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NCAA Basketball Elite 8 Recap: San Diego State Catapults Into National Prominence with Final Four Appearance

Publish Date: 03/29/2023
Fact checked by: Allan Howe

March Madness basketball pitchWhen was the last time you thought about San Diego? Maybe you went to a convention in the city, or even planned a vacation there to enjoy the amazing beaches and sunsets.

But when it comes to college sports, San Diego has traditionally been far down the ladder of important cities. Compared to nearby Los Angeles, San Diego may seem to have an inferiority complex. On the basketball court, UCLA and USC have cast long shadows, making it difficult for San Diego to get attention.

But San Diego State changed that in 2023 during March Madness. The Aztecs' appearance in the Final Four puts the city on the college hoops map. Given the many attractive features San Diego has off the court, it may vault the program to national attention, whether the team wins or not in the national semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday.

The No. 5 Aztecs are favored by 1.5 points and listed at -135 for their game against Florida Athletic by BetMGM Sportsbook. The teams tip off at 6:09 PM ET to determine a spot in the national title game.

Recruiting: How SD State Can Take on UCLA

There was a time when UCLA was the gold standard in college hoops. The school won 10 national titles in a 13-year span from 1964 to 1975. That included seven straight titles behind the giant forces of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.

But, the Bruins glory days are far removed from public consciousness. They occurred before ESPN started beaming constant college sports highlights across the airwaves. They occurred in an era when the NCAA banned the dunk. It all happened decades before TikTok. Do kids today even realize how important UCLA basketball was?

That’s just fine with San Diego State, located about 120 miles south of LaLa Land. The sunny seaside sexiness of San Diego is alluring to basketball recruits in California, who have no obsession with the Bruins.


SD State is making its first Final Four appearance, but it’s just as many Final Fours as UCLA has in the last decade. In the short attention span “what have you done for me lately?” climate of sports in the 2020s, San Diego State seems like the disruptors.

After the Aztecs show off their fun, fast-paced, sunbaked style of play in the Final Four, how difficult will it be for their coaching staff to recruit young ballers to campus? What part of “winning, nationally televised tournament games, beaches, and beautiful girls” won’t they like?

NIL and Transfer Portal Levels the Playing Field in College Basketball

Love it or loathe it, “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) has forever altered college athletics. Now, college athletes can benefit from the loads of money their play creates for their schools and the NCAA, and that also gives them something else.

Freedom.

NIL means the power has shifted from coaches and administrators to the athletes. Which means college basketball players can go where they want and how they want, and factor in financial compensation. The transfer portal, which was created in 2018, enables athletes to control their own destiny. In the nearly five years since it was implemented, hundreds of hoopers have used it to find a better situation for their college career.

3 of the Aztecs top five scorers are transfers
3 of the Aztecs top five scorers are transfers
  • Matt Bradley
  • Darrion Trammell
  • Michah Parrish

That trio has helped SDSU become one of three schools making its first appearance in the Final Four in 2023.

The portal, as much as any innovation in college hoops, has helped lead to parity in the sport. The 2023 Final Four is the first without a No. 1, 2, or 3 seed. Both San Diego State and Florida Atlantic University prove that less-wealthy programs without a traditional history of success in the tournament, can win when they pluck talent from the transfer portal wisely. That transformation can happen quickly. Two years ago FAU was 13-10, and last season the Owls were 19-15 and did not get an invite to postseason play.

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