Sunday evening San Diego State received a nice boost to its perimeter rotation, as former San Francisco point guard Devin Watson announced that he’ll join the Mountain West program. Watson, a native of Oceanside, California, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a sophomore at USF Watson averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists in just over 34 minutes of action per game, shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc.
When Watson becomes eligible for competition, the Aztec backcourt could also have Jeremy Hemsley, Trey Kell and Missouri transfer Montaque Gill-Caesar, giving head coach Steve Fisher a formidable perimeter attack to call upon. The Aztecs may not be done in the transfer “market” this spring, as they’re one of the schools being considered by former Washington State center Valentine Izundu.
Izundu, who originally was not granted a release to San Diego State, is also considering Fresno State and UNLV. And as a grad student, Izundu will be eligible to compete immediately.
Mountain West Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
The Mountain West certainly had an interesting regular season. UNLV, expected to be a factor both within the league and nationally, took a nosedive early in conference play and arrives at the conference tournament (in their building, no less) with an undermanned rotation and an interim head coach. Fresno State and Boise State managed to finish second and third in the league, but a familiar face separated itself as the class of the Mountain West: San Diego State. The Aztecs still have their issues offensively, but Jeremy Hemsley has been one of the Mountain West’s best freshmen and they’ve got a veteran group that remains fully committed on the defensive end of the floor.
Steve Fisher’s team won the conference by three games, and they’ll be expected to handle their business in Las Vegas as well. But given how eventful this season has been for the Mountain West, with everything from blown calls that decided games (New Mexico/San Diego State and Boise State/Colorado State) to the conference presidents not telling the coaches of their decision to trim the field to eight teams beginning next season, this could end up being a basketball version of a Hunter S. Thompson book.
Having played in six of the last seven Mountain West tournament title games (winning in 2010 and 2011), the Aztecs are used to having success in Las Vegas. That being said, the fact that the program hasn’t won the event since 2011 should serve as extra motivation this week.
San Diego State can still have the occasional lull offensively, as they ranked fifth in the Mountain West (conference games only) in field goal percentage (42.9 percent) and seventh in three-point percentage (32.8), but they have players who can make plays on that end of the floor. Jeremy Hemsley runs the show, fellow guard Trey Kell averaged 16.2 points per game in league play and Winston Shepard dished out 3.3 assists per game from the wing. But what makes this team go is their defense, as they led the Mountain West in both field goal and three-point percentage defense.
And if they lose?: Fresno State
Rodney Terry’s Bulldogs finished second in the Mountain West this season, with one of the conference’s best players in senior guard Marvelle Harris leading the way. In total Fresno State has seven players averaging at least 7.9 points per game, and they take better care of the basketball than any other team in the conference. The Bulldogs arrive in Vegas playing their best basketball of the season too, as they won six straight and eight of their last nine to end the regular season. Rebounding is a concern, especially with leading rebounder Torren Jones having missed the last ten games, but with Harris leading the way the Bulldogs have a shot.
Boise State: James Webb III’s health will be key here. If he’s in good physical condition the Broncos can win the whole thing, with Mikey Thompson, Anthony Drmic and Nick Duncan among the veterans capable of putting points on the board.
New Mexico: The Lobos have struggled with turnover issues throughout conference play. But in guard Elijah Brown and forward Tim Williams they have one of the better tandems in the Mountain West.
First-year head coach Eric Musselman’s done a very good job with this group, which includes one of the best freshmen in the Mountain West in forward Cameron Oliver. The Wolf Pack won ten conference games, even with the departure of A.J. West early in the season. What complicates this choice is the health of Marqueze Coleman, and a tough matchup with New Mexico in the quarterfinals.
The Bubble Dwellers
San Diego State: Virtually any scenario involving the Aztecs as an at-large team includes their making Saturday’s title game. They’ll need to win two games in Las Vegas to have a shot given the non-conference schedule, which includes losses to San Diego (bad), Little Rock and Grand Canyon (both good teams, but Little Rock isn’t a bubble team either; GCU’s a provisional Division I member). Their best bet: remove all doubt and win the automatic bid.
Mountain West Player of the Year: Josh Adams, Wyoming
Fresno State’s Marvelle Harris certainly has a good argument here, given his individual excellence and the fact that he led his team to 13 conference wins. But the pick here is Adams because of how productive he was despite playing with a young supporting cast that virtually guaranteed that defenses were geared towards shutting him down. The senior still averaged 23.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in Mountain West play. He also ranked in the top ten in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Mountain West Coach of the Year: Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Fisher’s Aztecs were the class of the Mountain West by a wide margin, winning the conference by three games. When a team wins the conference by a comfortable margin, as was the case here, the head coach deserves to be rewarded. San Diego State’s defense grabbed the headlines, but they were also able to do enough offensively to separate themselves from the pack.
First-Team All-Mountain West:
Josh Adams, Wyoming (POY)
Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: Harris averaged 22.7 points and 4.5 assists per game in Mountain West play, ranking third in scoring and first in assists while also leading the conference in steals (2.6 per game).
Elijah Brown, New Mexico: Brown finished second in the conference behind Adams in scoring (22.9 ppg in conference play), and he was also ranked in the top ten in field goal percentage, assists, free throw percentage and three-point percentage.
Trey Kell, San Diego State: The champs deserve to have someone on the first team, and while Shepard could have an argument because of his versatility the pick here is Kell. He gave SDSU a much-needed offensive spark in league play.
James Webb III, Boise State: The preseason pick for Mountain West POY, Webb averaged 16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in conference play.
Second Team All-Mountain West:
Marqueze Coleman, Nevada
Patrick McCaw, UNLV
Antwan Scott, Colorado State
Winston Shepard, San Diego State
Tim Williams, New Mexico
Defining moment of the season: Boise State ends “The Streak”
CBT Prediction: San Diego State takes care of business, winning the automatic bid and earning a seventh straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
San Diego State’s impressive late-game streak ends at 164 games
Entering Saturday, San Diego State had won 164 straight games in which it held a lead with five minutes remaining. While there have been some close calls, including a controversial finish against New Mexico earlier this season, Steve Fisher’s Aztecs made a habit of closing out such games over the last six seasons.
That streak came to an end at Viejas Arena, as Boise State closed the game on a 12-0 run over the final 1:04 to beat San Diego State 66-63. The Broncos, who took the lead for good on a Nick Duncan three with 22.2 seconds remaining, played without their best player as James Webb III sat out due to injury.
So how did Boise State managed to erase a nine-point deficit without reply? The answer is simple: San Diego State picked the worst possible time to start missing free throws. San Diego State missed seven straight foul shots, opening the door for Boise State to come back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
San Diego State, which wrapped up the Mountain West regular season title last Sunday at San José State, is no lock to make its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance and this loss is a damaging one. Outside of a win over California in Las Vegas, SDSU doesn’t have much on its non-conference résumé with the loss to San Diego being the most damaging blow (Little Rock and Grand Canyon, who both won at SDSU, are RPI Top 100 teams). And with the rest of the conference struggling this season, the quality win opportunities that would come in past seasons against Mountain West foes haven’t been present.
Saturday’s loss doesn’t help San Diego State from a résumé standpoint, placing even more pressure on them for the upcoming Mountain West tournament. Given the issues with their non-conference schedule and the strength of the conference, getting an at-large bid was going to be tough for San Diego State. Saturday’s loss simply puts even more pressure on the Aztecs to win the conference tournament, thus leaving no doubt as to whether or not they’ll make a seventh straight NCAA tournament.
VIDEO: San Diego State dedicates ‘Steve Fisher Court’
When Steve Fisher took over as the head coach at San Diego State in 1999, to say that he was faced with a difficult rebuilding project would be an understatement. Prior to Fisher’s arrival the program produced just two 20-win seasons, with Smokey Gaines responsible for both in 1981-82 and 1984-85. To go from those lean years to now, with the Aztecs expected to not only be a perennial NCAA tournament team but win once there, speaks to what Fisher and his staff have managed to do.
Thursday afternoon the school honored Fisher for his achievements, naming the court at Viejas Arena “Steve Fisher Court.” A fitting honor for the head coach who has done so much of the school since he arrived on campus. And he’ll have another good team this season, as the Mountain West coaches picked San Diego State to win the conference in their preseason poll earlier this month.
San Diego State has made six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, winning at least one game in each of their last five trips.
Video credit: San Diego State Athletics
Aztec transfers Gill-Caesar, Hoetzel recovering from knee surgery
While the year in residency required of transfers serves as a time when newcomers can get acclimated to a new program, system and campus, it can also be a time when players can address medical issues. In the case of two San Diego State transfers, knee issues have resulted in them undergoing surgery this week.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune wing Montaque Gill-Caesar and forward Max Hoetzel both underwent knee surgery. While Gill-Caesar had a cyst removed from his knee, Hoetzel’s procedure was to repair some cartilage. Both players are expected to be sidelined anywhere from four to six weeks.
With both players having to sit out this season anyway, this isn’t going to impact San Diego State’s rotation heading into the start of the upcoming season. But it does leave the Aztecs a couple bodies short in practice for the time being, which could make things difficult at times for a group that had some roster depth issues to address this summer.
Joining Gill-Caesar and Hoetzel as redshirts this season is freshman forward Nolan Narain, originally a 2016 commitment who decided to reclassify in the summer.
San Diego State commit discusses negative recruiting
There’s no denying that negative recruiting occurs in college basketball, with some taking the approach of convincing recruits what another school lacks while also selling their own program’s positives. And when the possibility of an NCAA investigation comes into play, chances of negative recruiting taking place increase a great deal.
In a story written by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune, recent SDSU commit Jalen McDaniels discussed what’s changed in his recruitment since the reports of a possible NCAA investigation surfaced. McDaniels, who hails from Federal Way, Washington, remains a firm San Diego State commit and he took to Twitter to make this clear on Tuesday.
The text was from a Pac-12 program. It was a screen shot of the story outlining the allegations.
“They were like, ‘It’s gonna get crazy,’ ” McDaniels said. “I was like, ‘No, it’s not.’ ”
Oral commitments are not binding. Only national letters of intent are, and high school seniors can’t sign them until early November. In the meantime, McDaniels continues to stand by his new family.
“10 toes down out here #Aztecs,” he tweeted before he went to bed Tuesday night.
“It was just showing that I’m loyal to the program,” he explained. “I chose the school for a reason. I’m not going anywhere.”
Given how long SDSU head coach Steve Fisher and his staff have been in charge, this likely isn’t the first time that they’ve had to deal with this scenario. However the unpredictability of this current situation, beginning with the question of whether or not the NCAA will make a formal inquiry, can make dealing with negative recruiting a bit more difficult.
The best the staff can do right now is keep their commitments and recruits up to date on the developments consistently, thus limiting the impact that the “rumor mill” can have in such situations. And with San Diego State in the running for talented players such as T.J. Leaf, M.J. Cage and Trevor Stanback (all 2016), this becomes an important move for the coaching staff.