One of the early games on Thursday’s opening slate of NCAA tournament first-round matchups could be the most competitive.
That’s the consensus from national experts who have talked about the matchup between No. 10 seed Utah State and No. 7 Missouri, who play Thursday morning at 11:40 a.m. MT.
The Aggies are looking to win their first NCAA tournament game since 2001 and are on a nine-game losing streak in the NCAAs.
There are a variety of media outlets, though, that believe Utah State can pull off the upset of their SEC opponent.
Here’s a sampling of what several national outlets said about the first-round matchup:
Louis Zatzman writes that Utah State matches up well with Missouri, increasing their chances to advance in the first round in Sacramento, and that USU has the best chance of a lower seed to earn a first-round upset.
“FiveThirtyEight’s model gives the No. 10 seed Utah State Aggies (26-8) the best chance of a first-round victory of any underdog in the tournament (64 percent) — and that could be because they’re simply a better team than their opponent, the No. 7 seed Missouri Tigers (24-9),” Zatzman wrote.
Jay Bilas highlighted Utah State’s offensive prowess as one reason the Aggies can hang around — and beat — the Tigers, though USU’s inability to force turnovers (under 12 per game) could hurt them.
He predicts an Aggie victory.
“Both teams can shoot and score from deep. Utah State will have problems with Kobe Brown, but Missouri can get spread out by Utah State,” Bilas wrote. “I like the Aggies in this one. Remember, Ryan Odom led UMBC to the only win, ever, by a No. 16 seed. Winning as a 10 seed should be a little easier.”
“I like Missouri just a little bit because of Kobe Brown — he plays the 5 and he’s a brutal, brutal matchup,” Greenberg said.
The 6-foot-8 Brown averages 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game this season.
Seth Davis favors Utah State in this game, reiterating that the Aggies’ style is a good matchup against Missouri.
“If you like buckets (and I do!), this is the game for you. Utah State ranks fifth in the country in 3-point percentage (39.3), they’re 10th in assists per game (16.9), and their best player, 6-1 junior guard Steven Ashworth, ranks third in the country in 3-point percentage (44.3) and 14th in made 3s per game (3.2). The Aggies’ defense isn’t bad (68th in efficiency) and they’re 36th in the country in defensive rebound percentage,” Davis wrote.
“That’s a good profile to bring against a Missouri squad that loves to press, push the tempo, and take chances defensively (10.3 steals per game, third-most in the country). The Tigers are also 178th in the county in defensive efficiency, so the Aggies should have plenty of clean looks at the rim.”
Andy Katz, who mentioned Utah State as one of the top upset pick possibilities in the first round, picked the Tigers in his predictions for the entire NCAA tournament.
“Utah State, a team I didn’t think should get in over Rutgers, and I don’t think they’re going to last long, either,” Katz said. “I love Kobe Brown and (coach) Dennis Gates have done with the Tigers. Missouri advances.”
David Cobb took a different approach — instead of picking winners, he ranked each first-round matchup from worst to best.
“Both these teams hoist a ton of 3-pointers and make more than nine per game, and Utah State’s Steven Ashworth is one of the best perimeter marksmen in the game,” Cobb wrote. “While Missouri has an edge in athleticism and forces a ton of turnovers, the Tigers also allow opponents to shoot 35.4% from 3-point range. This one could feature a ton of points and momentum swings.”
Kevin Flaherty not only likes Utah State in this matchup, he identifies the Aggies as a team that is capable of a Cinderella-story type run.
“Missouri drew potentially the worst possible first-round matchup, as the Tigers rank fifth in defensive turnover rate but struggle everywhere else defensively, and Utah State is an excellent passing team. It doesn’t stop there, as Utah State has the No. 13 offense, a great backcourt and lethal shooting, coming in at 12th in effective field goal percentage,” Flaherty wrote.
:But Utah State is also a bit better than its reputation defensively, where the Aggies do a solid job of running teams off the 3-point line, limiting easy 2s and winning on the defensive glass. The Aggies are actually favored by KenPom to defeat Missouri, and Utah State is capable of continuing its run if the Aggies are hitting shots.”