The San Diego State basketball team is ready for some R&R.;
That’s rest and relaxation, not running and rebounding.
The Aztecs, who concluded the regular season with a 78-72 loss to Colorado State at Fort Collins on Saturday night, will be off until March 8 when they play a semifinal game in the Western Athletic Conference tournament at El Paso, Texas.
Aztec Coach Smokey Gaines said SDSU will not practice until Wednesday or Thursday, a decision that was welcomed by his tired and sore players.
“It will be OK if we don’t touch a basketball for a few days,” center Leonard Allen said. “My body is kind of tired, and I’m looking forward to the rest.”
For the Aztecs, rest means no hard practices. The players will shoot around in the gym, run lightly and lift weights during the next few days.
“I’ve got to keep my wrist in shape,” said guard Anthony Watson, the team’s leading scorer.
Once a gym rat, always a gym rat.
The layoff also will give the Aztecs an opportunity to get over the disappointment of losing to Hawaii and Colorado State in their final regular-season games, and a chance to enjoy their successful 21-7 season and second-place finish in the WAC.
The Aztecs’ will be making their first appearance in the WAC tournament, the second season. They did not participate in the conference’s inaugural tournament last year because they were on probation. After their regular-season finale against the Rams on Saturday night, the Aztecs’ probation was completely served and they became eligible to appear on live television.
Who will SDSU face in the tournament semifinals?
Good question. A lot can still happen in the final week of the WAC regular season, and then even more can happen in the opening rounds of the tournament.
The only certainties are that Texas El Paso (12-3) clinched the conference championship after its victory over New Mexico and the Aztecs’ loss to Colorado State on Saturday. UTEP has won or shared the WAC title for a record three straight years.
SDSU finished second with an 11-5 mark, and thereby also drew a bye in the opening rounds. On March 4, the fourth-place finisher will play host to the ninth-place team, the fifth-place team will play host to the eighth-place team, the sixth-place team will play host to the seventh-place team and the third-place team will draw a bye in the first round.
On March 6, the third-place team will host the winner of the game between the fifth- and eighth-place teams, and the winners of the other two first-round games will meet at the home of the higher-seeded team.
The third through seventh spots in the conference are still up for grabs. Air Force (2-12) has clinched last place, even though it has conference games remaining against Colorado State and Utah. Hawaii (5-11), which lost at Air Force on Saturday night, will finish eighth. SDSU has the dubious distinction of being the only conference team that Hawaii defeated on the mainland this season.
BYU is in third place with a 9-5 record. The Cougars play at Wyoming on Thursday and play host to Utah on Saturday. New Mexico (8-7) plays at Wyoming on Saturday.
Colorado State has won three straight WAC games to even its record at 7-7. The Rams play at Air Force on Tuesday and play host to UTEP on Saturday. Wyoming and Utah are both 6-8.
Looking ahead to the third season:
If the Aztecs win the WAC tournament, they automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament and will play a first-round game in the West region at either Salt Lake City or Albuquerque.
Gaines said he thinks the Aztecs need 23 wins to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament, and that means winning the WAC tournament. With SDSU’s soft nonconference schedule, a 22-8 mark would make Aztecs a question mark for the NCAA tournament, according to Gaines. SDSU would be 22-8 if it won its tournament semifinal game and lost in the championship.
Morgan State, United States International University, UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Long Beach (twice) are among the weak nonconference opponents the Aztecs beat.
If SDSU doesn’t win the WAC tournament, it would prefer losing to UTEP in the final. That way, if the NCAA decides to take two teams from the WAC, SDSU will most probably be the second choice.
If they do not receive an NCAA bid, the Aztecs have a very good shot at getting a National Invitation Tournament bid. Tournament bids are announced on Sunday, March 10.
According to the Denver Post’s “Dream” bracket, the Aztecs will be one of the 64 teams picked for the NCAA tournament.
In Sunday’s Post, a panel of sportswriters selected the Aztecs to play in the West region and lose to North Carolina in the first round.
Ultimately, the dream bracket has Oklahoma (West region) beating St. John’s (East) in one semifinal, and Georgetown (Midwest) beating Memphis State (Mideast) in the other.
The winner of the Georgetown vs. Oklahoma championship game was left to the readers’ imaginations.