This preview and more on San Diego State and the Mountain West are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
San Diego State Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-11 (9-7 Mountain West)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32
Coach: Steve Fisher (281-171 at San Diego State)
Mountain West projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
San Diego State is firmly entrenched as one of leading powers in the West, and two offseason developments figure to ensure that the Aztecs are a factor in the month of March.
First, the athletic department reversed course and elected to remain in the Mountain West, one of the toughest basketball conferences in the country, instead of dropping down to the inferior Big West due to football’s yearning to join a top-flight conference. The other key development occurred in mid-May when fifth-year senior forward Josh Davis decided to transfer from Tulane to San Diego State. Davis averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds last season for the Green Wave and is eligible to play immediately after earning his degree at Tulane.
The addition of Davis gives the Aztecs the bona fide star they would otherwise lack after standout Jamaal Franklin skipped his senior season in favor of the NBA. Davis’ presence will be crucial in a loaded league in which the Aztecs will be challenged by strong teams from New Mexico, UNLV and Boise State.
The addition of Davis gives San Diego State a player capable of racking up double-doubles, as he had 16 for Tulane last season. He is billed as the best frontcourt player in San Diego State’s program since Kawhi Leonard, now a budding star for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
The 6-8 Davis earned first-team All-Conference USA honors at Tulane and joins gritty junior JJ O’Brien as a frontcourt starter. O’Brien is a strong defender who is gradually improving his offensive repertoire.
Athletic sophomore Winston Shepard could make a big jump this season. He experienced consistency issues last season after arriving as one of the most ballyhooed recruits in program history. Shepard started just two games as a freshman and averaged 5.7 points while shooting only 39.3 percent from the field.
Sophomore post Skylar Spencer excelled on the defensive end with 51 blocked shots and will again be part of the rotation. Junior wing Dwayne Polee II underwhelmed last season after transferring from St. John’s but figures to get more minutes with Franklin gone. Junior post James Johnson will help in a backup role, and redshirt freshman Matt Shrigley has a nice shooting touch.
Replacing Franklin will be quite a chore, as he was the only Division I player to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last season. Coach Steve Fisher supported his point guard’s decision to depart a season early, and Franklin was a second-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Senior Xavier Thames isn’t going to approach Franklin’s 17-point average, but he’s a capable floor leader despite his assists average dropping from 4.1 as a sophomore to 2.4 last season. Thames (9.5 ppg) is San Diego State’s top returning scorer but isn’t a strong shooter and dealt with periodic back issues last season. He is at his best when penetrating and drawing fouls.
Junior transfer Aqeel Quinn offers 3-point shooting prowess and has two years of major-college experience at Cal State Northridge. Quinn averaged 6.8 points as a sophomore.
Incoming freshman Dakarai Allen is expected to make immediate contributions as a defender. How he fares on the offensive end will determine how much of an impact he will make. Allen is one of two newcomers from Sheldon High in Sacramento. Guard D’Erryl Williams also chose the Aztecs and he will back up Thames this season.
Senior forward Josh Davis is an impact transfer who is expected to be San Diego State’s leading scorer and rebounder. Freshman guards Dakarai Allen and D’Erryl Williams are both expected to contribute with Allen entering the fold as the more polished player. Junior guard Aqeel Quinn provides outside shooting punch and redshirt freshman wing Matt Shrigley will also be part of the rotation.
Factoid: 8. Steve Fisher has strung together eight consecutive 20-win campaigns at a school that was one of the worst programs in the nation prior to his arrival in 1999.
San Diego State is seeking its fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth, and it would be a surprise if the Aztecs aren’t part of the 68-team field considering the proven ability of Fisher and head coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher to reload on the fly.
The schedule has a few challenges — a road date at Kansas and a home contest against Arizona are the highlights — as San Diego State wants to make sure it is battle-tested. The conference slate will certainly be arduous, as the Mountain West will again be a fiercely competitive league with conference road wins hard to come by.
Even with all its recent success, San Diego State has won only three NCAA Tournament games in its history. That numbers should be four (at least) by the end of the 2013-14 season.
Photo courtesty of Ernie Anderson/San Diego State athletics