s seen.

“He’s going a hundred miles an hour doing individual workouts,” Dutcher said. “He’s lifting weights, so when you watch him workout, you say, ‘Wow, he looks fantastic.’”

The Aztecs’ first opponent and game location for the tournament will be determined on Selection Sunday, March 15, where they will host a public event for fans at Viejas Arena at 3 p.m.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email