Last night the Spectrum was rocking as freshman Justin Bean had a breakout performance to lead the second half surge for Utah State on the way to the 71-55 win against New Mexico. Craig Smith has lead the Aggies to wins in 11 of their last 13 games to get to (20-6, 11-3). This team has come a long way since the start of Mountain West play and should find themselves in the field of 68 three weeks from this Sunday.
Predicted to finish ninth in the preseason Utah State is in sole possession of second place with their destiny in their own hands. Nevada has two conference losses and comes to the Spectrum a week from Saturday in a game that will decide the champion and potential and March bracket spot for the Aggies.
Bracket rankings have Utah State just on the outside looking in, a signature win away to give them a tournament resume. In Quadrant 3 and 4 the Aggies are 17-1, the only loss a 78-77 home game against Fresno State the Aggies got revenge with a Quadrant 2 win at Fresno State 82-81. Three of the last four games in the regular season will be Quardrant 3 games the Aggies can’t lose.
Where the Aggies will get picked apart is the 1-2 Quardrant 1 and 2-3 Quadrant 2 records. St. Mary’s is the Q1 win on a neutral court and the Fresno State and UC Irvine road wins in Q2. This is why the Nevada game is so crucial. The Aggies claim would be the team figuring itself out and being a completely different team since then. The last Q1 game was December 12th against Nevada. USU got two Q2 wins in December and have split two in February.
In the Mountain West tournament there’s a chance to get a Q2 win the semifinals and a potential championship game against Nevada, and losing to Nevada three times may be too much for the committee to put Utah State in the field of 68. USU needs at least one win against Nevada to show they can beat the top teams and seal the bracket resume.
Predictions now have the Aggies winning their last four, including at home against Nevada, and they’ve moved up to 43 in RPI after the win against New Mexico. Even without the Nevada win Utah State should still finish (24-7, 14-4) and can add another one in the conference tournament. 25 wins is a pretty impressive number, though the Mountain West conference is not a strong conference. It’s ranked 15 in RPI behind the Ivy League, Conference USA, Southern and Missouri Valley, but Utah State has taken care of business. The Aggies avenged the loss to Fresno State and can even up against San Diego State on Tuesday.
While the quadrant wins may not be the strongest for the Aggies they pass the eye test. Utah State ranks 44th in points per game allowed at 66th and 11 at 2 point FG percentage at 39.1%. On offense they’re 7th in assists per game at 17.3, 43th at points per game with 78.4 and 29th at assists to turnover ratio of 1.34.
Craig Smith’s squad has shown the ability to lock down opposing teams and go on runs behind their star player Sam Merrill. Merrill is averaging almost 20 points per game, Neemias Queta is a double double machine, now at 12 points per game and over 9 rebounds while being a legitimate rim protector with 2.6 blocks per game. The Aggies also have depth behind those two with five players averaging between 7.4 to 8.5 points per game.
Utah State can score, shoot, play defense and has a star player that can carry them through tough situations. The Aggies look like a bracket team, should have at least 25 wins and still have a chance to wrap it up with a bow when the Wolfpack comes to the Spectrum next Saturday. It has been 11 years since the Aggies went dancing and the streak should be broken this year.