If you have followed San Diego State basketball for several years, then you know that a lot of talent and points and rebounds left the program at the end of the 2012-13 season. Would the 2013-14 season be one of rebuilding or reloading?
Fast forward to the end of the nonconference season (except for Kansas on Jan. 5) and San Diego State is ranked No. 21/19 in the polls with a 10-1 record. Their only loss was to No. 1 Arizona. The rest of the conference isn't close to being ranked and has virtually no way to get there. The RPI for the Mountain West is 10th. Last year it was first. This means fewer NCAA tournament bids and lack of upward mobility in the polls.
The Aztecs have been to the NCAA tournament four straight years. But the 2013-14 Aztecs weren't included in the preseason rankings. And the Mountain West Conference media voted the Aztecs to come in fourth place in the conference. None of the Aztec players were on the preseason all-conference team, although Tulane transfer Josh Davis was voted preseason newcomer of the year.
San Diego State has done its part, knocking off two Big East ranked teams and capturing the Wooden Legacy title. The conference favorite, New Mexico, already has two home losses at the Pit. Boise State started out 8-0 but has lost three of its last five and failed to get a signature win against ranked teams. UNLV has three home losses, including a 21-point blowout defeat at the hands of UC Santa Barbara.
Xavier Thames has played like a fifth-year senior and an extension of Coach Fisher on the court. He was named the most outstanding player of the Wooden Legacy tournament and has been the go-to guy for the Aztecs. Junior J.J. O'Brien has played well but has been hampered by a hand injury for the last several weeks. He continues to be a glue guy who makes the Aztecs better. Sophomore Winston Shephard has shown flashes of how good he can be and will need to be for the Aztecs to go far.
Some questions have been answered, while others remain.
Is Skylar Spencer ready to start or would Josh Davis need to play center? Spencer has improved and played well, which frees up Davis and O'Brien to play their natural positions. Davis has been a rebounding machine as of late.
What role would Dwayne Polee II and James Johnson have in their second seasons? Polee is a magnet for the ball and has played well. Coach Fisher will need to find minutes for him. Johnson continues to struggle and will likely only be used if the Aztecs front court is in foul trouble or needs another big body for a specific matchup.
Can these Aztecs exceed expectations in conference play and beyond? Will Winston Shepard continue to mature and lead this team? Can Josh Davis duplicate his past success in the Mountain West Conference? Will the Aztecs shoot well enough from the field on a consistent basis?
Former walk-on Aqeel Quinn has been a nice surprise. He has scored in double figures in his last three games and is getting more than his share of steals and assists. If D'Erryl Williams continues to have back problems, Quinn could see some minutes as a backup point guard.
This team is deeper than the Aztecs have had in years past. They also have more height and length. The starting rotation for much of the season has featured four players who are 6-foot-7 or taller. They consist of two seniors, a junior and two sophomores. They have the altheticism and passion to play great defense and have held their last three opponents to under 40 points. These Aztecs are better than you think. Don't wait for next year's Top 15 recruiting class to come onboard. The time to tune in to San Diego State is now.