San Diego State has not been in this position in quite a long time.
In fact, no one on the Aztecs roster remembers how it felt back in 2009, when the Mountain West tournament—which begins for SDSU on Wednesday night against Boise State—was the lone key that opened the door to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2009, the Aztecs were on the bubble, got to the tournament title game but lost, 52-50, to Utah. On Selection Sunday, San Diego State was left off the field and went dancing in the NIT.
That weekend solidified what the Mountain West tournament has meant to Steve Fisher and to the Aztecs program. SDSU has gone to three more championship games since then, winning in 2010 and 2011 and losing to New Mexico last year. But the Aztecs didn’t need to win to punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament.
By the time SDSU reached the final in each of the last three years, its resume was seen as good enough to receive an at-large bid.
This year, though, has echoes of that 2009 season. This year, though, the Aztecs might need to get to championship Saturday and get a win.
Or at least get a win over Boise State on Wednesday night. Because, for many, this first-round game might be a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament.
So, is a win against the Broncos enough for SDSU?
“We're playing to win the conference tournament,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher told the media Monday. “I look—like everybody—to see where teams are projected and those types of things. There needs to be self-imposed pressure just enough to keep you on edge, but not enough to have you so tense and tight that you don't perform.”
The team that San Diego State is playing to open the Mountain West tournament is the same team it just lost to over the weekend.
Most prognosticators gave the Broncos a bump into the field of 68 after Saturday’s win. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Glockner and CBSsports.com’s Jerry Palm all have Boise State in the NCAA Tournament.
SDSU has always garnered an at-large bid in most bracketology projections. But a loss Wednesday night will make either team sit a little closer to their TVs come Selection Sunday.
And one could argue that, if looking at either team blindly, Boise State might have the better resume. It boasts wins over then-No. 11 Creighton, UNLV, Colorado State and SDSU. Looking at the Aztecs, their bests wins come against a struggling UCLA team, Indiana State, Colorado State. Their best win was a beat down of then-No. 15 New Mexico in January.
So who needs the win more Wednesday? It’s probably a toss. But San Diego State isn’t looking at it in that way.
“I'm a person that likes pressure, so if it's a game we need to win, I like playing like that,” junior guard Jamaal Franklin told the media this week. “I like playing on edge. It makes our team play on edge and with way more passion.”
Any maybe it’s a good thing for the Aztecs that the calendar says March and that every loss means the end of the season.
SDSU finished with its worst regular season conference record (9-7) since the 2007-08 season (when the team also finished 9-7). And seven of its nine losses have been by seven points or less.
After years of regular season success, it might be time to flush the 2012-13 regular season down the drain and focus on the upcoming tournaments.
“It’s basically a fresh start,” Franklin told the Union-Tribune after last Saturday’s loss to Boise State, “a new season.”
And a new end possibility for everyone on an Aztecs team that already knew that they were going to the NCAA Tournament before heading to Las Vegas for the conference championships.
For the first time in four years, it’s win or go home for SDSU at the Thomas & Mack Center. Or at least, win or else there is a slight possibility that the Aztecs are back in the NIT.