The Aggies are going dancing, claiming the No. 10 seed to take on a very similar squad in No. 7 Missouri
Utah State secured its fourth NCAA Tournament berth in five years.
The Aggies can briefly exhale with their spot in the 2023 NCAA Tournament made certain as of Sunday afternoon.
Utah State men’s basketball earned a No. 10 seed in the South region and will face the No. 7 Missouri Tigers on Thursday in the first round. This is the 23rd time in school history the Aggies have made the tournament and the fourth time it has earned an at-large bid.
“Ultimately, I think we’re really happy with where we’re at,” junior guard Steven Ashworth said. “We’re going to have a really good matchup with Missouri … to be able to go out to Sacramento and compete against a team like that is going to be a lot of fun.”
The Aggies have made the tournament 14 times since seedings began in 1980. This is the third time they’ve earned a 10-seed and the first time since 1988. The Aggies have only once ever earned a seed higher than 10, earning the 8-seed in 2019. The Aggies earned a spot in the Tournament for the fourth time in the last five years (including the COVID-cancelled year in 2020).
Utah State was the second team from the Mountain West to hear its name, following the No. 5 spot in the same bracket going to MWC tournament champion San Diego State. The Aztecs have a Friday date with No. 12 Charleston.
Later on, Nevada became something of a surprise to predictors by getting a First Four bid for the No. 11 spot in the West region. The Wolfpack will play No. 11 Arizona State for the right to face No. 6 TCU in the Round of 64.
Boise State secured an expected berth by taking the No. 10 spot in the West to take on No. 7 Northwestern, confirming the MW’s bid to get four teams instead of three to the Big Dance.
“I think (MWC coaches) all felt like our conference deserved four (bids) because we played in those games against one another,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. “We knew how competitive each team was, and I’m not just talking about the four that eventually made it today.”
𝙉𝙤. 𝘽𝙚𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙧. 𝙁𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙜.— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) March 12, 2023
Odom is headed to the tournament for the second time as a head coach. His first time was one for the record books in 2018 as he coached the No. 16 University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers to a 74-54 win over No. 1 Virginia, the only time in Tournament history that a No. 16 seed has won in the first round.
“This team is confident like (UMBC), that team was very confident,” Odom said. “They felt like they could play with anybody regardless of what anybody said.”
The Aggies had their name called early as the South region was the first bracket to be unveiled on the Selection Sunday Show on CBS. According to bracketologists all over the media, it was more likely than not that USU would make it to the Dance, but it was less clear whether or not it would be able to avoid the short-notice trip to Dayton, Ohio, to play in the First Four as an 11- or 12-seed this Tuesday.
Ashworth was grateful to have a few more days’ notice to play in the Tournament, jokingly adding that he still had a load of laundry going. “I’m glad I don’t have to go cancel that laundry load and start packing up again,” he said. “We can finish that and get some rest, then head out to Sacramento, which is going to be a nice, short flight. It’s always nice traveling west instead of east.”
The Tigers are a program that Odom credited with turning around quickly. Coach Dennis Gates came to the program in March of 2022 to inherit a program that went 12-21 and missed the tournament. Gates coached Missouri to its first 20-win season since 2017-18 and secured its highest tournament seed since 2012.
Similar to the Aggies, the Tigers have had a tough time winning in the Big Dance as of late, having lost in the Round of 64 five times straight over a 12-year span, including being on the wrong end of a massive upset in 2012 to No. 15 Norfolk State.
Much of what Mizzou does on the court this season looks like the Aggies as well. The Tigers average 79.5 points per game (23rd in the nation) and shoot 47.3% from the field (32nd nationally). What the Tigers particularly excel at is their ability to steal the ball. They are one of three teams in the country averaging more than 10 per game.
Mizzou began the season going 9-0 before being completely dismantled by Kansas, 95-67. The Tigers then had a slow start to SEC play, losing four of their first seven games. They later rode a late five-game winning streak to get to the conference semifinals.
Ashworth, who said he watches a lot of basketball on TV in his off-time, said he’s seen Missouri a few times, notably their SEC semifinal tournament matchup with Alabama, the South region’s 1-seed. “(I’m) somewhat familiar, but we’ll definitely have to do some refreshing,” he said.