SAN DIEGO (AP) Oh, what Steve Fisher has wrought at San Diego State.
Sixteen seasons after Fisher took over one of the worst programs in the country, expectations are at an all-time high for the Aztecs.
Viejas Arena, with its raucous student section, The Show, is sold out for the entire season, for the third straight year. At No. 16, the Aztecs have their highest preseason ranking in The Associated Press poll. Although Fisher says there's ''a great deal more uncertainty this year than last year,'' he thinks the Aztecs will be good again.
The fans want nothing less than a deeper run than last year, when the Aztecs reached the Sweet 16 for the second time in four seasons before losing to Arizona.
The Aztecs do, too.
''Ultimately that's what we aspire to,'' Fisher said. ''We want to win a national championship. You can't do that if you don't get to the Final Four. It used to be laughable for people. Now they're laughing with joy, saying, `It's going to happen.' Many of them don't realize how hard it is just to get into the tournament, much less win a game, much less get past the Sweet 16. We want to do something we haven't done, which is get beyond the Sweet 16, which gets you one step closer. Ultimately we want to win a national championship. East to say. Very, very hard to do.''
Fisher won the national championship with Michigan in 1989 after he was promoted to interim head coach when athletic director Bo Schembechler found out on the eve of the tournament that Bill Frieder had accepted the Arizona State job. Fisher coached Michigan to the title game in 1992 and 1993, but those appearances were vacated following the Ed Martin scandal.
The Aztecs, 31-5 last year, will be looking to extend their school record to six straight NCAA tournament appearances.
A few more things to look for with the 2014-15 Aztecs:
LOADED LINEUP: The Aztecs return starters Skylar Spencer, Winston Shepard and JJ O'Brien, and welcome 6-9 Angelo Chol, who sat out a year after transferring from Arizona. Fisher welcomes a freshman class that includes point guards Trey Kell and Kevin Zabo, and big men Malik Pope and Zylan Cheatham.
FRESHMEN: Aztecs fans have been salivating over Fisher's recruiting class ever since it was announced. Shepard said the class is ''better than what people know, because Trey Kell and Zabo are probably much better than people think.'' However, Pope only recently began doing ''live'' work in practice and probably won't play in the first week or two. He broke a leg during his junior season in high school and reinjured it a year ago. He hasn't played since. Cheatham might not be ready to play until around Jan. 1 after having surgery on a broken foot in early September.
X FACTOR: The Aztecs' biggest loss was that of point guard Xavier Thames, the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year who led SDSU with 17.6 points and 3.2 assists per game. Fisher plans to rotate a handful of players at point guard, including senior Aqeel Quinn, Kell and Zabo. ''We've got great confidence in both of them,'' Fisher said of the two freshmen. ''Trey, I know better because I've watched him play for two, three years, always playing off the ball and scoring. But the thing about Trey is he's a very cerebral player who's very instinctive at this point. He's transitioned pretty good there. And Zabo's been a point guard his whole life.''
OVERALL OUTLOOK: The Aztecs also lost their top rebounder, Josh Johnson. ''There's a great deal more uncertainty this year than last year,'' Fisher said. ''The general public didn't realize that. I knew how good Josh was going to be and he was the only newcomer who had to be fit. Now we've got a lot of new guys that are going to be playing, in a critical spot, with the point position. ... We're got depth, we've got talent and we're going to have a good team. How good I don't know.''
PERSPECTIVE: Fisher is entering the final year of a four-year extension that included a clause that his long-time assistant, Brian Dutcher, is the head-coach-in-waiting. Fisher could continue to coach at Montezuma Mesa beyond this season. ''I have enjoyed every moment of it, from Day One introducing ourselves, giving out free tickets, playing in front of nobody, not winning a conference game,'' Fisher said. ''Those same kids, they worked as hard as any group I've ever had, and got better, but we just weren't talented enough, to where we are now.'' SDSU has 10 20-win seasons under Fisher, and two 30-win seasons.
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