With reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin returning, San Diego State has its sights set on yet another NCAA tournament appearance this season.
What better way to make a statement early than to knock off No. 9 Syracuse in its first game of the season?
The Aztecs went 17-2 at home last season, with their only losses being to Creighton and New Mexico. That included victories over Cal and UNLV. They won 10 straight games at home in a two-month span.
Their formula was simple: Play defense and do what it takes on offense.
This same formula made them a Top 25 team despite losing star Kawhi Leonard (now with the San Antonio Spurs).
Franklin was largely responsible, averaging 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds and stepping up in some big games. He scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in SDSU's thrilling 69-67 victory over then-No. 12 UNLV on Jan. 14.
Of course, guard Chase Tapley also returns. He averaged 15.8 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from downtown last season.
Both of these players will be key against a tough-as-nails Syracuse defense. Syracuse made it all the way to the Elite Eight last season while shutting down UNC-Asheville, Kansas State and Wisconsin.
Transfers Dwayne Polee II (Saint John's) and J.J. O'Brien (Utah) and freshman Winston Shepard, ranked No. 21 overall in the 2012 recruiting class by Rivals.com, will also play important parts against Syracuse.
Some are on the fence about San Diego State.
John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus (via ESPN) called the Aztecs overrated, appearing to suggest that Steve Fisher's coaching job had more to do with the talent on the team last season, a coaching job that would be hard to duplicate.
But Shepard could be a key player for San Diego State. He certainly has the talent, and he has the ability to give the program an extra kick this season.
Not a whole lot of people are giving San Diego State enough credit to defeat Syracuse on Sunday. But, as a Top 25 team last season, the Aztecs shouldn't be counted out.
A win against the Orange to start off the 2012-2013 campaign would certainly give the home fans something to cheer about.
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