This is serious business now at San Diego State. We’re not talking about a hot start or a flashy winning streak. We’re talking 26-0, with no defeat in sight. Perfect season is the operative phrase, and the Aztecs are not afraid to utter it.
“I told them in the locker room, now we have to get greedy and try and win them all,” coach Brian Dutcher was saying after a recent victory over New Mexico, which clinched the outright Mountain West season title — with four games still to play. It was like clinching a baseball pennant in early September.
And just because it takes insomnia in the East to see many of the Aztecs’ games, there’s no reason not to know who these guys are, and what they’ve been up to.
And so... San Diego State, in 20 parts.
TRACKING PERFECTION: San Diego State is the last undefeated team in the country
No. 1. The Aztecs did not draw a single vote in either the Associated Press or coaches’ preseason polls, something 55 schools did. Now they’re ranked No. 4, matching their highest spot ever.
No. 2. This time last year, Malachi Flynn was sitting out after transferring from Washington State, Yanni Wetzell was finishing his economics degree at Vanderbilt, and KJ Feagin was graduating from Santa Clara, while playing only two games all season because of a broken hand. Now they’re all in the San Diego State starting lineup, and are the first, third and fifth leading scorers.
No. 3. The Aztecs are 13-0 at home. Then again, they’re 12-0 everywhere else.
No. 4. BYU, Utah State and New Mexico are a combined 39-3 at home, each losing once. San Diego State is responsible for all three defeats.
No. 5. Creighton is tied for second in the Big East and has upset two top-10 teams on the road this month. The Aztecs earlier beat the Bluejays by 31 points.
No. 6. Iowa has moved into contention in the Big Ten. Flynn scored all his 28 points in the second half to help defeat the Hawkeyes by 10.
No. 7. Utah State was the unanimous pick to win the Mountain West. San Diego State has already swept the Aggies, by nine and 12 points.
No. 8. As of Sunday, San Diego State has been the nation’s last unbeaten for 32 days.
No. 9. Of the 26 victories, 23 have come by at least nine points.
No. 10. At last check, San Diego State was one of only two teams in the nation in KenPom’s top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Duke was the other. The Aztecs were also second in the nation in scoring margin, fourth in scoring defense and eighth in field goal defense and assist-turnover ratio.
No. 11. With Minnesota’s 1997 Big Ten championship vacated because of NCAA sanctions, the last “official” Gophers’ league title was 1982. The man who coached them was Jim Dutcher. Dutcher has four children, one of them Brian, who wanted badly to be a coach himself. He sat next to Steve Fisher on the bench for 28 seasons as an assistant at Michigan and San Diego State — the last six with the official title, Head Coach in Waiting. Three years after not having to wait anymore, Jim Dutcher’s only son has a 25-0 team.
No. 12. Flynn was 5-2 in height as a freshman in high school. By his senior season, he had rapidly grown in body and stature, and was named Washington high school state player of the year. On Dec. 8, he saved the Aztecs in their one close call with a last-second 3-pointer to beat San Jose State 59-57. Two defenders were in his face, and a third was nearby. “For most people that would be a tough shot, but not for him,” Dutcher said. “That’s what he does. That’s why he’s here, to take important shots and I don’t think there’s anything more San Jose could’ve done to defend it.”
No. 13. Wetzell was a ranked youth tennis player in New Zealand, and didn’t play organized basketball until he was 17. Now he’s shooting 60 percent and averaging 12 points a game.
No. 14. Junior Matt Mitchell lost 25 pounds over the summer to get back to his freshman playing weight. He started for two years, but came off the bench the first 13 games this season. Now he’s made his way back into the starting lineup and in the past two home games has scored 28 and 22.
No. 15. Feagin had one Division I scholarship offer out of high school. Now he’s a senior, and between Santa Clara and San Diego State, has more than 1,400 career points and 400 assists, and nearly 300 rebounds.
No. 16. Junior Jordan Schakel is a gym rat whose parents used to take him to a fitness center at 5:30 a.m., so he could have the court to himself to shoot. When the Aztecs were in Maui last season, he spotted outdoor courts on the way to the hotel from the airport, and later asked his parents to pick up him and give him a ride so he could — yep — get in some extra work. After all, what else is there to do in Hawaii? So maybe this will not come as a shock that he’s the team’s best 3-point shooter, and at 92 percent from the free-throw line.
No. 17. Flynn is fifth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio. Schakel has 15 turnovers in 650 minutes. So the Aztecs know how to take care of the ball.
HOW FAR CAN THEY GO?: We're tracking San Diego State's toughest games ahead
No. 18. This is only San Diego State’s 50th season as a Division I school. Anyone think of a better way to celebrate than what the Aztecs are doing?
No. 19. About March. San Diego State has never seen the Elite Eight. The Aztecs have only six NCAA Tournament victories in their history — two in overtime — and there were none before 2011. They were one of Florida Gulf Coast’s victims in the Dunk City sensation of 2013.
No. 20. Yeah, 20 could be a really special number for San Diego State.
There have been 19 unbeaten teams enter the NCAA Tournament. Seven rolled on to national championships — San Francisco ’56, North Carolina ’57, UCLA ’64, ’67, ’72 and ’73 and Indiana ’76. Ohio State got to the title game before losing in 1961, as did Indiana State with Larry Bird in 1979, running into Michigan State and Magic Johnson. Two others were victims of memorable Final Four upsets; UNLV by Duke in 1991, Kentucky courtesy of Wisconsin in 2015.
The Aztecs yearn to be the 20th. Their chances seem to grow stronger by the week.