Big opportunity knocks for San Diego State: Upset time or will Arizona bar the door shut?

Posted: 03/26/2014 in college basketball
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The opportunity is there for San Diego State to elevate its stature to a national-caliber level.

All the Aztecs need to do is defeat Arizona in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game in Anaheim.

Yeah, I know, much easier said than done – particularly since the Wildcats have more talent, won on San Diego State’s home court earlier this season and just destroyed Gonzaga in the round of 32.

But you know what – No. 1 seeds like Arizona do get upset in the Sweet 16. Heck, one-seed Wichita State has already been bounced from this tournament prior to the Sweet 16.

So no matter how terrific the Wildcats looked last Sunday, anything can happen when Arizona and San Diego State tip off at the Honda Center. Doesn’t hurt that many Aztecs’ fans will make the 90-mile drive up Interstate 5. (see stellar preview here — http://sltrib.sportsdirectinc.com/basketball/ncaab-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAB/matchups/g6_preview_14.html)

Perhaps the real question is whether or not the fourth-seeded Aztecs are ready to make their breakthrough. Remember, San Diego State entered this year’s tournament with THREE NCAA WINS in school history.

Last week’s two wins were against double-digit seeds – No. 13 New Mexico State and No. 12 North Dakota State – so the Aztecs still remain without what can be termed as a top-flight NCAA tournament win.

San Diego State’s two NCAA victories in 2011 were against No. 15 Northern Colorado and No. 7 Temple and last season’s victory came against No. 10 Oklahoma.

As you can see, the Aztecs have only beaten one single-digit seed, which is partly why many national analysts have been naysayers and why some were picking North Dakota State to record an upset.

That perception changes if San Diego State knocks off an elite program like Arizona and is playing for a Final Four berth this Saturday.

The Aztecs are already riding guard Xavier Thames about as hard as humanly possible and sixth man Dwayne Polee II – how great is that “Trampolee” nickname? – has emerged as the team’s second-best player despite not receiving even one minute of action in the early-season loss to the Wildcats. But to beat Arizona, frontcourt players Josh Davis, JJ O’Brien, Skylar Spencer and inconsistent wing Winston Shepard all need to be in top form.

Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon is elevating his game at the right time of the year and guard Nick Johnson was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. But there will certainly be more pressure on the Wildcats as a few pundits have began pointing out that Arizona coach Sean Miller might be the best coach in the nation who hasn’t reached a Final Four.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher and exceptional assistant Brian Dutcher have been on the big stage before but now need to come up with perhaps the best game plan of their careers. And then, of course, do it again two days later should the Aztecs upset the Wildcats.

But first things first – can San Diego State notch the biggest victory in program history?

The Aztecs have proven in recent seasons that they can play with the Wildcats. Beating them in the Sweet 16 would rank as an epic event.

So opportunity knocks.

Will there be an answer?

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