San Diego State made a miracle run through the NCAA Tournament last season before losing to UConn in the national title game.
The No. 17 Aztecs certainly won’t be operating under the radar this season as they begin chasing another dream campaign with a home game against Cal State Fullerton on Monday.
San Diego State (32-7 last season) rattled off five straight wins during the tournament, including a mammoth takedown of No. 1 seed Alabama in the Sweet 16.
Also, Lamont Butler provided one of the signature moments of the tournament when he drained a game-ending 3-pointer for a 72-71 victory over Florida Atlantic, the win that put San Diego State into the championship game.
“Sometimes, it does feel like a dream,” Butler told reporters. “It just feels like it was all a blur. Everything happened so quick. But once we look back on it, we see how much fun we had, the mind we had as a team and the things that got us to the championship — camaraderie, chemistry, selflessness.”
While Butler swished the biggest shot in program history, the 6-foot-2 guard averaged just 8.8 points per game last season. He was more known as a defensive stalwart — he had 57 steals last season — but figures to be a double-digit scorer this time around.
Other key returners include guard Darrion Trammell (9.8) and frontcourt players Jaedon LeDee (7.9) and Micah Parrish (7.4).
San Diego State scored big in the transfer portal by landing guard Reese Waters from Southern California. Waters averaged 9.8 points while earning Pac-12 Sixth Player of the Year honors last season.
Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said his program has more work to do.
“I think a trip to the national championship game has elevated it and everybody knows San Diego State is a national program,” Dutcher said. “So we have to continue to build that narrative and then back it up with our play.”
Cal State Fullerton (20-13 last season) has produced back-to-back 20-win campaigns as it enters its 11th season with Dedrique Taylor at the helm.
Titans leading scorer Latrell Wrightsell Jr. (16.3) transferred to Alabama but the club returns three starters: guards Max Jones (12.5) and Tory San Antonio (7.9 points, 4.5 assists) and forward Vincent Lee (7.7 ppg).
San Antonio was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“That’s something he doesn’t take lightly. That’s something he hangs his hat on,” Taylor said of San Antonio’s defensive prowess.
“He’s got one more year to grow that. But also, I think we’re set up for him to show what he can do from an offensive standpoint, which I am really excited for him to have this opportunity.”
The Titans were part of the 2022 NCAA Tournament field — losing 78-61 to No. 2 seed Duke — but fell short last season when they lost to UC Santa Barbara in the Big West tourney title game.
Taylor feels his club will have another opportunity to reach this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“I would expect this team to be no different,” Taylor said. “There is a little bit of mystique, a little bit of tradition from the old guys and they indoctrinate the new guys and let them know this is what we do here and this is how we do business and the new guys take to it very well.”
In the most recent meeting, San Diego State posted a 66-56 home win over the Titans during the 2021-22 season.