When No. 19 San Diego State opens the season Monday night at home against Cal State Fullerton, the Aztecs will bring back a defense that was ranked No. 2 in efficiency last season by basketball metrics expert Ken Pomeroy.

And if the Aztecs become even an average team on offense, there is a chance they could reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Last season’s team scored just 65.4 points per game, which ranked 305th out of 350 Division I teams, and made just 43.2 percent of its field-goal attempts, which was 229th. With four starters back, San Diego State should, in theory, be more efficient on offense and perhaps turn a 23-9 record into something better.

“We were kind of limited as to who was going to put the ball in the basket,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said of last season. “This year, we have several guys that can do it. I know this team is going to be good. How good? That, I don’t know. You’ve got to win close games.”

It would be surprising if this one fell into the “close game” category. San Diego State has one of the top scorers in the west in senior Matt Bradley, who averaged 16.9 points without a ton of help. Bradley needs just 169 points to eclipse 2,000 points for his career, which started at Cal.

Dutcher said Bradley will be a better player this year because there are more scorers around him.

“If you’re good offensively, you’re going to draw a double-team,” Dutcher said. “And he’s a more-than-willing passer and a good passer.”

TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee has been very impressive in the preseason, showing the ability to score off the dribble and beat opponents in the paint with a 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame. And senior center Nathan Mensah is back to anchor the defense with his shot-blocking and altering ability.

The major question with this team is who takes over for Trey Pulliam at the point. Lamont Butler or Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell will get the call. If either can duplicate Pulliam’s ability to run the offense and come up with clutch plays in the end game, the Aztecs become even more dangerous.

Cal State Fullerton is coming off a 21-11 season that saw it win the Big West Conference tournament with a 72-71 decision over Long Beach State. While the Titans lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Duke, it was still an outstanding season.

Now comes the hard part. Fullerton has to replace its top three scorers, including E.J. Anosike, who scored 16.3 points and grabbed 8.3 rebounds per game. Coach Dedrique Taylor says his team will have to play differently as it tries to re-establish its identity.

“Last year, we dominated the middle,” Taylor said. “This year, we have to defend and rebound and create baskets off our defense.”

Senior guard Jalen Harris, who averaged 9.3 points off the bench a season ago to win the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, figures to lead the offense this season.

–Field Level Media