San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher watched what UNR accomplished the previous three seasons by going heavily with transfers, and he saw a veteran Texas Tech team assembled largely the same way play for the national championship last season.
Dutcher knew, especially after being so young last season, to truly compete this season that he needed a similar plan.
So he made sure the Aztecs got old, and they start three juniors and two seniors. Three players — Malachi Flynn (Washington State), KJ Feagin (Santa Clara) and Yanni Wetzell (Vanderbilt) — are transfers from four-year schools. Flynn, who averages 16.6 points, is a strong candidate for Mountain West Player of the Year, and the other two are graduate transfers added before this season.
These changes occurred after the Aztecs relied heavily on five freshmen and three sophomores last season.
“I thought we played pretty good basketball down the stretch,” Dutcher said. “We made the conference championship game, but we had no chance to build a resume. So I thought to be better in November and December to lead into conference, I wanted to stay old.”
Going from young to old, San Diego State (20-0, 9-0 Mountain West) enters Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against UNLV (11-10, 6-2) at the Thomas &Mack Center ranked fourth nationally. The Aztecs are the nation’s lone unbeaten team.
They play some of the nation’s finest defense. The Aztecs entered Saturday’s play ranked fourth in allowing 56.6 points per game and, according to Kenpom, were eighth in allowing 89 points per 100 possessions. The national average for defensive efficiency was 102.4.
“They do a good job of everybody being connected on the same page,” UNLV forward Nick Blair said. “If they’re going to force something one way … everybody knows their job. And they do it for 40 minutes.”
Great defense long has been San Diego State’s staple, and this season’s team has distinguished itself by how it adjusts.
Dutcher not only has been able to go deeper into his game plan but also has made changes on the fly in games that his veteran players grasped immediately. He didn’t have that luxury last season with a younger team.
“This team doesn’t have great length, but it has a really high IQ,” Dutcher said. “We kind of know what the opposition is doing. We know what we want to take away and have done a good job of doing that.
“We can play two or three different ways during the course of a game defensively. I can make a quick adjustment and sometimes you might find a mistake along the way, but this team doesn’t make many mistakes. If you make a change during a timeout, usually you have all five guys onboard immediately.”
UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said his team can’t get caught up worrying what the Aztecs might do, that the Rebels need to focus on running their offense and defense.
“We’ve got to get stops and play with pace,” Otzelberger said. “We respect their talent defensively, but ball movement and player movement gives any defense trouble, and that’s what we’ve got to have.”
Who: San Diego State at UNLV
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: San Diego State -8; total 133
— — —
San Diego State (20-0, 9-0 MW)
Coach: Brian Dutcher (63-24, third season)
UNLV (11-10, 6-2 Mountain West)
Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (11-10, first season)