The Aztecs' success is for real

San Diego State is back near the top of the Mountain West despite losing four starters from last season. Christopher Hanewinckel/US Presswire

Coming into this season there were two things we thought we knew about the Mountain West Conference. One, the revamped 2011-12 edition of the league was saying goodbye to Brigham Young and hello to Boise State. And, two, in this new-look MWC the team that was going to garner the headlines and carry the league's banner deep into the NCAA tournament was UNLV.

The Runnin' Rebels may indeed live up to that billing, but at this point in the season there's a surprise team atop the league standings. Say hello to San Diego State.

Yes, the same San Diego State team that lost four starters from last season, including NBA first-round pick Kawhi Leonard. The Aztecs entered the season with less returning experience (as measured by possessions weighted by playing time) than any other Mountain West team. And while the Kentuckys and North Carolinas of the world can routinely offset any player departures with newly minted blue-chip recruits, SDSU didn't appear to have any big names entering the program this season. It looked like a recipe for a rebuilding year.

Instead, Aztecs coach Steve Fisher has whipped up his own concoction, one heavy on wins and light on the rebuild. SDSU enters this weekend's game at Colorado State sporting a gaudy 18-2 record (4-0 in the Mountain West). Incredibly, this young and still-developing team is currently projected by ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi as on-track for a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. If Fisher's team can perform at this level in a season when it's breaking in four new starters, are we seeing a new era of Aztecs dominance in the Mountain West? Or can SDSU's rivals learn from their example and copy their formula? Let's take a closer look at the surprising, young and thriving San Diego State Aztecs.