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Utah State basketball: Bracket Buster victory boosts USU's resume

Utah State's Tai Wesley drives by Wichita State's Gabe Blair in the Aggies' 68-58 win late Saturday night.
Utah State's Tai Wesley drives by Wichita State's Gabe Blair in the Aggies' 68-58 win late Saturday night.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

LOGAN — The most consistent complaint about Utah State basketball is that the Aggies don't play quality nonconference opponents outside the state of Utah.

And that, USU coach Stew Morrill said, is why he's become such a fan of the ESPN BracketBuster games.

"We've had trouble getting teams to come play us here," Morrill said. "So this gives us a game against a nonconference team that we might not be able to get."

It also gives Utah State a tremendous opportunity to prove itself worthy of a better seed in the NCAA Tournament if the Aggies win the WAC tournament or legitimate consideration for an at-large invitation to the Big Dance.

With the 68-58 win over Wichita State late Saturday night on ESPN2, Utah State's RPI, according to cbssports.com, improved to 33. The Aggies have a No. 92 strength of schedule and are now involved in virtually every discussion of which teams should be in the field of 65.

With a 22-6 overall record, the Aggies hope the win over one of the Missouri Valley Conference's top teams impresses the selection committee — which is exactly the reason the BracketBuster games exist.

"We drew a great team in Wichita State," USU forward Brady Jardine said. "It is great to play them here. For us to get a chance to play a great team with 22 wins like that is very exciting."

Of course, Utah State has learned the hard way that lofty RPIs and even Top 25 rankings don't guarantee much come selection Sunday.

"I don't know much about Bracketology and how all that works," USU junior Tai Wesley said. "I just like to win basketball games."

Now riding a 12 game win streak, the Aggies have certainly done plenty of that.

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, who coached small-school Winthrop to a series of NCAA appearances and wins, knows a little something about becoming a mid-major power. Now guiding the 22-7 Shockers, Marshall left Utah State's Spectrum impressed.

"We lost to a very good team in a great atmosphere," Marshall said. "It's probably the best atmosphere I've played in front of in a long time. They're a great team, and they're well coached."

Utah State's winning streak and improved computer rankings have come as a result of Morrill's trademark style that dictates unselfish play, ball movement and tenacious defense.

"They are a well-oiled machine out there," Marshall said. "They run their stuff and you can't help guys out there. ... We had two days to prepare for them and it was obviously not enough time. We were yelling the stuff from our bench of what was coming, but they just don't have it down. In two days, it's just not enough."

The Aggies have only three games left in the regular season. They visit 10-16 Hawaii — a team USU beat 98-54 earlier this year — on Thursday before returning to the Spectrum to close out the regular season with games against Fresno State and New Mexico State.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com