The second-seeded San Diego State Aztecs (32-2) are enjoying their best season in school history and hope to continue their banner year by advancing deep into the West Region of the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs (-15.5) will first need to get by the 15th-seeded Northern Colorado Bears (21-10) in the second round at the McKale Center in Tucson on Thursday before they can even start thinking about their ultimate goal of making their first-ever Final Four appearance.
San Diego State has never won an NCAA tournament game in six previous trips but has also never been seeded this high in the Big Dance. The Aztecs finished second behind BYU in the Mountain West Conference during the regular season with a 14-2 record, losing both games to the Cougars and star player Jimmer Fredette. But they gained some revenge against Fredette in winning the conference tournament last Saturday with a 72-54 rout of BYU in the title game.
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Northern Colorado enters the NCAA tournament on a seven-game winning streak after capturing the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tourney championships. The Bears beat #2 seed Montana 65-60 in the tourney title game last Wednesday and had closed out the regular season by winning eight of their last nine games. They have been at the Division I level just five years and will be appearing in the Big Dance for the first time in school history.
While San Diego State has thrived away from home this season with a 17-1 record straight-up and a 12-6 mark against the spread, Northern Colorado has performed poorly. The Bears are 8-10 SU and 6-12 ATS under those circumstances and might find this to be more of a true road game than a neutral site due to the short distance from San Diego to Tucson.
The Aztecs defeated Northern Colorado on the road in a regular-season meeting two years ago 73-62 when their seniors were sophomores. Tim Shelton scored 17 points for San Diego State in that game and has been more of a role player since then due to the emergence of sophomore Kawhi Leonard, who was one of the top players in the Mountain West this season.
The 6-foot-7 Leonard has scored in double figures in the last 12 games, getting double-digit rebounds eight times over that span. He could pose serious problems for the Bears inside along with seniors Billy White and Malcolm Thomas, who each stand at least 6-8.
Take San Diego State in a blowout opener!