Mountain West preview: Dutcher takes the helm at San Diego State
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A funny thing happened on the way to the San Diego State men’s basketball team’s defense of its Mountain West Conference title last year.
The Aztecs finished a disappointing sixth with a 9-9 record. Blame some of it on injuries. The Aztecs lost more than 20 games to injury from players who had at least one start. More of the blame goes on the inability to finish games. In contests decided by eight points or less, SDSU compiled a 2-11 record.
Well the Aztecs hope that changes this year. And, speaking of change, coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher has taken over for the legendary Steve Fisher as head coach.
It’s a seamless transition. Dutcher had been with Fisher for years. The duo coached together at Michigan for 10 years before making the trip out West.
“I’m excited,” Dutcher said a few weeks ago in a preseason press conference. “You know I’m not real nervous right now, but I’m sure when we get closer to games.
“I like what I’ve seen from the team (in practice). We have great experience and that always gives a coach comfort. You’ve got Trey Kell, senior, Malik Pope, senior, Devin Watson, fourth-year junior, and Jermey Hemsley, junior — we’ve got a lot of experience and that makes my job easier because these guys have been through it, they know what they’re doing and it shows on the floor.”
Dutcher has three players who played significant minutes last year — guards Trey Kell (13.2 last year), Jeremy Hemsley (12.9) and power forward Malik Pope (11.0).
Other returners are Montague Gill-Caesar (3.3, 1.8), Max Montana (7.7, 3.8), Nolan Narain (1.4, 1.0), redshirt Jalen McDaniels and USF transfer Devon Watson, who sat out last year. Watson averaged 20 a game for the Dons.
Another key veteran addition is 7-1 Kameron Rooks, who averaged 5 points and 4.5 rebounds a game at California. Freshmen additions are 6-3 guard Matt Mitchell, 6-3 guard Adam Seiko and 6-6 guard Jordan Schakel.
The trio of Kell, Hemsley and Watson is solid, and Dutcher expects big things.
“They did a real good job together and I was interested in that because in practice I like to play Jeremy against Devin or Jeremy against Trey and mix those combinations because Jeremy is going to have to play some point guard,” Dutcher said.
“He can’t come in if Devin’s the point and Jeremy plays no reps in practice. I haven’t played them a lot together.
“I did in the scrimmage and they played well together without having a lot of practice experience doing it so I was interested to see how that went. That’s a combination whether I start it or play it together, it will be together on the floor. They did a real good job playing with each other.”
Watson and Rooks are the key additions. Watson averaged more than 20 a game while playing in the West Coast Conference, and Rooks experienced success at the Pac-12. If SDSU goes small, expect to see a lot of Watson, and if the Aztecs want to go big, Rooks will man the middle.
Dutcher likes his team’s versatility.
“We’re playing multiple positions, like Malik can play stretch four, a power forward that steps out and shoots it or he can move into the block and play the center.
“I guess the guy that’s maybe changed the most is Max Montana. We played him at small forward to start the game and then we moved him to a stretch four, so he’s a hard matchup.”