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San Diego State Basketball: Is the SDSU-BYU rivalry still alive?

ESPN reunites former Mountain West Conference powers in 2014 EA SPORTS Maui Invitational.

Kent Horner

One of college basketball’s most underrated rivalries of the 2000s will get another chapter written in its story during the 2014-2015 season.

San Diego State will face off against old conference foe BYU for the first time since the 2010-2011 season, in the first round of ESPN’s EA SPORTS Maui Invitational. The game will air on November 27 at 8:30 PM PST on ESPN2.

This marks the first time that the two have matched up against each other since BYU left the Mountain West Conference in 2011, and there’s good reason for that. There was not a lot of love lost between these two teams, who were the elite of their conference in the latter part of this decade.

When SDSU played BYU, it was must see basketball, each game tended to go down to wire, and lead changes were about as common as Jimmer Fredette sinking three’s all game. Speaking of Fredette, the former BYU guard was the ringleader of the Cougars during the 2010-2011 season that gave us arguably the most epic games of this rivalry. If you remember, the Cougars took the two regular season games, due to the fact that the Aztecs had no answer for him. Then, in the conference tournament, SDSU, led by Kawhi Leonard and Billy White, beat the Cougars to win the conference title, and the two have not seen each other since.

Unfortunately the game will be in Maui, so the student section factor, that played a big role in the rivalry, will not be replicated. SDSU students could be seen camping out days before games, just in anticipation to get a ticket to watch the Aztecs most heated rival.

Fast forward to the upcoming 2014-2015 and the only recognizable thing about the two from the last time they played are legendary SDSU head coach Steve Fisher, and BYU head coach Dave Rose, who has been with the team since 2005.

Now, some of the key players on SDSU are senior forward Dwayne Polee II, junior forward Skylar Spencer, and junior guard Winston Shepard, while BYU counters with West Coast Conference Player of the Year Tyler Haws. It’s safe to say that the talent level on both rosters is not the same as the firepower the teams used to present, like 2011 first-round pick Fredette, and 2013 NBA Finals MVP Leonard.

While the talent level may not be the same, SDSU as a whole has arguably the most depth of talented players in program history. Freshmen Malik Pope, Trey Kell, and Zylan Cheathem (all in ESPN’s top 150 prospects) along with Arizona transfer Angelo Chol add to a team that reached the Sweet 16 last year for the second time in program history.

BYU has won seven out of the last nine meetings between the teams, but this may be SDSU’s year to turn it around and start a new trend for the rivalry. BYU is by no means a slouch, making the tournament last year but losing to Oregon in the first round. But SDSU is definitely going into this game as the favorite.

Even with the departure of star point guard Xavier Thames, the amount of veteran talent the Aztecs bring to the table outmatch what BYU has to offer.

It will be awkward to see the Aztecs play the Cougars again, considering the abrupt ending to their rivalry that used to command the attention of the Mountain West. Kudos to ESPN for matching up the two, and rekindling long lost conference powers. Expect Fisher and Rose to bring everything they have at each other, making this a must watch for the Maui Invitational.