San Diego State was grateful to earn a No. 5 seed for the NCAA Tournament, but coach Brian Dutcher said that number won’t matter when the Aztecs tip off against 12th-seeded Charleston on Thursday afternoon in Orlando, Fla.
“You have to go play, and the better team will win on Thursday,” Dutcher said. “We have to be prepared and we have to be the better team.”
San Diego State (27-6) was the best team in the Mountain West Conference during the regular season and again during last week’s conference tournament.
The Aztecs won the MWC by two games over Utah State, and then beat the Aggies 62-57 to win the tournament title on Saturday in Las Vegas.
“We know we’ve got a lot of potential to make some noise in March Madness,” said San Diego State leading scorer Matt Bradley. “We’re not putting a number on what it’s going to be, but we’re just going to do the best we can.”
Depth has been the strong suit for San Diego State this season.
Three different players led the Aztecs in scoring during their three-game sweep at the MWC tournament, and seven different players led the team in scoring during conference play.
Bradley is the only player who averages double figures in scoring (12.9) for San Diego State.
“We have to play up to our standard and I think, for the most part, we’ve done that,” Dutcher said. “So, that’s what the message is going to be playing on Thursday. We have to play at our best. If they play better than that, then we’ll tip our hat to them, but at our best we’re pretty hard to beat.”
San Diego State will have a disadvantage when it comes to travel.
The Aztecs will fly 5 1/2 hours to Orlando, while Charleston is about the same proximity by bus.
“Obviously, a lot closer for them than it is for us, but we can’t control that,” said Dutcher, who has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in three prior appearances. “All we can worry about are the things we can control and that’s getting ready, preparing and trying to be our best when our best is required.”
Charleston (31-3) enters the tournament riding a 10-game winning streak. The Cougars beat Towson and UNC Wilmington in back-to-back five-point games last weekend to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1999.
“There’s nothing like the national tournament,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Some people say the Super Bowl is the greatest spectacle in American sports, but I say it’s the NCAA Tournament.”
Charleston has five players who average double figures in scoring, but none averages more than 12.3 points.
Ante Brzovic, a 6-10 forward from Croatia, could pose the biggest challenge for the Aztecs. He averaged 16.7 points and eight rebounds in the three wins at the CAA tournament last weekend.
San Diego State and the Cougars have one common opponent this season.
Charleston beat Colorado State 74-64 on Nov. 18 at the Shriner’s Children’s Charleston Classic.
The Aztecs won all three meetings against the Rams this season. One game went to overtime, and San Diego State barely squeaked by Colorado State 64-61 in a quarterfinal game on Thursday.
–Field Level Media