It was an electric environment on Senior Night last Saturday when Utah State knocked off rival Boise State, the reigning Mountain West tournament champion, but when talking about it afterward, head coach Ryan Odom and his players were clear about where their sights were set.

“(We’re) excited about the win, and we’ll put it to bed and get ready for the conference tournament.” — Utah State coach Ryan Odom after his team knocked off Boise State last Saturday

Odom, whose opening comments after each game usually consist of a few minutes of analysis, spent most of his time talking about his seniors who were honored that night. But when it came to discussing the game, he summed it all up in a single sentence: “(We’re) excited about the win, and we’ll put it to bed and get ready for the conference tournament.”

Utah State enters this week’s conference tournament in Las Vegas as the No. 3 seed thanks to its victory over the Broncos. The Aggies have a first-round bye and will face the winner of No. 6 New Mexico/No. 11 Wyoming on Thursday.

San Diego State claimed the top spot in the tournament bracket for the third time in four years after winning the outright Mountain West regular-season title. Boise State slid into the No. 2 spot and is primed for a rematch with the Aggies in the semifinals barring an upset of either team.

Nevada claimed the No. 4 spot and will match up with No. 5 San Jose State in the quarterfinals to see who will face the Aztecs in the semis. The tournament bracket rounds out with New Mexico, No. 6; UNLV, No. 7; Colorado State, No. 8; Fresno State, No. 9; Air Force, No. 10; and Wyoming, No 11.

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In a season showing unprecedented strength among the top half of the Mountain West, the Aggies won their last five games of the regular season, but that is still not enough for some analysts’ predictions of the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. On one hand, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi slotted Utah State as a No. 11 seed Monday night to play in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. On the other hand, Brian Bennett of The Athletic had the Aggies among the “First Four Out” on Sunday.

All this goes to show that USU’s hopes of an at-large bid are best left untrusted. The conference tournament, starting Wednesday, carries a lot more weight for the Aggies than it would for, say, San Diego State or Boise State, the latter of which didn’t lose much favor from bracketologists by losing to the Aggies thanks to a ticket-punching win over the Aztecs just the game before.

Utah State has a favorable advantage over whoever it plays in the second round. The Aggies beat the reeling Cowboys twice and soundly beat the Lobos when they visited Logan. The likely rematch with Boise State in the semifinal is where it gets tough to predict. Both teams walloped each other at home.

At face value, Utah State’s year-over-year improvement under Odom skyrocketed during his second season.

The Aggies finished with a 24-7 record (13-5 in Mountain West play) after going 8-10 in conference last season. Most of the season, they were the No. 1 team in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage before gently sliding to third over the past week or so (the top three teams are within a percentage point of each other).

Despite a gorgeous-looking No. 21 spot in the current NET rankings, the Aggies find themselves still trying to banish the lingering effects of two Quad 4 losses that happened four days apart in December. For context, the 20 teams ahead of USU in the NET are a combined 124-1 against Quad 4 opponents, so the Aggies’ 2-2 mark in that category is a blemish indeed.

The Mountain West has always been a multi-bid league, but getting USU in the NCAA Tournament would likely mean four bids for the conference and might remind college basketball fans of the days when BYU and Utah were still throwing punches in the conference standings. It’s a challenge for the mid-major conference, and even if USU gets in, it’s more than likely for a seed lower than 11, meaning the Aggies would have a high chance of taking a trip to Dayton, Ohio, to battle it out in the First Four.

Utah State coach Ryan Odom calls out to players during game against UNLV on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Las Vegas. The Aggies saw marked improvement during Odom’s second year at the helm in Logan. | Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP