Meet the Utah State Aggies
Selection Sunday has come and gone and the field of 65 has finally been chosen for this year’s NCAA Tournament. There were some surprises but I thought for the most part the selection committee put the best field possible together. The Marquette Golden Eagles backed into the tournament but were still rewarded a 6 seed in the West Region. Looking at the other 6 seeds, I believe that Marquette was ranked as the lowest 6 seed and is playing the best 11 seed in Utah State. While the Aggies are no North Carolina or Louisville, it would be foolish to sleep on them for the Friday matchup. They come into the tournament with a 30-4 record and fresh off a WAC Tournament Championship are eager to keep their hot streak going. They are led by 26 year old Gary Wilkinson, a 6’9″ power forward that received WAC Player of the Year honors this year. He averaged 17 points per game and 7 rebounds per game, while shooting 58% from the field and could pose problems inside for Marquette. Jared Quayle is another name that Marquette should familiarize themselves with. Quayle is the point guard for the Aggies, and with such a slow, grind-it-out, set offense, this team comes and goes with how Quayle is playing. Tai Wesley will be a post presence down low for Utah State, but does not play very fast and has a tendency to disappear in games.
Friday’s game will be a tale of two completely different teams on the offensive end. Out of the 365 Division I teams, Utah State is ranked 324th in terms of pace and runs more set plays than any other team in the nation. They like to completely slow down the game and take the best shot possible, much like a Big Ten team but to a higher degree. They live and die with on-the-ball screens and have one of the most efficient offenses in the country in terms of field goal percentage.
Defensively, the Aggies tend to struggle in their man-to-man sets. They like to compact their defense into the paint and with a driving team like Marquette, this will be applied right away. What this will do is leave outside jumpers open, and when Marquette is in half-court sets jump shots will be there. Utah State switches off of screens and a fast Marquette team should be able to expose USU’s lack of speed.
This is a scary team, make no mistake about it. They do everything by the book and are a disciplined team that does not make very many mistakes. As I will write on later, they have 3 of the 4 factors that I look for when picking tournament teams. The first factor is having a big man to lead the way, and they have that in Wilkinson. The senior has been great all year and will be vital for the Aggies’ success. The second factor is having a point guard to run the show. Quayle has done an outstanding job in leading a team that is up at the top of the rankings in turnovers. Good coaching, part 3 of the factors, fits the bill as well. Despite his 1-6 tournament record, Stew Morill is an excellent coach that has his team playing great in March, something all teams are striving for. One thing that USU does not have is experience. Despite their average starter’s age being 23.1 due to Mormon traditions, they have one of the most inexperienced teams in the tournament with 10 freshman and sophomores. I’ll do a breakdown of the game on Thursday, but there is a shot that this team can knock off Marquette if they play their pace and establish a post presence. Let’s not look at Mizzou just yet.
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