NCAA Tournament Predictions: 5. San Diego State vs. 12. Charleston

San Diego State (27-6, 15-3/Mountain West)- The Mountain West is consistently one of, if not, the best mid-major conference in college hoops, and no team has been more consistently successful than San Diego State. Under Brian Dutcher, the Aztecs have been to the tournament four times in five seasons that there has been a tourney, but they’re still looking to make it out of the Round of 64.

The 2022-23 squad, the Mountain West champions, seem positioned well to do that. San Diego State’s biggest strengths are its defensive prowess, as they’re allowing just 63 points per game and its depth (10 players average at least 10 minutes per game). They’ve also shown the capability of competing with elite opponents, playing wire-to-wire with Arkansas and Saint Mary’s in the non-conference schedule and beating Boise State and Nevada in the MWC.

San Diego State has been exposed in previous tournaments for their lack of offense against elite competition, and that could be an issue once again. Matt Bradley (12.9 ppg) is the team’s primary scoring threat, but SDSU ranks below the top 100 in the country overall in offensive efficiency and in points per game.

San Diego State once again has had a dominant regular season, but they will suffer a case of “believe it when I see it” for weary folks in determining how far to send them through in their brackets. To buck the trend, they’ll need to lock down Charleston defensively, force turnovers, and try to get Bradley into a rhythm early.

Charleston (31-3, 16-2/CAA)- Charleston was one of the mid-major stories of the season, racing out to a 21-1 record and climbing as high as No. 18 in the AP poll. Led by one of the most explosive offenses in the country (ranking 15th at 80.8 ppg), the Cougars looked like an NCAA Tournament lock until back-to-back losses in the middle of the conference season put them on shakier ground. Not to worry. Head coach Pat Kelsey, who won big at Winthrop before taking over at Charleston, was able to steady the ship and the Cougs reeled off another 10 consecutive wins to punch their ticket to the tournament.

Charleston can beat you in a number of ways, as five players average in double figures in scoring and a sixth (forward Ben Burnham) averages 9 per game. Senior guard Dalton Bolon and sophomore forward Ante Brzovic lead the way, but this team is lethal from 3-point range and has a number of capable scorers. Charleston is absolutely a threat to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.