It’s no secret that the BYU basketball program is longing to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.
Well, the Cougars (6-2) need to enhance their NCAA tournament resume.
And the schedule is offering a BYU a chance to do just that as it visits No. 18 San Diego State Friday (3 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network) at Viejas Arena.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us to see where we are and what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown,” coach Mark Pope said on his show on BYUtv this week. “It’s an opportunity to play against one of the top teams in the country.”
The Aztecs are ranked No. 28 by kenpom.com. The Cougars are ranked No. 77.
BYU, which is coming off an 82-64 victory over arch-rival Utah last Saturday, has lost four consecutive games to the Aztecs.
SDSU (5-0) is one of four programs in the country that has two wins against teams ranked at the time, along with Gonzaga, Kansas and Villanova. SDSU defeated UCLA and Arizona State earlier this season.
The Aztecs are led by guard Jordan Schakel, who averages 15.2 points per game while Matt Mitchell averages 12.6.
SDSU can be compared in terms of its length and athleticism to USC and Boise State, opponents BYU lost to this season.
A year ago, the Aztecs beat BYU 76-71 at the Marriott Center. SDSU dominated the boards, 43-27, including 15-4 on the offensive boards. The Aztecs outscored BYU in second-chance points, 14-5.
With the win, SDSU improved its all-time record at the Marriott Center against BYU to 4-29.
The Cougars went on a 21-3 run in the second half with a bunch of 3-pointers but SDSU knocked down crucial 3-pointers in the closing minutes.
Schakel finished with a game-high 19 points and hit five 3-pointers in the second half, including four in the final six minutes.
Both teams were unranked at the time but as it turned out they were at the end of the season.
SDSU finished with a 30-2 record and a No. 6 final ranking while BYU ended up 24-8 and a No. 18 final ranking.
But because of the pandemic, the NCAA tournament was canceled.
“You talk about how devastating last year was for us. They were going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament,” Pope said of San Diego State. “They had an incredible season. And they’re just as good, if not better, this year. They are so dominant on the glass. They’re probably one of the top-ranked defensive teams in the entire country. … It’s going to be a great challenge for us. We’re really looking forward to it.”
The Aztecs are expected to be rejoined by three players that didn’t go to Arizona State — Keshad Johnson, Keith Dinwiddie and Che Evans.
“It will be good to get them back on the floor and get back to full strength, not only in our preparation but in game minutes,” coach Brian Dutcher told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
SDSU is without Malachi Flynn, who played for the Aztecs last season, was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and was the No. 29 overall pick of the Toronto Raptors in the 2020 NBA Draft.
But SDSU is still loaded with talent.
And if BYU can spring an upset in San Diego, it would be a huge boost for its NCAA tournament hopes.
BYU (6-2) at No. 18 San Diego State (5-0)
Friday, 3 p.m. MST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM