{{ timeAgo('2023-03-15 15:54:20 -0500') }} basketball Edit

Utah State confident it's tested, ready for Mizzou

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SACRAMENTO, CA—The Utah State Aggies are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. The program has played in the big dance 24 times and won six games. USU has lost 18 of its last 19 tournament games dating back to 1964. The lone win came as a 12 seed in overtime against Ohio State in 2001.

But only one time since the tournament began seeding teams have the Aggies been higher than the ten seed they are entering tomorrow’s game. Utah State is actually a two-point favorite over the seventh seeded Tigers and they want everybody to know they didn’t come to Sacramento just to play the patsy to an SEC team.

“Do or die. The season is on the line, and both teams are going to feel that,” senior guard Sean Bairstow said. “Winning a game and getting into a good start in the tournament would be a really good thing to add to Utah State and our legacy.

“We talk a lot about how we don't want to just get here, we don't want to just be here for a day or two, we want to go and we want to play meaningful games,” junior guard Steven Ashworth said. “To put that exclamation point on what we're trying to build is to come out and make a run in March Madness.”

The Aggies did plenty of bragging on their own league when they met the media on Wednesday morning. Yes, the SEC is a “high-major” conference and the Mountain West is considered “mid-major” albeit one of the better leagues shoehorned into that category.

“Mountain West got four teams in this year, four teams in last year with a lot of really good players, programs, coaches,” senior captain Rylan Jones said. “Every game you play, it's a battle. You got to go to hard road venues, you have great teams coming into your home venue. It's prepared us for this moment to play Missouri and be here in March Madness.”

“I don't think we really worry about where a team's from at this point, right?” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. We know that Missouri is more than ready to play in the NCAA tournament regardless of which conference they're in. They played in an awesome conference, one of the best in the country. They were just playing against the No. 1 team in the country not too long ago.

“They’ve earned their way here.”

Ryan Odom leads Utah State into the tournament looking for its second win in 59 years.
Ryan Odom leads Utah State into the tournament looking for its second win in 59 years. (Jeremy Brevard/USAToday)

Odom and his players both brought up the same two teams when asked who they’ve seen this year that they would compare to the Tigers.

“Teams in our conference like New Mexico and UNLV who turn teams over at a high rate, guards that are very dynamic on the defensive end,” Ashworth said. “I think those two teams have helped us prepare for a moment like this. Hopefully tomorrow we'll be able to go out and show that preparedness.”

Utah State beat those two teams twice apiece this year. They beat UNLV 75-71 at home and then beat the Rebels 91-66 in Las Vegas. After an 84-73 win at home over New Mexico on February 1, they beat the Lobos 91-76 in the first round of the Mountain West tournament.

New Mexico is perhaps the better offensive comparison. The Lobos finished 22-12 on the season after a loss to Utah Valley in their NIT opener. They score 81 points per game and rank 19th at KenPom in adjusted offensive tempo. One difference is that New Mexico gets just 21% of its offensive production from the three-point shot.

Defensively, UNLV may offer a better parallel. The Rebels are fourth in the country in turnover percentage on defense and 15th in steal percentage. Missouri ranks fifth and second in those categories.

“Another team that we played, Oral Roberts, from an offensive perspective, they're very similar to Oral Roberts in the way they stretch you behind the line, but also have guys that can get to the basket off the bounce,” Odom said. “When you have teams like that, that put so much pressure on you at the rim but also have the ability to really shoot the three from deep, it makes it really tough 'cause you have to make some decisions there. They're really tough on both sides of the ball.”

Utah State knows slowing down Kobe Brown is a tall task
Utah State knows slowing down Kobe Brown is a tall task (Zach Bland/Mizzou Athletics)

Odom said Missouri’s offense resembles an NBA team.

“They have multiple guys on the court, five guys at all times pretty much, that can initiate,” he said. “They have a couple of lineups that don't, but the majority of them do. So it makes it really challenging.

“You've got to know the personnel. You might not be matched up with who you start on. Knowing who you're guarding is going to be really important. They really challenge you in a lot of different areas.”

As with any team facing Missouri, the Utah State scouting report will have to start with Kobe Brown, the all-SEC first-teamer.

“He's a versatile guy,” Aggies forward Taylor Funk said. “He can put that thing on the ground and get to the rim.

“The Mountain West is not a cakewalk every night. It's a battle every single game. There's a lot of good guards, a lot of big guards. A player like him in the league would maybe be Matt Bradley a little bit, just a bigger guard. Brown’s got a little height on him."

“He can definitely score that thing. Our defense is going to have to be set for us to stop him.”

The Bradley comparison may not be exactly on point. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, the SDSU guard is four inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Brown. But the Aggies know the bigger key in this one might be holding on to the ball to make sure their own offense can get going.

“That fuels their offense, that fuels their up-pace tempo they like to play with,” Ashworth, who is one of Utah State’s primary ball handlers, said. “Preparing for that, we know we have to take care of the ball and we have to make sure we meet our passes, catch with two hands, a lot of the primary things you learn growing up with basketball are going to be applicable tomorrow morning.”

The Tigers and Aggies tip off at 10:40 local time, 12:40 Central time on Thursday morning. PowerMizzou.com will have complete coverage leading up to, throughout and after the game and will be with the team as long as it is playing in the NCAA Tournament.

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