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San Diego State Basketball: Aztecs ready for Mountain West season after non-conference season filled with ups and downs

Definitely some good, and definitely some not-so-good from SDSU's non-conference slate.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Non-conference play has come to a close for the San Diego State Aztecs, and it's time they show their true colors. Many refer to conference play in college sports as a "second season," giving SDSU an opportunity to forget about the droll they went through in the first three weeks of December.

November was a great month for SDSU. It opened the preseason ranked in both polls, and got a big win at home against the then-ranked No. 25 Utah Utes on ESPN.

The Aztecs' run through the Maui Invitational was something to be proud of, as well. They stood strong through an early-season gut check, beating BYU in double-overtime, and then ousted the Pittsburgh Panthers by 17 the very next day.

They played a top-five Arizona team close, but their 13-24 clip from the free-throw line was the reason they lost and also the first instance of this teams' shaky mental toughness.

The free throws continued to be an issue, as well as turnovers, and shooting from the floor in general, and SDSU followed a marvelous month with three weeks of wretched basketball in December. In a stretch where the Aztecs played its three worst games of the season at Washington, versus Long Beach State, and at Cincinatti, SDSU was about five inches away from losing all three in a row.

It's a lot easier to trust a team that starts off slow and picks up its play toward the end of the season than it is to trust a team that did the opposite. The Aztecs' start to the season was a lot like a cute little puppy dog. You didn't quite know what it was capable of but it brought joy and cheer to your life, and you were willing to give it a pass when it had a small accident in your house. That puppy never grew full size, and has since ran away from home and it would be foolish to wait for it on the porch.

Luckily for Steve Fisher and company, they've got about 10 weeks of basketball against conference foes that can earn them an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Winning the conference has been the main goal all along, and it's the gateway to the Aztecs' Final Four aspirations.

With the loss of Dwayne Polee II, the emergence of Aqeel Quinn as the Aztecs' true leader, and guys like Matt Shrigley, Malik Pope, and Dakarai Allen starting to contribute, this afternoon at Air Force will feel a lot like the start to a new season.