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Utah State men's basketball notebook: Bracketbuster draw a good one for Aggies

LOGAN — There was a time when Stew Morrill didn't like the ESPN-created BracketBuster matchups at all.

He felt the forced games didn't necessarily benefit his team and they often made for some travel nightmares by squeezing a non-conference game — on the road every other year — in between conference games.

Now, he's changed his tune and is thrilled to have what has become an opportunity to have some of his non-conference scheduling difficulties solved for him.

And after ESPN announced Utah State's Feb. 20 opponent would be Wichita State, the Aggie coach was particularly pleased.

The Shockers, 19-4 overall and 8-3 in Missouri Valley Conference games, will visit the Spectrum for an ESPN2 game with a 10 p.m. tipoff.

"It is a high-caliber team from a high-caliber conference," Morrill said. "The Missouri Valley is a known as a really good basketball league and Wichita State has long had great tradition. Going back to when I was in high school, Wichita State was a team that you were aware of. They get great support and they are having a fabulous year."

The game is a good one for USU because the Shockers have a solid RPI — currently No. 49 — and, like Utah State, have a win over a Top 25 program on their resume.

Utah State, No. 53 in the RPI, is far from assured an at-large bid and a win against Wichita State would be a nice resume booster if that became a consideration. It could also help with NCAA Tournament seeding whether the Aggies earn their way in via the WAC tournament or not.

"When we played the first weekend in conference I didn't think we would be sitting here talking about a TV game in BracketBusters after going 0-2 and looking pretty bad," Morrill said. "It is nice to be talking about it."

Morrill said he knows the Shockers will be one of the best teams his Aggies will face all season and will be prepared for a battle when they come to the Spectrum.

"They were talking about it being a tough place for them to go. I hope we make it tough on them. They are an awfully good team. I think it is a quality game against a quality opponent. It is a good BracketBuster match up for us."

Utah State is 3-1 all-time in BracketBuster games as it defeated Northwestern State (66-63) at home in 2006, won at Oral Roberts (71-65) in 2007, defeated UC Santa Barbara (72-59) at home in 2008 and lost at Saint Mary's (75-64) last year.

REUNION AVERTED: Morrill said before the announcement was made that he would really like to avoid Old Dominion for a couple of reasons. One, it is an East Coast school, and when the Aggies have to play a return game it would be a traveling headache. And two, Morrill had no desire to coach against Blaine Taylor, one of his former assistant coaches at Montana.

"I've already got two former assistants that I have to coach against," Morrill said, referring to Weber State's Randy Rahe and Idaho's Don Verlin. "I don't need a third."

He got his wish when, after a fairly suspenseful wait, the matchup was revealed.

As part of the BracketBuster package, Utah State will make a visit to Wichita, Kan., during the 2011-12 season.

FRESHMAN SUSPENDED: Redshirt freshman center Anthony DiLoreto has been suspended from the team indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. With the suspension, DiLoreto will not practice or travel with the team.

DiLoreto, a 7-1, 230-pound center from Minnetonka, Minn., is redshirting for Utah State this year and hasn't played in any games.

STAT PACK: Wondering how Utah State, which started the WAC season 0-2, climbed right back into the driver's seat after just six games?

Of course, winning all six of those has been handy, but the way USU has done it has been nothing short of inspiring.

The Aggies' six-game win streak has come via an average score of about 77-56. Utah State has beaten its last six opponents by 21.6 points per game.

That huge point spread — the closest contest was a 79-72 overtime win at Nevada coming on one day rest — has been fueled by defense.

In WAC games, USU is allowing only 58.9 points per outing — by far the best in the league. Though the Aggies are only fifth in scoring offense at 72 points, USU has the best scoring margin at 13.1 points and that includes the two road losses to open the season.

In WAC games, the Aggies are tops in field goal shooting (50.5 percent), field goal percentage defense (39.0), 3-point shooting (45.0), rebounding margin (4.6), blocked shots (4.5), assists (15.4) assist/turnover ratio (1.4) and defensive rebound percentage (72.4).

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