Aztecs show they’re for real

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San Diego State keeps rolling along.

After winning what looked like it could be a tricky game at UNLV on Sunday, the Aztecs are 21-0. The win streak is the longest in school history.

San Diego State has been the final unbeaten team in Division I since Auburn suffered its first loss two weeks ago. The Aztecs were ranked No. 4 in Monday’s AP Top 25, are No. 2 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and eighth in KenPom.com’s efficiency ratings.

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In addition to an unbeaten regular season, San Diego State is also now firmly in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. At the Bracket Matrix, a website that tracks 79 different bracket projections, the Aztecs’ average seed was 1.43, trailing just Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga.

Over the previous four seasons, San Diego State lost a total of 48 games and made the NCAA Tournament field just once.

One of the biggest reasons for the improvement this season is the presence of junior guard Malachi Flynn, who sat out 2018-19 after transferring from Washington State. Flynn leads the Aztecs with 16.8 points and five assists per game.

At KenPom, Brian Dutcher’s team is No. 25 in offensive efficiency and — typical of a Dutcher team — seventh on defense. The Aztecs are limiting opponents to 28.2 percent shooting from behind the arc. On Sunday, Rebels not named Marvin Coleman or Bryce Hamilton were a combined 2-for-14 from deep.

With eight regular-season games remaining, KenPom gives San Diego State a 24.2 percent chance to enter the Mountain West tournament with a perfect 29-0 record.

The Aztecs play at New Mexico Wednesday and return home to take on Utah State Saturday. The Lobos started the season 13-2 but have stumbled since the calendar turned to January. They’re just 3-4 this month and have losses to San Jose State, Colorado State (by 33) and UNLV (by 21).

Utah State was the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West, but the Aggies have been hurt by injuries, in particular to 7-foot sophomore Neemias Queta, who missed 12 games. The Aggies went through a disastrous five-game stretch earlier this month, losing four times, including to UNLV and Air Force.

The Aztecs beat the Aggies 77-68 on Jan. 4. Queta played in that game, and Utah State’s other star, 6-5 senior Sam Merrill scored 26 points but was just 3-for-12 from 3-point range.

According to KenPom, the biggest remaining obstacle to 29-0 is a trip to Nevada in the Feb. 29 season finale. San Diego State is given a 72 percent chance to win that one. If they arrive in Reno with 28 wins, the Aztecs will probably have already earned a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s this week’s picks. The numbers are for the spreads based on game predictions at KenPom.com.

Wednesday

West Virginia at Texas Tech, Total 130: The Mountaineers (No. 1) and Red Raiders (No. 6) both enter with top-six defenses.

West Virginia is holding teams to an effective field goal percentage of 40.8 percent, per KenPom. Its 3-point defense is second in the nation, and Texas Tech is not a good outside shooting team. The Mountaineers beat the Red Raiders 66-54 a few weeks ago in West Virginia. UNDER

Memphis -2 at Central Florida: No team had a worse week than Memphis.

The Tigers followed an inexplicable 80-40 loss at Tulsa with a four-point home loss to SMU. They’re just 2-4 since a 12-1 start.

UCF has been even worse, losing six of eight, mostly due to poor shooting. Penny Hardaway’s team needs a bounce-back win. MEMPHIS

Saturday

Rutgers -1 vs Michigan: A couple months ago it would have seemed impossible that Rutgers could be favored in this game. Michigan was 7-0 after beating North Carolina and Gonzaga during Thanksgiving week. But the Wolverines were 4-8 since then, prior to Tuesday’s game against Nebraska.

Rutgers has won nine of 11 and gets to play close to home in Madison Square Garden. RUTGERS

Oregon at Stanford -1: The Cardinal entered this week with two straight losses — including one to lowly California — after losing just twice in the season’s first 2½ months.

While Stanford’s defense has been excellent, it has no wins over a team of the Ducks’ caliber. Oregon, sixth nationally in offensive efficiency, has lost just twice since November. OREGON

Last week: 2-2

Season: 25-23

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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