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The next 6 games will be brutal for Utah State — and season defining

The Aggies are tied for the best record in the country at 19-2, but their next six games are against some of the best teams in Mountain West

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Utah State guard Darius Brown II brings the ball upcourt during game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, in Logan, Utah.

Utah State guard Darius Brown II brings the ball up court during game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, in Logan, Utah. The No. 17-ranked Aggies begin a tough stretch of games Saturday at San Diego State.

Eli Lucero, Herald Journal via AP

The Utah State men’s basketball team is in the midst of an incredible season.

There is really no other way to describe it.

With their win over San Jose State on Tuesday night, the Aggies are 19-2 and tied with Grand Canyon, No. 4 Houston, McNeese State (receiving votes) and No. 2 Purdue for the best record in country.

The Aggies are ranked No. 17 in the latest AP Poll and stand atop the Mountain West Conference standings, with a 7-1 record.

But wait, there’s more.

According to NET, the NCAA’s rankings of Division I basketball teams, the Aggies are a top-20 team, with an undefeated record against Quad 2, Quad 3 and Quad 4 opponents.

Additionally, USU comes in at No. 29 in the 2024 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.

As far as the most recent NCAA Tournament projections go, USU is generally viewed as a No. 5 or 6 seed, though the Aggies range from as high as a third seed in some projections to as low as a seventh seed.

Whatever the seed, Team Rankings gives USU a 97.7% chance to make the Big Dance.

The thing is, the Aggies have generally had an easy schedule to this point, as least when it comes to interconference play, at least according to KenPom. According to its metics, Utah State has had the easiest schedule in the MW so far.

That is all about to change.

Starting with San Diego State on Saturday afternoon, the Aggies will have a run of six games against the best the MW has to offer.

The Aztecs, currently No. 22 in NET and No. 24 in KenPom, are 16-5 and 5-3 in conference play and will host the Aggies.

After that game USU will host Nevada. The Wolfpack are neither the best nor worst team the Aggies will play during the stretch — rated No. 59 in KenPom and No. 64 in NET — but Nevada is 16-5 and has a win over Colorado State.

After battling the Wolf Pack, the Aggies host Boise State — currently third in the MW with a 6-2 record in league play, also No. 44 in NET and No. 51 in KenPom and coming off a huge road at New Mexico — after which they’ll travel to Laramie to play Wyoming, which has struggled on the road (1-7) but thrived at home (8-1).

Then there’s a visit to Fort Collins to play Colorado State, a top-40 team according to both NET and Ken Pom.

Finally, the Aggies will host the Aztecs, finishing the brutal stretch how they began.

All told, the only top MW team that USU will miss during the next six games is New Mexico, though a rematch with the Lobos awaits March 9.

It is the kind of stretch that will be season defining for Utah State.

Go undefeated and the Aggies would be 25-2 with four games left in the regular season. When considering the caliber of opponents beaten at that point, USU would be a surefire top-10 team nationally.

Lose all six games and the Aggies would be 19-8. The NCAA Tournament would still be very much in play, but USU would be more of a bubble team at that point.

The most likely outcome of splitting games during the stretch should have the Aggies still at or near the top of the MW, contending for the regular-season crown to the very end.

And it is worth noting that Utah State has only won the MW regular-season championship once.

That the Aggies have had the season they’ve had is remarkable, given the players replaced during the offseason and a completely new coaching staff, not to mention dismally low expectations that had the Aggies finishing no better than ninth in the conference.

Little was expected of Utah State this year, but as things currently stand — as of Feb. 1 — the Aggies are one of the better teams in all of college basketball. Top 15, top 20, top 30, whatever the metric or placement, the Aggies rate as a team well worthy of going dancing for the fourth time in the last five eligible seasons.

The next six games will go a long way in proving just how good this USU team is. And perhaps give an idea of just how much noise it can make come March.

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Utah State coach Danny Sprinkle, left, celebrates with students after defeating San Jose State Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in Logan, Utah. The first-year Aggies coach has USU flying high in Logan.

Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via Associated Press