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Brian Dutcher’s Aztecs Meet March Madness Expectations

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Brian Dutcher will always be remembered as the guy who spent all those years alongside Steve Fisher, winning the NCAA title in Michigan in 1989 and recruiting the Fab Five before helping make the state of San Diego a West Coast powerhouse. .

It’s a fairly complete resume, that’s for sure. Dutcher added to that with his first two March Madness wins in his six seasons as head coach and hopes there will be more to come for SDSU.

Awaiting the Aztecs, a Sweet 16 game with No. 1 seed Alabama at Louisville in the South Region on Friday, with the No. 5 Aztecs looking for their first-ever trip to the Elite Eight.

The Aztecs are 7 1/2 point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and up for the challenge.

“We’re just saying if we’re the best version of ourselves, we’ll have a chance to win,” Dutcher said. “So I always say our No. 1 opponent is ourselves. Play to our standards. If we do that, we should have a chance to win the game.”

The Aztecs (29-6) are in the Sweet 16 for only the third time in school history and the first time since 2014. They won the regular season and conference tournament titles from Mountain West, then beat Charleston and Furman to advance to weekend two of March Madness.

Fisher and Dutcher brought the Aztecs into a program that always has high expectations. For Dutcher, who was promoted after Fisher retired in October 2017, that’s exactly what the Aztecs are meant to do.

It just took a little longer than expected. The Aztecs lost their first three games of the NCAA Tournament under Dutcher. Plus, the Aztecs will always wonder what would have happened in 2020, when they were 30-2 behind Malachi Flynn and ready for a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID. .

Dutcher clarifies that this race is about the team, not him.

“That’s what they’re paying us to do is train the team, get the best out of the team, and we’re supposed to win, and we’re supposed to win in March,” Dutcher, 63, said. years, who spent nine seasons as an assistant under Fisher at Michigan and 18 more at SDSU, including six years with the “head coach-in-waiting” designation. “We can’t tell everyone we recruit that we want to win a Final Four or win a national championship and then act. like we were super excited when we won.

“So that’s how I’m wired. I’m happier for the kids,” Dutcher added. “You know, I’ve seen a lot of them and I don’t take anything for granted. But I like the guys who are going there for the first time, who came here to win games, and now they are winning games.

The Aztecs are deep, big, and tough, with Dutcher constantly preaching a defense-first mentality. Four of the top five scorers are transfers. Top scorer Matt Bradley (13 points) is in his second season after being transferred from California. Darrion Trammell (9.5), Micah Parrish (7.9) and Jaedon LeDee, an inside force at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, are new this season. LeDee is averaging 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Dutcher’s nine-man rotation also includes remnants Adam Seiko, Nathan Mensah, Lamont Butler, Keshad Johnson and Aguek Arop.

Johnson, Seiko, Arop and Mensah were part of the 2019-20 squad that was just three days away from receiving its best seed ever when the pandemic shut down the sports world.

“I’m sure I use that as motivation,” Seiko said. “For it to happen like that, it was very disappointing. Three years later, we’re making a run in the tournament, the Sweet 16. We’re not complacent. We want to keep racing and reach the Final Four.

SDSU was routed by Syracuse in the 2021 NCAA Tournament in the Indianapolis bubble, then lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Creighton last year.

“It’s really a blessing,” Seiko said of getting more chances in the NCAA Tournament. “It’s a testament to the winning culture here at San Diego State that we’ve been able to make the tournament the last few seasons after that. We lost in the first round, but this year we found ways to improve, especially in the final straight, we are all happy to be here to race.

Fisher, who watches home games with his wife, Angie, from the second row above the SDSU bench, is happy for his protege.

“I’m very proud of what Dutch has done. When we came here in 1999, we talked about a program, not a blockbuster wonder,” Fisher said. “We wanted to have a great base and build a program, and that’s what happened and that’s what continues to happen as it grows.”


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