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Utah State’s case for NCAA Tournament inclusion, and what lies ahead

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Utah State’s Rollie Worster (24), Justin Bean (34), Neemias Queta (23) and UNLV’s Nicquel Blake (22) vie for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Aggies head into the final few weeks of the season in strong position to return to the NCAA Tournament, and has chances to further bolster their resume.

John Locher, Associated Press

Utah State was supposed to be playing Wyoming in a pair of games this week, but with that series postponed over health and safety concerns — presumably related to COVID-19 — now is as a good time as any to assess how the Aggies’ NCAA Tournament resume is shaping up.

There are just a few weeks remaining in the regular season, and time is short for Utah State to try and add games — if it can find out-of-league games to play or have the two games against Wyoming or the one postponed against Fresno State rescheduled.

As of now, the Aggies have four games remaining in the regular season, and the Mountain West appears to have four teams in strong contention for invitations to this year’s NCAA Tournament. Utah State heads into this stretch in strong position to return to the NCAA Tournament, and has chances to further bolster its resume.

MWC and the NET rankings

The NCAA NET rankings — a key metric introduced prior to the 2018-19 season — are used to help determine at-large bids in the field for the NCAA Tournament. As of now, four MWC teams, including Utah State, are in the top 50 of the NET rankings, which use a formula that weighs which teams schools beat and lost to, where games took place (home, away or a neutral location) and how well teams played against a given opponent.

The top five MWC teams in the NET rankings include:

  • San Diego State, No. 22
  • Boise State, No. 36
  • Colorado State, No. 47
  • Utah State, No. 50
  • Nevada, No. 105

If the regular season ended today

Utah State currently sits atop the MWC standings, though there could be plenty of shakeup between now and the end of the regular season. While the Aggies are a virtual lock to start their postseason play in the MWC Tournament quarterfinals, they could be seeded anywhere from No. 1 to No. 5 in the tournament, if things go wrong for USU.

Here’s a look at the standings heading into Thursday night:

MWC standings as of Feb. 10
Team MWC record Overall record
Utah State 11-2 14-5
Colorado State 11-3 14-4
Boise State 10-3 14-4
San Diego State 9-3 15-4
Nevada 9-5 14-7
UNLV 5-5 8-9
Fresno State 5-7 7-7
Wyoming 4-8 10-9
San Jose State 3-11 5-13
Air Force 2-12 4-14
New Mexico 1-11 5-11

These standings should shuffle a bit over the next three weeks, as several of the top teams play each other. Here’s who each of the other teams in the top five of the MWC standings play down the stretch, barring any other changes:

  • Colorado State: vs. Northern Colorado (nonconference), at Nevada (2 games), vs. Air Force (2)
  • Boise State: vs. UNLV (2), vs. Utah State (2), at San Diego State (2)
  • San Diego State: at Fresno State (2), vs. Boise State (2)
  • Nevada: at San Jose State (2), vs. Colorado State (2), at Utah State (2)

Utah State’s remaining schedule

Feb. 17 and 19, at Boise State

Any road wins over Boise State would be key for Utah State not only in the conference standings and MWC Tournament seeding, but would also likely come against a team ranked higher in the NET rankings. The Broncos won their first nine league games before losing three of their last four, including two at Nevada, and it has put Boise State squarely on the NCAA bubble. That could make them dangerous in the matchup with USU.

Feb. 26 and 28, vs. Nevada

The Wolf Pack have shown the capability of hanging with the top teams in the MWC: In addition to beating Boise State twice, Nevada lost two games to San Diego State by a combined seven points. The Wolf Pack have won six of eight heading into a very sweepable two-game series at San Jose State, which would set them up to potentially move up in the MWC standings in their final two series against Colorado State and Utah State.

MWC Tournament, March 10-13 in Las Vegas (Thomas & Mack Center)

The Aggies are the two-time defending MWC Tournament champions. Obviously, the surefire way for Utah State to be anxiety-free come Selection Sunday on March 14 — when the NCAA Tournament field is revealed — would be to win the MWC Tournament again.

Bracketology

Where national pundits see USU fitting into the NCAA Tournament equation right now:

  • ESPN: No. 12 seed vs. No. 5 Purdue in first round, 1 of 3 MWC teams in the tournament field (San Diego State a 9, and Boise State an 11).
  • USA Today: No. 11 seed vs. No. 6 UCLA in first round, 1 of 4 MWC teams in the tournament field (Boise State a 9, Colorado State a 10, and San Diego State a 12 in a play-in game).
  • NCAA.com: No. 12 seed vs. No. 5 Texas Tech in first round, 1 of 3 MWC teams in the tournament field (San Diego State a 11 in a play-in game, Colorado State a 12 in a play-in game).
  • CBS Sports: No. 12 seed vs. No. 5 Wisconsin in first round, 1 of 3 MWC teams in the tournament field (Colorado State an 8, San Diego State a 10).