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Three reasons why San Diego State can win the National Championship

Can they bring home their first-ever NCAA Tournament title? Let’s discuss why they can.

Creighton v San Diego State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Final Four is this weekend and San Diego State — no, you’re not dreaming — has a shot at an NCAA Tournament championship! They will face Florida Atlantic on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Houston, Texas, and will face the winner of Miami/UConn, should they win.

Let’s go into three reasons why the Aztecs could bring home their first NCAA Title in program history!


The Aztecs are not a top-heavy scoring team. They only had one double-figure point-per-game scorer this season in Matt Bradley, who’s averaged 12.5 points — 14.4 points in Mountain West play — on 42.7 percent shooting, including 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 74.5 percent from the free-throw line.

But San Diego State is deep — very deep, in fact. They had seven other players average at least six points, while its bench accounted for nearly 34.7 percent of the scoring. Ironically enough, that’s the second-highest in the field — behind only Florida Atlantic, who they play — but that hasn’t been the trend of late.

Over their last five games, San Diego State has scored 124 bench points and 37.8 bench points per 100 possessions — both the most among any team left by a healthy margin. Here’s how the rest of the programs stack up over that same time sample:

  • UConn: 109 points; 33.7 bench points per 100
  • Florida Atlantic: 84 PTS, 25.5
  • Miami: 47 PTS, 13.9

Sure, it’s a small sample size galore. Plus, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that formula. The Owls have gotten remarkable production from guards Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin, as well as big Vlad Goldin; The Huskies’ offense has been buoyed by 6-foot-10 behemoth Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, who’s canned 16 of his 31 triples in the tournament; Miami is spearheaded by a trio of Nijel Pack, Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller.

But different Aztec players have stepped up at different times. Micah Parrish tallied 16 points off the bench against Furman; Darrion Trammell sparked an 8-0 second-half run against Alabama, finishing with 21 points and five boards with two steals; Lamont Butler contributed 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting against Creighton.

They make up three of their top four scorers (outside of Bradley), but the Aztecs have proven that they can get scoring from different sources in different moments in high-pressure situations.


Experience, experience and even more experience!

Yes, SDSU has a lot of it, and they’ve used it to their advantage. Seven of their nine main rotation players are seniors, including four of them — Bradley, Trammell, Jaedon LeDee and Keshod Johnson — who are in their fifth year.

Experience might not hold a lot of weight for NBA Draft prospects, but it matters — from a team aspect — in the tournament. There are always exceptions to the rule (i.e. Duke in 2014-15), but the transfer portal, NIL and the extra COVID year have inherently made college basketball more experienced, in part the reason why there have been many different upsets.

You still have to play the games, but their experience gives them a possible leg-up in moments where they face adversity — similar to how it was at points in the second half against both Alabama and Creighton.


Defense wins championships. Well, guess what SDSU’s bread-and-butter is: DEFENSE! And plenty of it, just ask Charleston, Furman, Alabama and Creighton.

Each of those four had had arguably their worst offensive performances against the Aztecs, and that’s no coincidence. They have held their last eight opponents to sub-40.0 percent shooting, with only one of them exceeding 30 percent from 3-point range and one other exceeding 27 percent.

The Aztecs don’t force an exceptional amount of turnovers, ranking No. 107 in opponents’ turnover rate (19.2 percent), including a 16.4 percent rate over the aforementioned eight-game sample and a 17.3 percent rate against top 50 teams (11 games).

Regardless, the Aztecs defend with physicality as an incredibly cohesive unit defensively, switching 1 thru 5 defensively (for the most part) with multiple above-average-to-elite rim protectors, led by two-time Mountain West defensive player of the year Nathan Mensah.

It’s not always perfect, and it’s not always pretty, but San Diego State mucks up opposing halfcourts as well as anyone in the country — especially those who remain left in the field. It’s always going to be a question of whether they can generate their own halfcourt offense because shot creation is important in these high-leverage games — and SDSU doesn’t possess many creators — but their defense, experience and overall depth could buoy them into an NCAA Tournament title.