San Diego State’s pursuit of a No. 1 March Madness seed is in jeopardy; there’s one big reason why

The weight of perfection was never more apparent than the moment All-America candidate Malachi Flynn drove the basketball into the center of the lane as the final minute approached, where he discovered there was less space available than he’d planned.

It seemed a routine play, being encountered by a solitary defender with plenty of options in various directions. To a player on a team that hadn’t lost even once this season, it was not.

UNLV’s Jay Green held his ground. Flynn, flummoxed, perhaps hoping for a foul call, flung his arms forward and sent the ball sailing over the end line.

San Diego State’s unbeaten record was not officially ruined for another 63 seconds, but that was the moment it became inevitable.

UNLV celebrated when it completed its 66-63 victory over the Aztecs, but it was nothing extravagant. The Rebels had done what no one else could — not Iowa, Creighton, BYU nor anyone else in the Mountain West Conference — but Vegas still was only a game over .500.

It is that last fact that raises the most significant question regarding this result: Are the Aztecs still a No. 1 seed?

They were the last team on the top line when the NCAA selection committee presented its annual bracket preview two weeks ago, so their position was insecure. They had only four Quad-1 victories. No other team on the top line of the most recent Sporting News bracket has as few.

Perfection was a big factor in their presence among the 1 seeds. At 26-1, they still have a better record and resume than 25-2 Dayton, but the other contenders all have far more room to improve. San Diego State likely will remain in the same position, but the hold on that spot will be imperiled.

It is not easy to carry an unbeaten record this deep into the season. The challenge grows exponentially each day it lasts.

Memphis managed to remain perfect until the final Saturday of February 2008, before Tennessee got the Tigers. Gonzaga went all the way to the final day of the regular season in 2017, before BYU beat the Zags. The Aztecs’ loss came just three games before they would finish. So close.

While Maryland (22-4) still has five Quad-1 games remaining and Duke gets to visit reigning national champion Virginia, SDSU has games remaining against Colorado State and Nevada, teams with a combined record of 33-20. Not exactly daunting. Which means they may win them all and still be passed.

It would be reckless to say that there is no chance the Aztecs will be passed. This is not a vintage year for the MWC, and that could damage their case because it has provided only one Quad-1 victory (a San Diego State win over Utah State).

Their defeat was not sealed until the final seconds, but they went more than four minutes without scoring after cutting Vegas’ lead to 53-46 with 8:16 left, and they did it through stagnation and alarm. They rushed shots, they turned the ball over and, at one point, they committed a lane violation when UNLV missed a foul shot.

They looked like a team trying to stay unbeaten rather than one trying to defeat Vegas. As a result, they accomplished neither.

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