The first third of San Diego State’s basketball season was a smashing success. The second third begins Wednesday when the Aztecs open Mountain West Conference play by visiting TCU.

San Diego State (15-0) finds itself in unprecedented territory as the nation’s No. 6 team entering the conference slate.

That the Aztecs have a good team this season is no surprise. San Diego State returned the core of a team that went to last season’s NCAA tournament and the Aztecs have been predicted to win the Mountain West this season.

But it is hard to get used to seeing San Diego State behind only Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the national rankings. Think about this – the Aztecs are ranked ahead of programs such as Kentucky, Michigan State, Purdue and Villanova.

That’s high-level territory, even more so for a San Diego State that was never previously nationally ranked prior to this season.

Of course, the season’s final third will be the most important for San Diego State as the Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game before. Based on the lofty midseason ranking, winning two tourney games and reaching the Sweet 16 is the new and heightened expectation.

TCU (9-6) has the look of an improved team with Virginia Tech transfer Hank Thorns and junior-college transfer J.R. Cadot making significant contributions. Star guard Ronnie Moss has a concussion and might not be available for the contest.

The Horned Frogs nearly upset the Aztecs in San Diego last season so it won’t surprise me if Kawhi Leonard and the Aztecs receive a nice test.

There’s also a Mountain West showdown in Las Vegas on Wednesday with Brigham Young (14-1) visiting UNLV (12-2). The Rebels have defeated BYU eight straight times at the Thomas & Mack so Cougars star Jimmer Fredette faces a supreme challenge.

Air Force (9-4) hosts Utah (7-7) in Wednesday’s other Mountain West game. The Falcons have a shot at beating the Utes, who are getting solid production from junior-college transfer Will Clyburn.

Colorado State (11-4) defeated Wyoming (7-8) on Tuesday in the first Mountain West contest of the season. The Rams are hoping to be a dark horse championship contender.

New Mexico (11-3) has the first-night bye and is playing Cal State Bakersfield.

For a deep look at the Mountain West Conference, here is the stellar weekly conference roundup: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/mwest/home.htm

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