Let me first say that if you’re a San Diego State fan, you aren’t going to like this. But it’s the truth, and, well, Jack can say it better than I ever could.
In recent years the Aztecs have put together great teams, full of underrated prospects that combined to be more than the sum of their parts. In a way, they represent the opposite of what the top college programs have become in this era of the game. Instead of recruiting hordes of five star talent, SDSU has succeeded by virtue of coaching up players and recruiting the right fits.
But unfortunately (for them), San Diego State has run into a buzzsaw named Arizona during the Sean Miller era, resulting in some crushing losses including the end to last year’s 31-5 campaign.
If you want a small taste of what that bitterness must be like, relive this moment and pretend like you’re on the other side of that Nick Johnson Christmas card.
But that was just the Diamond Head Classic, a Hawaii based tournament that pitted the two teams against each other on a December 25th final. If you want a real taste of what the SDSU bitterness towards Arizona feels like, look no further than their last game.
In an obviously much more important Sweet 16 matchup, things were looking good for San Diego State. Dwayne Polee II was sinking threes, which had the Aztec fans praising the heavens:
But the Wildcats would go on to outscore SDSU by 10 in the second half. And Aaron Gordon would go on to do this:
That moment, though early in the second half, encapsulated the relationship between Arizona and SDSU. Bigger, faster, stronger, better. Here’s another look:
The rest is history. One of San Diego State’s best seasons ever was ended by a superior Arizona team. An Arizona team that didn’t even have Brandon Ashley, like they did when they went into the Viejas Center and won on the Aztecs’ home court.
It seems like no matter what SDSU does, no matter how brilliantly they play, Arizona is always the end of the road.
That’s why I feel bad for them. It’s a program that hearkens back to a more idealistic time in college basketball and still succeeds, which is awesome. They win and achieve national relevance without bringing in monster recruiting classes every year like the big boys do.
But ultimately, the disturbing truth is that this approach is antiquated and can’t be the basis for a yearly national championship contender in today’s college basketball landscape. As fun as it is to watch a team like that, you can thank John Calipari’s Kentucky model of recruiting for making it a dying breed.
Until San Diego State can recruit the country’s most elite talent, they will never compete on the same yearly level as Arizona and the nation’s other top tier teams.
And the Wildcats will continue to dominate the Aztecs.