Coming into this Saturday’s game against Illinois State (alma mater of Steve Fisher, who used to pass out free tickets to students in his first year as San Diego State head coach) in Normal, Illinois, it was not yet entirely clear how good this Aztecs men’s basketball team is.
We know they’re “good” but with three wins over three bad teams, one win over a good team, and two blowout losses to two very good/great teams, they had yet to make a significant impact – positive or negative – on their tournament resume.
While they have a long way to go until March, SDSU added what will probably end up being a pretty solid win with a 75-65 victory over the Redbirds and improve their season record to 5-2.
A little after noon Pacific time, I was in a pretty dark place. Well, I was at work, so that goes without saying. But more so than usual even!
In my head, I was already crafting a depressing game recap about how the Aztecs were on the verge of being cast into the sea at the Maui Invitational. How the hunt for a quality nonconference win was looking grim. How one day after getting their doors blown off by No. 1 Duke, the Aztecs responded by getting their doors blown off by a team that was very decidedly not Duke.
Don’t get me wrong, Xavier is a solid Big East foe, but when you’re getting run by 19 in the first half against the Musketeers, many people would consider that time to panic.
Instead, Jalen McDaniels decided it was time to grab himself some plate lunch and fuckin’ eat.
McDaniels scored a career-high 26 points as the Aztecs roared to within three at halftime and then dominated the game’s final 15 minutes for a 79-74 win — a thrilling national TV showcase for both an NBA prospect and a team looking to build an at-large resume.
What a comeback for San Diego State. Jalen McDaniels carries the Aztecs to a come from behind win over Xavier in Maui. Musketeers are now 2-3 overall.
Back when things looked bleak for San Diego State men’s basketball, I would often try to break up all the bitter text in my grim recaps with a few visual aids. One of my favorite crutches was the win probability chart, because, hey, why expend brainpower writing angry words about another brutal loss when you can let a line graph tell the grim tale for you.
Anyway, here is what those charts looked like back then.
Say, would you like to see the win probability chart for the Aztecs’ Mountain West Conference semifinal game against the University of Nevada-Reno on Thursday night?
The lifting of Malik Pope’s quasi-suspension on Tuesday probably did not change a lot in the grand scheme of things. The San Diego State men’s basketball team is still a long shot to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament (though certainly not as hopeless a long shot as before). It remains out of NCAA at-large contention. It probably isn’t going to make the NIT field, either.
But Brian Dutcher’s decision to reinstate Pope after the conclusion of the program’s internal investigation into the star senior’s borrowing habits did this much: It breathed needed life into Viejas Arena and created a fun, memorable Tuesday night in late February.
There are two ways to look at what transpired Saturday afternoon at Viejas Arena, where the San Diego State men’s basketball team crushed UNLV 94-56 in what felt like a November paycheck game against a Southland Conference team that starts a 6-foot-5 power forward wearing a headband and goggles.
On one hand, you’d be forgiven if you came away a little bitter.
Where the hell has this been? That aggressive defense, that commitment to doing something on offense besides jacking threes, that perfect use of the bench. If SDSU stated playing like that a couple of months ago we’d be talking about NCAA Tournament seeding rather than the thrilling quest to avoid the conference tournament play-in round.
On the other hand, LOLOLOLOL eat it UNLV.
The Aztecs just rained merciless destruction on one of our most hated rivals, delivering the biggest beating ever in this series. Keep in mind, that spans 69 games and includes several seasons in the ’90s when SDSU was seriously putrid. The Rebels are probably hitchhiking back to Vegas right now while Malik Pope joyrides their team bus through Pacific Beach. At least I hope so.
Yeah, I’m feeling like going with option No. 2 here. Today was awesome, so I say let’s sit back, relax and enjoy the following video of SDSU beating UNLV with a pillowcase full of doorknobs, metaphorically. Mostly metaphorically.