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Julie Jacobson, Associated Press
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher give instructions to Tim Shelton in the second half of a semifinal NCAA college basketball game against Colorado State during the Mountain West Conference tournament, Friday, March 9, 2012, in Las Vegas. San Diego State won 79-69.

SAN DIEGO — This was supposed to be a transition year for San Diego State's basketball team.

The way most people envisioned it, the Aztecs would bide their time between their Sweet Sixteen run of 2011 and the arrival of a big recruiting class next season.

That expected drop-off never happened.

Steve Fisher has built the program to the point that the Aztecs not only are back in the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, but received their first-ever at-large bid. The No. 6 seed in the Midwest, the Aztecs will face North Carolina State on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

The Aztecs lost four starters, including Kawhi Leonard, off the team that went 34-3 and lost to eventual national champion Connecticut in the regional semifinals last year.