After 17 seasons in the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher has made the decision to retire from the coaching profession.
Fisher, known also as the head coach at Michigan during the “Fab Five” years, won 386 games during his 17 years at the helm. He took over an Aztec program that was coming off of a 4-22 season under Fred Trenkle in 1998-99. After a rough first season, Fisher began to turn around the program with a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2002. That was the first trip to the tournament since 1985.
Fisher’s era peaked from 2009-10 through 2014-15 with the Aztecs making the Big Dance five straight times, including two trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the round of 32. SDSU won 166 games during that six-year span and made at least the semifinals of the MWC tournament with two tournament titles. The Aztecs made the NCAA tournament eight of 11 total times as a program with Fisher leading the way.
Not only did Fisher turn San Diego State into a mid-major power during his stint, he sent multiple players to professional leagues, led by perennial NBA All-Star Kawhi Leonard. Fisher’s ability to turn San Diego State into a power is partially responsible for the entire MWC raising its basketball profile.
Welcome Brian Dutcher.
With Fisher stepping to the side, the Aztecs will be led by coach in waiting Brian Dutcher. The 57-year old Michigan native is a longtime Fisher assistant at Michigan and during his entire tenure at San Diego State.
This is Dutcher’s first stint as a head coach.
What is Dutcher known for as a coach?
Dutcher is known for his ability to recruit at a high level, especially during his tenure under Fisher at Michigan. He was part of the Wolverines’ staff that inked the “Fab Five” and also signed two straight #1 ranked classes in the mid-90s.
His recruiting has remained top-notch in the MWC with classes that ranked top 40 in his first season, #24 (2012), a top 15 (2015).
Dutcher has been with Fisher too long to deviate much from the script. The Aztec will play great defense and play in way too many low scoring games for their roster. Expect the new coach to put his stamp on the team with a few unexpected wrinkles.
Who is back for Dutcher in 2017-18?
- Trey Kell, Sr., Guard: Yet another 4-star recruit, Kell was the most well-rounded player on the team last fall. He led the team with 13.2 points per game, ranked third with 4.9 rebounds per game, and led in assists with 2.9 per game. If Kell is to take the next step in 2017-18, he must work on his dreadful shooting from behind the arc (26.8%).
- Jeremy Hemsley, Jr., Guard: The former 4-star recruit chose SDSU over Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, and Washington. He has averaged 12+ points per game in each of his first two seasons and seems on pace for a breakout season as a junior. Hemsley is the best three-point shooter at 37.3%, but struggles at the free throw line (62.7%).
- Jalen McDaniels, R-Fr., Forward: The freshman did not play last season, but is a 4-star recruit that chose the Aztecs over Nebraska, Washington, and Oregon State. While he was a redshirt last season, many expect McDaniels to be one of the best players in Aztec history before his career ends.
- Nolan Narain, R-So., Forward: The former 4-star recruit chose the Aztecs over multiple offers from the Big 12, SEC, ACC, and Big 10. Narain has been with the program for two seasons, struggling to break into the lineup last year. This upcoming season is a big one for the Canadian to either take a step forward or remain on the bench.
- Malik Pope, Sr., Forward: Another former 4-star recruit, Pope stepped forward last fall with a career-high 11.0 points per game. Pope looks primed to put up some impressive stats under Dutcher in the 2017-18 season. The only thing holding Pope back is staying healthy on a regular basis.
- Zylan Cheatham, Jr., Forward: A former four-star recruit (catch a trend here?), Cheatham has done a great job of playing to his strengths. He can score inside, get to the line, and rebound very well. He is very quick for his size, but does not block as many shots as he should.
- Max Hoetzel, Jr., Forward: A transfer from Indiana, Hoetzel had a solid debut season with SDSU. The biggest negative about Hoetzel is the lack of variety in his offensive game. He took 187 total shots last season with 150 coming from behind the arc. It would be nice to see him use his size to post up a bit and make defenses guess more often.
- Montaque Gill-Caesar, Jr., Guard: A transfer from Missouri, Gill-Caeser struggled to find his spot in the lineup. He shot 28% from the field and only 13.9% from behind the arc last season. He has the ability to fill up a stat line, but was bad last season. Let’s chalk it up to transfer struggles.
- Emmanuel Wilson, R-So., Guard: Wilson is a walk-on that will only see the court in very limited action.
- Devin Watson, Jr., Guard: Watson came to the Aztecs via San Francisco University. He was a former member of the WCC All-Freshman team in 2014-15 before finishing third in the WCC in scoring as a sophomore (20.3 ppg.). He sat out last season and should give SDSU a big-time scoring threat they so desperately needed last season.
- Ben Perez, Jr., Junior, Guard: A former walk-on, Perez will struggle to see much playing time with so many talented guards on the roster.
**Everything on this list is dependent on players staying with the program.**
Can Dutcher get the Aztec back to the Big Dance?
The talent is certainly there on the roster. Transfers from Indiana and Missouri in their second season on the court for SDSU and a high-scoring transfer from San Francisco could rank the Aztecs much better on the offensive end of the court. The biggest problem last season was finding enough reliable scoring to get out of 56-53 type of games. Expect Dutcher to open things up a bit with the offensive firepower on the roster.
There will be some growing pains for the newly minted head coach, but SDSU has arguably the best talent in the MWC and should be better than that 19-14 squad from a year ago. He has to replace a legend at SDSU that virtually turned Aztec basketball from a laughingstock into a mid-major basketball power. Coaches tend to struggle with replacing a legend, but no one knows Fisher and the SDSU program better than Dutcher.