It’s the year of the mid-major in college basketball, and nobody exemplifies that more than San Diego State, a previously mediocre Mountain West team who has exceeded all expectations this season. The Aztecs had not been ranked since the 20-14-2015 season, and they’ve made just one NCAA tournament appearance since that season. But this year, San Diego State is 26-0 and steamrolling through the conference. Win out the remainder of their schedule and the Aztecs will likely be handed a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So the question is worth asking: What makes the Aztecs tick? While there are a few different answers, one big reason is point guard Malachi Flynn, a 6’1 junior transfer from Washington State, who has delivered in big moments for San Diego State while playing efficient, low-turnover basketball.
Watching Flynn for the first time the other day, it was evident that SDSU is far better when he is rolling. The Aztecs struggled mightily in the first half while hosting New Mexico, but as Flynn got himself going in the second half, so did San Diego State, as they steadily pulled away to a 23-point victory.
The Aztecs can count on Flynn to score, as evidenced by his 16.2 points per game average, but the junior guard can impact the game in a variety of ways. In engineering a comeback versus Utah State, Flynn notched 15 points – a touch below his average – but also dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds, and recorded three steals for the Aztecs. He also turned the ball over just once, allowing San Diego State to maximize their offensive possessions in rallying from a double-digit deficit. Even as one of San Diego State’s primary ball handlers, Flynn is averaging just 1.5 turnovers per game, a stunningly low rate that has him ranked fifth in the country in assist to turnover ratio.
As if all these attributes aren’t enough, Flynn has been clutch all year, especially in closing out games from the free throw line. An 83% shooter from the charity stripe, Flynn has virtually single-handedly secured several victories for the Aztecs. In a tight win over a tough Iowa squad, Flynn went 9-9 at the line as his team won by 10. He went 7-8 as the Aztecs staved off UNLV by four points, and 10-10 in a 9-point victory over Utah State. He’s a 45% shooter from the field as well, meaning opponents can’t sit back and let him shoot because he will undoubtedly find his stroke, and send the Aztecs through.
In a year where we could see 2-3 mid-majors in the Elite Eight, keep an eye on the Aztecs. Thanks in large part to Malachi Flynn, they’re no feel-good story this year – they’re looking to win it all.