Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Utopia?

San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen? That can't seem fair to folks in cold climes where basketball is lifeblood and winter is only now receding. "The city of San Diego, it's already perfect," Aztecs assistant coach Brian Dutcher told me on Selection Sunday. "I guess if we could make a deep run, we could make it a utopia." As I wrote here last week, San Diego's sports teams usually fizzle in the postseason, the Padres without a victorious playoff series since 1998 and the Chargers without an AFC title since 1995. The Aztecs, for their part, had gone 0-6 in the NCAAs until they defeated Northern Colorado (Vincent Jackson U) last week. A victory over Connecticut on Thursday, a few blocks from Disneyland, would be SDSU's 35th win this season and third in these NCAAs. The last time SDSU won three consecutive games in a national tourney? The same year that San Diego's Ted Williams batted .406  -- 1941, when five triumphs took the Aztecs to the NAIA championship.

A search of Google News shows 4,203 stories on San Diego State basketball for the last month. Publicity windfalls like that could boost recruiting for a program that not long ago was an afterthought in its own backyard. Then again, now is the time for the Aztecs to be greedy. Sweet Sixteen chances are precious, especially those only 94.2 miles from home against a name opponent that traveled cross country. SDSU can defend and rebound well enough to stay with Connecticut, perhaps more so if the referees aren't treating UConn star Kemba Walker like he's Michael Jordan, as one opposing coach recently quipped. Yet, offensive dysfunction similar to what plagued SDSU against Temple would be too much to overcome. An Aztecs offense that asserts Kawhi Leonard closer to the basket could be the ticket to SDSU's first win in 13 games vs. a Big East team and a date with Duke or Arizona on Saturday.

Dutcher knows Sweet Sixteen success -- a 4-0 mark as an assistant to Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher with Michigan. And although SDSU entered these NCAAs without a March pedigree, optimism wasn't in short supply. "They're confident that they're going to be able to make a run in this tournament," Dutcher said then. "Whether that's a reality or not, I don't know. But the key is, they believe they will. Nothing great ever happens unless you have a little moxie and belief, and the players and coaches believe in this team."

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