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San Diego State basketball: The road to redemption

Winning teams are like shooting stars. Winning programs are like planets. 

Yesterday, Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal produced an article about SDSU men’s basketball titled, “San Diego State a shell of its former Mountain West dominant team.” He could have titled it “Misery loves company.”

Did Anderson jump the gun? By the end of the season, the answer might be “yes.”

The article’s title features the word “team” to describe the back-to-back-to-back Mountain West regular season champs. While Fresno State had a great 2015-16 team, and this year Nevada has a dominant team, San Diego State has crafted a winning program.

If winning teams are like shooting stars, then winning programs are like planets. They have gravity and are expected to shine on and on.

Programs have consistency and a respect of the sports community, and an ongoing pipeline of talent- both in players and coaches. When programs dip, their earned respect garners the anticipation of a return.

Seventeen years in the making, Steve Fisher has built an Aztecs men’s basketball program that went from near non-existent, to entering the Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas with their now 207-9 home record under Bill Self’s leadership and exit as one of those nine wins. Basketball was invented at the University of Kansas. People remember moments like that, and programs add them to their legacy.

Still, the Aztecs program has had its recent ups and downs. After six straight NCAA Tourney appearances, last season the 16-2 in-conference Aztecs found themselves snubbed while a lackluster Tulsa was given an invite.

The program was also thrown off balance when CBS writer Gary Parrish published uncorroborated information on supposed NCAA violations that proved to be false. While the NCAA apologized to SDSU, Parrish never did, indifferent to his reckless wake that cost San Diego State two “locks” to USC and Oregon. The controversy may have even shaped El Cajon native T.J. Leaf’s decision to choose a then-lackluster UCLA.

This season, the Aztecs are chock full of talent, but started off the season with a broken wing in the form of five injured players. There was one game where Fisher had only six able-bodied players. While the injured Aztecs were stomped early on by a formidable Gonzaga, The team did return to the floor semi healthy to take full command against the Cal Golden Bears. Afterward, the injury bug bit again, and in addition to sidelined talent, the Aztecs did not have the reserve legs they normally have to run their dominant defense, generally rotating 7-8 players.

After dropping the first three conference games, and donning an uncharacteristic 10-7 record, it now appears all hands are on deck.

When this Aztecs team is healthy, the Mountain West will see the team it has expected to see all season. If the Aztecs stay healthy, it’s actually possible for the team to run the table for the balance of the season. That’s a big “if.”

Las Vegas is in the midst of a massive reconstruction, and they are far and away from their own apex of dominance. Marvin Menzies shows promise, and there is little doubt that he will succeed in time.

San Diego State may have stumbled from grace, but they are far and away from falling. If this team makes up its mind, it CAN very well win the MW Tournament and find itself in familiar waters at the NCAA Tourney this March. I give the Aztecs better-than-average odds for such an outcome.

I hope Mark Anderson tunes in tonight. If the Aztecs play Malik Pope and Matt Shrigley, Anderson might find himself re-assessing his expectations of San Diego State men’s basketball.

If Pope and Shrigley play, I predict the Aztecs will win by no less than 24 points. After all: they’re key elements of our program.