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Since joining the Mountain West Conference for the 2013-14 college basketball season, Utah State has managed to earn a first-round bye for the league's tournament only once, in 2015.
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Aggies are in position to earn a first-round bye in next month's tournament, reserved for teams that finish conference play in the top five in the standings.
Five teams currently sit within a half-game of each other from the third to seventh spots in the MW standings, including USU. Of those, the Aggies — currently tied for sixth with New Mexico — hold the season sweep over Fresno State and were swept by Wyoming. Utah State could still earn season sweeps over New Mexico and UNLV.
That gives added weight to Utah State's games against the Lobos and league-leading Nevada this week. If USU can manage a top 3 seed, it would avoid having to play the MW No. 1 seed in the tournament until the final, if the Aggies aren’t the top seed, an unlikely but still possible scenario.
Here's a look at how this week's game could affect tournament seeding for local college basketball teams:
Utah State (14-12, 7-6 MWC)
Mountain West standings
How this week could impact Utah State’s tournament seeding: A win over New Mexico would give Utah State a sweep of the Lobos and the upper hand over New Mexico in the race for a tournament seed. Two victories could vault the Aggies into the No. 3 spot in the conference standings. A pair of losses this week could drop Utah State as low as a tie for ninth in the league standings with two weeks to play.
Utah State lost to No. 24 Nevada earlier this season in Reno, 83-57. With how tight the conference race is, the only two spots USU can not get in the tournament is the No. 10 and No. 11 seeds.
Other key games this week include Boise State and Nevada facing each other Wednesday for first place in the MW, while San Diego State hosts Wyoming on Wednesday and UNLV on Saturday.
Utah (15-9, 7-6 Pac-12)
How this week could impact Utah’s tournament seeding: The Utes face a big test Thursday against Washington, a team that sits a half-game ahead of Utah in the standings and one which the Utes already beat at the Huntsman Center earlier this season. With two wins this week, the Utes could climb as high as No. 2 in the Pac-12 standings.
Utah beat writer Dirk Facer took an extensive look at the Utes’ hopes of earning a top 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which would give Utah a first-round bye in next month’s tournament.
BYU (20-7, 9-5 WCC)
West Coast Conference standings
How this week could impact BYU’s tournament seeding: The Cougars can ensure they will receive no worse than the No. 5 seed at the West Coast Conference tournament with a win Thursday, and if BYU wins at Pepperdine and San Diego, it will be no worse than the No. 4 seed. If Pacific, one game back of BYU in the league standings, loses both of its games (at San Diego vs. Santa Clara) this week and the Cougars win both of theirs, BYU would be ensured a top 3 WCC tournament seed.
If BYU dropped to the fourth or fifth tournament seed, though, the Cougars would have to face the WCC's top team in the tournament semifinals, if they won their quarterfinal game.
Utah Valley (17-8, 6-3 WAC)
How this week could impact UVU’s tournament seeding: Both games will be crucial for the Wolverines in the conference race. Thursday’s game against the Aggies will give UVU the chance to show again how it stacks up against the WAC’s top team — the Wolverines previously lost to NMSU 86-59. UVU has the chance to sweep the season series against the Vaqueros with a win, which could be key, as the Wolverines sit a half-game above them in the league standings.
UVU is currently tied for second in the WAC standings with Seattle, though the Redhawks won their early meeting this season. Seattle hosts both UT Rio Grande Valley and New Mexico State this season, which could shake up the top half of the league standings.
Weber State (17-7, 10-2 Big Sky)
Big Sky standings
How this week could impact Weber State’s tournament seeding: The Wildcats are facing two teams in the bottom half of the Big Sky standings this week, though both will be on the road. Weber State would maintain its hold on the second spot in the league standings with a pair of victories, or at worst tied for second place with a 1-1 record this week.
Either way, it sets up a key stretch next week when the Wildcats host Eastern Washington and Idaho, currently fourth and third in the Big Sky standings. Before that, though, both the Eagles and Vandals host league-leading Montana this week.
Southern Utah (10-13, 4-8 Big Sky)
Big Sky standings
How this week could impact Southern Utah’s tournament seeding: Southern Utah, which is just 2-9 on the road this season, could improve its league standing this week on the road against a North Dakota team that has lost six of its past seven games, while the game at Northern Colorado on Saturday proves to be a tougher test. Other key games this week that could have a major effect for SUU include Idaho State at Sacramento State on Thursday and Idaho State at Portland State on Saturday.
The most hopeful scenario for SUU in the remainder of the regular season is to jump three spots to sixth in the Big Sky standings, allowing the T-Birds a first-round tourney matchup against the league’s No. 11 team and a quarterfinal contest against the league’s No. 3 team. Right now, that’s Idaho, which SUU narrowly lost to in Cedar City earlier this year.