Previewing Tucson: History will be made

TUCSON, Ariz. -- San Diego State is a threat for the Final Four. It's got backcourt and frontcourt balance. It's athletic and plays tough defense.

Northern Colorado is making its first NCAA tourney appearance. It went 4-24 four years ago. Apologies to the Bears, but they are mostly a one-man team that looks to 2-guard Devon Beitzel, who accounts for nearly 30 percent of his team's scoring.

But the second-seeded Aztecs and the 15th-seeded Bears do share one thing: neither has won an NCAA tournament game.

The overwhelming odds are it will be San Diego State, which is 0-6 all-time in the tournament. But you never know. The Aztecs would be advised to hold off on showcasing their "Duke strut" just yet.

"We really haven't proven anything yet," forward Billy White said. "We haven't won a tournament game."

And there is this detail. In 2008, Northern Colorado won at San Diego State, and the Aztecs home crowd, which has garnered so much attention lately for their love-affair with their team, booed them off the floor.

"It didn't feel good at all," guard D.J. Gay said. "It's something that I'll probably remember the rest of my life."

Of course, a lot has changed since then. Few doubt the Aztecs these days. They showcase an up-tempo offense and play great defense. They have one of the best frontcourt trios in the nation with Kawhi Leonard, White and Malcolm Thomas along with a ball-protecting senior point guard, Gay, through which everything flows.

Some teams have had success dropping back into a zone, clogging the lane and forcing San Diego State to shoot from the perimeter. But the Bears are a mostly man-to-man team, so if they opt for a zone they'll be out of their, er, comfort zone.

The most obvious plan for the Bears is to slow the game down, protect the ball and make a bunch of 3-pointers.

"We can't get into a running game with these guys," Northern Colorado forward Chris Kaba said. "We've got to make sure we take care of the ball. I think the biggest thing that has been drilled into us this week is patience offensively."

Which means figuring out ways to get scoring opportunities for Beitzel, who averages 21.4 points per game.

"We call Beitzel 'Little Jimmer' because he shoots the ball every time he gets the ball," SDSU guard Jamaal Franklin said.

"Jimmer," of course, is BYU scoring sensation Jimmer Fredette, who scored 43 and 25 points in regular-season wins over San Diego State, its only defeats this season.

Beitzel isn't Fredette, but he's a redshirt senior whose seen plenty of highs and lows as the Bears have built their program. He and his teammates wouldn't be blamed if they played like they were just happy to be here. But he insisted that's not the case.

"Our mentality is going there with a chip on our shoulder and doing whatever we can to win," Beitzel said. "I mean, we've been undersized and we definitely don't have the most athletic team. But we fight every game. And we don't give up."