In the past, a loss in the Mountain West Conference Tournament final may have cost the San Diego State men’s basketball team a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Thankfully, that is no longer the case. On Sunday, SDSU was one of the 68 teams to be selected to the tournament.
The Aztecs earned a six seed in the Midwest region and will play the 11th seeded NC State Wolfpack on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
It may not be the same favorable location and seeding that it received last season, but the team is happy.
“Obviously you want to be in New Mexico or something like that,” senior forward Tim Shelton said. “But we’re just happy to be playing and anywhere we play, we’re going to be ready to go.”
Making the NCAA Tournament is becoming an expectation for the Aztecs. Last season was the first time SDSU had ever made back-to-back appearances. Now this is the first time the school has made three in a row.
It’s the third time Shelton has been on an NCAA Tournament team and junior guard Chase Tapley has been to the tournament every year he’s been an Aztec.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re making San Diego State into one of the elite programs in the country,” Tapley said. “It’s all because of the hard work and dedication we have put in and the coaching staff for believing in us. We’ve just kept building off the success of the past teams.”
While players such as Shelton and Tapley have an abundance of experience playing in tournament games, one SDSU player doesn’t.
Sophomore point guard Xavier Thames had to sit out last season and missed out on the Sweet-16 appearance.
“I’m really excited. It was a blessing in disguise,” Thames said. “This is what you dream of, so I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Thames will be leading his team against the Wolfpack, who hail from the ACC.
NC State went 22-12 this season and took North Carolina to the wire in the ACC Tournament semifinals before losing.
This is the first time the two schools have ever played each other.
It’s an unfamiliar opponent, as almost every team is in March, but the Aztecs know the Wolfpack will provide quality competition.
“I don’t know a lot. I know they’re a good team,” Tapley said. “They held their own in the conference tournament, with the likes of Duke and North Carolina. They’re going to be a good team.”
NC State is led in scoring by C.J. Leslie, who averages 14.6 points per game and Lorenzo Brown, who averages 12.7 points.
The winner of the Aztecs-Wolfpack contest will play the winner of the Georgetown-Belmont game on Sunday.
This is the eighth tournament appearance for SDSU, the 12th overall for head coach Steve Fisher and his fifth with the Aztecs.