The No. 8 Utah State Aggies have not appeared in the NCAA Tournament since they earned a 12 seed in 2011. That all changes on Friday afternoon when they take on the No. 9 Washington Huskies in Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, the Huskies haven’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 2011 as well.
Both teams have are playing their best basketball since the beginning of the decade by a large margin. The Aggies haven’t won 20 or more games since 2013. They are two wins shy of their 30-win total in 2009. Head coach Craig Smith is in his first season with the Aggies. Furthermore, he has increased the win total by 11 games from last season. They shared the Mountain West Conference regular season crown with the Nevada Wolf Pack. They won the tournament title a week later to earn the automatic bid.
Mike Hopkins is in his second year as the head coach the Huskies. He led the program to a (21-13) record last season. However, they didn’t get an invite to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies returned this season to win the PAC-12 regular season. They lost in the PAC-12 tournament final.
8 Utah State Aggies (28-6) vs. 9 Washington Huskies (26-8)
When: Friday March 22, 6:50 p.m. EDT Aprox
Where: Columbus, Ohio – Nationwide Arena
Betting Line: Utah State -3 – o/u 134.5
Utah State Breakdown-
Sam Merrill leads the Aggies with 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Merrill shoots over 37 percent from 3-point range. He takes around 6.5 3-pointers per game, but he also has the ability to get to the basket. Merrill is a shot maker. However, he will have to find different ways to score against the 2-3 zone. Therefore, don’t be surprised if Merrill shoots upwards of 10 3-pointers in round 1. We may also see Merrill play in the middle of the defense to create offense from the foul line extended. If so, Brock Miller may be the recipient of open 3-point shots.
The Aggies average 79 points per game this season. They also play tough defense, giving up 66.8 points per game. The Aggies have won 10 games in a row. They have also won 17 of their last 18 games.
The PAC-12 regular season champion is trying to win this game with their defense. The Huskies score 69.8 points per game. However, they have the 29th best scoring defense this season, giving up 64.4 points per game. Their most prolific defensive player is Matisse Thybulle. He is averaging 9.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Thybulle also averages 3.4 steals and 2.2 blocks per game. He is a presence on top of the zone. Although the Huskies have three players that score more than Thybulle, this game will hinge on his ability to shut down driving lanes, as well as contesting the 3-point shot.
Jaylen Nowell leads the Huskies with 16.2 points per game. He shoots over 43 percent from the field. He’s also shooting 50 percent from the field. However, we have seen some scorers fall flat early-on in the NCAA Tournament. Will Nowell be able to answer the call on Friday? The Huskies are (3-4) in their last seven games.
Pick- Utah State 71 – Washington 66