(CBSLA/CBS Local)- The madness of college basketball usually waits until March before kicking into high gear. That hasn’t been the case this season, with the revolving door at the number-one spot.
However, in the midst of this topsy-turvy season, one team has been consistently excellent, and it’s not who you’d expect. Brian Dutcher’s San Diego State Aztecs have rattled off 22 straight wins to open the season entering Saturday night’s game against Utah State on CBS Sports Network. At 22-0, the Aztecs are college basketball’s last remaining undefeated team. In a season of inconsistency from the top teams, what has allowed the fourth-ranked Aztecs to be so, well, consistent? CBS Sports college basketball insider Gary Parrish says that Dutcher’s work in the transfer market has been a huge boon to the team.
“I think Brian Dutcher went out and did something real smart, which is explore the transfer market. Because he’s got three starters, three of his best players, who have never played a minute for San Diego St. before this season,” said Parrish. “It’s a transfer from Washington St. (Malachi Flynn), a transfer from Santa Clara (KJ Feagin) and a transfer from Vanderbilt (Yanni Wetzell). And those guys brought real experience, in the simplest of terms, older guys to the roster. And they’ve just come together in a pretty remarkable way.”
Flynn and Wetzell lead the team in scoring (16 PPG and 12 PPG respectively), while Feagin is second on the team in assists (3.2 per game) behind only Flynn. The trio has helped the team rate highly by the advanced metrics as well. The Aztecs are the sixth-rated team in KenPom’s efficiency ratings with a top-five defense and a top-15 offense. They play at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but they are extremely efficient at doing so. That performance, combined with their record is the reason Parrish tabs them as the “most surprising story in college basketball.” Going one step further, Parrish believes that there is a real shot they could become the first team since 2015 Kentucky to enter the tournament unblemished.
“They were not projected by most people to even make the NCAA Tournament in the preseason,” said Parrish. “And now they have a chance to be a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament. I actually won’t be surprised at all if they have a zero in the loss column on selection Sunday,” said Parrish. “It’s a pretty remarkable and surprising story what Brian Dutcher has been able to do with this team this season.”
A feel-good story they may be, and they are well on their way to the tournament. But, with a start like this, Aztecs fans have to be hoping for a little bit more than just a tournament berth. So, is this the kind of season that could see the Aztecs making a deep run into the tournament and possibly cutting down the nets? Parrish says they have to at least be consider a contender.
“The computer numbers suggest that they are a legitimate national title contender. Though they don’t have the typical NBA talent national champions typically have, in this particular year, I don’t know if it’s necessary,” said Parrish. “Everybody has talked a lot about that the best teams in the country aren’t that great or aren’t that reliable. And it is true. There is a lot of data to back that up. But when you’re looking for an explanation as to why, it’s because the talent level in college basketball is really down right now.”
“When I looked at my most recent mock draft, I believe 10 of the 14 lottery picks that I have projected, were at this moment not expected to play in the NCAA Tournament because either their team is not good enough or because they’re playing professionally overseas. Or because they quit their team mid-season like the James Wiseman story at Memphis,” continued Parrish. “So, once we get into the NCAA Tournament, you’re not going to be having to play teams with all of these lottery picks and first-round picks. That sets up beautifully for a school like San Diego State to not only make its first Final Four in history but also possibly win the national championship.”
First up, the Aztecs will honor alum Kawhi Leonard on Saturday, retiring his jersey in a ceremony at halftime of their game against Utah State. The game, and ceremony in its entirety, will air live on CBS Sports Network on Saturday with tip-off set for 10 p.m. EST.