The Brian Dutcher era at San Diego State started with talk of surrendering defense to facilitate scoring, and that talk mostly came to fruition. This year we’ve seen a faster tempo on offense, running in transition and jacking 3-pointers with impunity. At times it has been beautiful and thrilling. At others — all of late January and early February, for instance — it has been a galling disaster.
In the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, we saw our Aztecs revert to a more familiar form. The Aztecs didn’t beat Fresno State on Thursday afternoon with transition buckets or long range marksmanship or anything even vaguely aesthetically pleasing. Instead, as Steve Fisher looked on approvingly from the stands, they brought out their pool cues and tire irons to beat Fresno back onto their team bus.
This game — a 64-52 final — was physical, offensively challenged and generally ugly as sin. If this was the first college basketball game I had ever watched, it might have been enough to steer me away from ever watching another one. But it was vintage SDSU.
I’ve muttered under my breath about Kameron Rooks at times this season. I’ve yelled at my TV for him to be removed from games. I’ve even poked a little good-natured fun at him on the popular website Twitter dot com. Chances are you have done these things, too.
It’s been a pretty rough year for the graduate transfer from Cal. He’s averaging just two points per game, and with the emergence of Jalen McDaniels and Nolan Narain, he has found himself increasingly garnering the dreaded DNP-coach’s decision.
I’ve always felt a little bad about metaphorically dunking on Rooks, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he’s unpaid labor who doesn’t owe us shit. For another … well … it’s not like he doesn’t want to be more productive. Being the guy on a popular basketball team who everybody grumbles about has to kind of suck, right?
Rooks is, to use some absolutely loathsome sports-speak, what he is. He’s a 7-foot-1 Pac-12 recruit who looks like he should be better but just … isn’t. And even though it’s not his fault, it makes us angry! We think basketball is supposed to be easy when you’re that crazy tall, and we dismiss what freakish athleticism you need to be agile and nimble at that size.
All of this made Rooks’ glorious game of redemption tonight so damn satisfying.
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.
Self-help guru Tony Robbins said — in an ad I saw during the Olympics — “Progress is happiness.” That’s really the key to the three-game win streak the San Diego State men’s basketball team is riding. After a sloppy first half the Aztecs tuned in, turned on and dropped a 67-56 defeat on Air Force in Colorado Springs. Dwell in bliss.
SDSU is healthy, playing with energy, defending hard, throwing alley-oop lobs and generally bossing their mediocre conference opponents as the gods intended. From their recent depths of despair it’s real progress, a promising path to happiness. Robbins, Ram Dass and James Naismith himself would be proud. I’m ready to walk across hot coals for these guys.
The San Diego State University men’s basketball team lost again, 88-78 at UNLV. It’s an outcome now all too familiar and comfortable. Even in the new bad era of SDSU hoops, this one stands out: The first loss to the Rebs on their ugly-ass home floor since the 2012-13 season, when Chase Tapley and the Tecs wore the good uniforms with SAN DIEGO and STATE above and below the numbers, respectively.
That 2012-13 team was a 7 seed and won an NCAA Tournament game, a baseline standard of success fading into distant memory and totally unimaginable for the 2017-18 Aztecs.
Amid a lost San Diego State men’s basketball season spiraling into irrelevance, it’s nice that the Aztecs still possess enough talent to give us moments of pure happiness. That’s not nothing, folks!
Yes, SDSU’s record merely improved to .500 in conference with a win tonight over Colorado State. Yes, the thought of SDSU winning three games in three days (let alone four in four) in the Mountain West Tournament still seems like fantasy. Yes, Colorado State is among the MWC’s most putrid teams, at least in the non El Camino Rivalry division.
But you know what … screw all that.
Dwelling on three game losing streaks sucks. Wringing our hands about the Aztecs getting a first round bye in Vegas is not why we watch this stupid sport. We’re in it for nights like tonight, when your team drains a bunch of 3s and nearly drops a Benjamin on the most annoying coach in the conference.
I went into this game promising myself I wasn’t going to care about the outcome. Not after this week, when the San Diego State men’s basketball team suffered a loss to Fresno State so demoralizing it immediately changed the topic of conversation among the fans from “can SDSU play its way onto the bubble?” to “are Brian Dutcher’s players subtweeting him?”
Who was I kidding? It wasn’t going to last.
A couple of things quickly snapped me out of my apathy as I dug into the Woodstock’s pizza that acted as my CBS Sports Network subscription for the evening.
The first was that the Aztecs actually showed up motivated and with a plan, attacking the basket and dominating the paint to build a first half lead of as many as 13, and a halftime advantage of 10.