San Diego State went 30-2 in a season for the ages … but Sunday was supposed to be the most exciting day yet: Selection Sunday, when the 68-team NCAA Tournament field is revealed. But with no March Madness the Aztecs are left with a day of sadness.
“It’s that reaction of the team when it comes on the board. You can’t replace that,” said Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher. “Having sat through a lot of those, when your name comes up with who you’re playing it’s just that raw emotion of seeing kids react to that. At that moment they’re little kids and for them to miss that moment is kind of sad.”
SDSU would have seen its name as a #1 or #2 seed had the tournament not been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Arguably the program’s best chance ever at reaching its first Final Four has been replaced by wondering what might have been while still realizing there are greater concerns to consider.
“Everything is shut down. It’s just the world we’re in right now. I think (the players) are pretty accepting of that. Is it fair? No. But they’re accepting of that,” said Dutcher. “I try to keep their focus now on academics. Two weeks until Spring Break, let’s make sure we stay good in the classroom.”
Dutcher has been to the NCAA Tournament as a coach many times. His concern is for some of his players like seniors K.J. Feagin, who transferred from Santa Clara, and Yanni Wetzel, who came to the Mesa from Vanderbilt. Both chose San Diego State for one last chance to check a very large box off the to-do lists of their collegiate careers.
“I’m sad in the fact that these guys came and sacrificed part of their games to win and winning means getting to the NCAA Tournament. And so when you look at K.J. and Yanni, we all know what great players they were. They’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament. Malachi (Flynn), MVP of the conference, 4th year junior, has never been to the NCAA Tournament. And that’s why they came here, to win and go to the NCAA Tournament,” said Dutcher.
Some of them could play professionally and Flynn may elect to return for his senior season or test the NBA waters now. As the players find ways to cope with losing out on a lifelong dream their head coach must move on quickly.
“My mind is twisted to, I’ve gotta get next year’s team ready,” said Dutcher. “Who’s available, who have I got to recruit? My focus is already on next year because there’s nothing I can do about this year at this point.”
The NCAA has put a ban on recruiting trips until at least April 15 so Dutcher and every other coach in the country will be maximizing their cell phone plans trying to land new players.
“As long as everybody’s dealing with the same rules then nobody has a competitive advantage,” said Dutcher. “So if all coaches are off the road and we’re all doing the same thing, we’re all making those same phone calls, it’s enough right now.”
Coach Dutcher, like everyone else in the sports world, are trying to do the best with what they can in a situation where nobody wins.