Like so many of their games during the 2021-22 season, things came right down to the wire for the Utah State Aggies Sunday night as they waited to discover their postseason fate.
But unlike an actual basketball game, Utah State head coach Ryan Odom had no say in the outcome as he watched the field of 32 for this year’s National Invitational Tournament be revealed while sitting in his living room with his wife, Lucia.
“I was a little nervous because it got all the way to the end, and there hadn’t been one Mountain West team called yet,” Odom admitted. “So, I was a little bit nervous, but then it ended up happening so there was a big celebration in the Odom household.”
It came down to the final bracket, but Utah State (18-15) eventually showed up as a No. 4 seed in the 2022 NIT. The Aggies will host Oregon (19-14) at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in the Spectrum in a game slated to broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Odom insisted that he had no idea whether or not his first season as the head coach at USU was going to continue or not.
While the top four teams from the Mountain West Conference – Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State and Wyoming – are all in the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies finished seventh in the regular season, also behind UNLV (18-14) and Fresno State (18-15), but Utah State is the only MW team in this year’s NIT.
“Back in the day, you used to know before the bracket was revealed. You would have been alerted,” Odom said. “They would have called (USU athletic director) John Hartwell and said, ‘Hey, you’re in and you’re this seed’ or whatever, but now because it’s run by the NCAA, it’s very similar to the NCAA Tournament. They’re in adjacent rooms picking the teams.
“But we’ve talked about it all year,” Odom added. “Our metrics are our metrics. The numbers are our numbers. Our team scheduled well and performed well against good teams. We just didn’t beat enough of those good teams.”
The Aggies currently sit 44th in the KenPom rankings (Oregon is 79th) after crushing Air Force, 83-56, and falling to Colorado State, 53-51, at the Mountain West Conference tournament last week in Las Vegas.
Uncertain of his team’s future, Odom said he wasn’t sure what to do keep his team sharp, but the Aggies ended up holding a short practice on Sunday afternoon before separating to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
The NIT bracket was unveiled a few hours later.
“I’m so happy,” Odom said. “I really am so happy for our players because they genuinely want to play again, and who knows how the game is going to go? I’m not really concerned about that. We’re going to do our best, and we want to win obviously, but I’m so happy that they get a chance to play in the postseason because they deserve it.
“They’ve been through a lot all season and they’ve had their fair share of heartbreaks and tough losses and weird situations, but they’ve never let it bother them. They’ve just always come back with a great attitude.”
Traditionally, the Aggies have not fared well in the NIT. Utah State is 2-9 all-time in the NIT and has lost eight straight contests since winning two out of three games in New York City way back in 1960.
The Aggies last played in the NIT in 2008, a 61-57 loss at Illinois State, and have lost all four of their games in the Spectrum to Southwestern Louisiana (1984), Illinois State (1995), Montana State (2002) and Hawai’I (2004).
Utah State is also 1-5 all-time against the Ducks, the lone victory coming in its latest game against Oregon in December 1965.
Dana Altman’s team will be the first Power 5 opponent to visit the Spectrum since Mississippi State and USC both came to Logan during the 2013-14 season.
Like the Aggies, the Ducks also won their first game in their conference tournament (Oregon State, 86-72) before bowing out in the next round (Colorado, 80-69).
Oregon, which advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in 2021, started the year ranked No. 13 in the Preseason AP Top 25 poll but ended up in a tie for fifth place in the Pac-12 standings with an 11-9 record.
After the loss to the Buffaloes last Thrusday, Altman was asked his thoughts on his team potentially continuing its season in the NIT.
“Everybody wants to go to the NCAA Tournament, and I understand that,” said Altman, now in his 12th season at Oregon, “but you have an opportunity to put Oregon on your chest, and if that doesn’t mean anything to you, then there’s a lot of guys that are disappointed.
“There’s been a lot of good players that have gone to the NIT, and there will be a lot of good teams in the NIT and they’ll be a lot of name programs that have more tradition than the University of Oregon that will be in the NIT, and so I’d be very disappointed if we get the invitation on Sunday if our guys weren’t excited about playing.”
Led by senior guard Will Richardson (14.6 ppg), the Ducks have four players averaging double figures in points per game.
“Any time you face a Dana Altman-coached team, you know you’re in a for a battle,” Odom said.
In the lone common opponent between Oregon and Utah State, the Ducks lost to Saint Mary’s, 60-52 on a neutral court on Nov. 23, while the Gaels snuck past the Aggies, 60-58, at the Spectrum on Dec. 2.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will advance to face the winner of the game between No. 1 seed Texas A&M (23-11) and No. 8 seed Alcorn State (17-16).