GAME NOTES: The San Diego State Aztecs begin their 91st season of men's basketball tonight as they host the Bryant Bulldogs as part of the Basketball Traveler's Invitational at Viejas Arena.
The Aztecs, the two-time defending champions of the Mountain West Conference, enter the season opener having won six straight lid-lifting contests. San Diego State was one of the most dominant programs in the nation last season as it ran up a 34-3 record and was an impressive 14-2 versus the rest of the MWC. However, for a team that opened last season with 20 straight wins and captured the conference tournament title with a 72-54 triumph over BYU, it all came to an end in the NCAA Tournament versus UConn (74-67), the eventual NCAA champion.
As for the Bulldogs, they are in just their fourth season at the Division I level and are coming off an impressive turn-around that saw them win eight more games last season than they did the year before. However, as impressive as that might sound, the fact remains that Bryant was just 9-21 last year and was a mere 3-12 on the road. Head coach Tim O'Shea is into his fourth season with the program after three years that have provided just 18 wins in 89 opportunities.
Following this first-ever meeting between the two schools, the squads will trade partners with Southern Utah and UC Davis on Saturday and then do it all again on Sunday as well to complete the round-robin tournament, which is in its fourth year.
SDSU enters tonight's game having won 43 straight games against unranked teams, and 23 straight at home versus non-conference foes.
The Bulldogs plan to start three sophomores tonight and a pair of juniors, but that's not surprising given that the roster doesn't have a single senior and it is made up of mostly underclassmen. Tops on that list of youngsters is Alex Francis who was named the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year after posting 14.8 ppg and clearing 8.0 rpg. Francis has the potential to be a scoring machine, putting up 43 points against Long Island in one game last season, but that was more the exception than the rule. Getting the ball to Francis will be Frankie Dobbs who was responsible for 160 assists last season as well as 12.4 ppg. Dobbs can also hit the glass for the Bulldogs after pulling down more than three rebounds per game. Vlad Kondratyev (5.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) started 19 games last season and will get plenty of opportunities to do so this year.
When looking at the SDSU roster, there are just eight players that have any experience with the program coming back for 2011-12. Unfortunately, the team has lost several key players from last year, particularly Kawhi Leonard who was the guy who did it all for the Aztecs from scoring (15.5 ppg), to rebounding (10.6 rpg), passing (91 assists) and defense (51 steals). Also gone are Malcolm Thomas (11.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg), D.J. Gay (11.1 ppg, 116 assists) and Billy White (10.3 ppg), which leaves Chase Tapley as the primary leader for the group after averaging 8.6 ppg in 2010-11. Tim Shelton has played more games at SDSU than anyone else on the squad, but his input may not be nearly as significant. James Rahon (7.0 ppg) gives the Aztecs a perimeter presence after shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range last season, but this is going to be a transition year for the Aztecs in every sense of the word.
San Diego State might be the bigger name in this dogfight, but that doesn't mean Bryant can't make it interesting. Should the Aztecs have trouble dictating the tempo, the Bulldogs might be able to compete.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: San Diego State 67, Bryant 58
11/11 10:34:29 ET
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