Just when it seemed like the Aggies might experience more March sadness than March Madness for the second straight year, Utah State was revealed to be a part of the field on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Sunday afternoon.

A No. 11 seed, the Aggies (20-8) will face Texas Tech (17-10) Friday in the South Region.

“When I saw our name, I just felt a sense of joy and accomplishment. But at the same time, we want to make sure we do whatever we have to do to have a good run in the tournament. Make sure we go there to win. We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied.” — Neemias Queta

“That is a delicious matchup, those two teams,” CBS’s Clark Kellogg declared shortly after the announcement.

This year, the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament will be played in and around Indianapolis beginning with the First Four on Thursday and First Round games on Friday and Saturday. USU and Texas Tech will play Friday, March 19, at 11:45 a.m. (MT) in Bloomington, Indiana at Assembly Hall on the University of Indiana campus. The game will be televised nationally on TNT.

Junior forward Justin Bean took to Twitter immediately after receiving the good news to declare: “I could cry a whole bucket of happy tears rn.”

After losing to San Diego State, 68-57, in the championship of the Mountain West tournament Sunday night, the Aggies faced an awful lot of uncertainty about their postseason future. Most bracketologists had Utah State as one of the last teams in the or one of the first teams out.

“When I saw our name, I just felt a sense of joy and accomplishment,” USU junior center Neemias Queta said via a Zoom press conference. “But at the same time, we want to make sure we do whatever we have to do to have a good run in the tournament. Make sure we go there to win. We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied.”

Despite the Aggies’ uncertain future, USU head coach Craig Smith said he had “a really calm feeling.”

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“I didn’t get a lot of sleep the previous three nights … but I fell asleep last night at literally 8:40 p.m. – and I’m a night owl – and had an amazing night of sleep, and I woke up really calm,” Smith explained. “I just felt really good about where we were at.

“The Mountain West had a great year. I thought the top five teams were very, very good. And we finished second in the regular season and then got to the championship game. I knew our metrics were really, really sound, they were really good.”

The Aggies have an NCAA Men’s Basketball NET ranking of 39, while their overall strength of schedule is 95.

 After Saturday’s loss to the Aztecs, Utah State remained in Las Vegas at the Mountain West’s request and watched the NCAA Selection Show in a hotel ballroom. Smith said the NCAA was sending a plane to pick them up Sunday night, and the entire team will travel directly to Indianapolis in order to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 issues.

It will certainly be a happy flight for a basketball program that was devastated to find out just over a year ago that after winning the Mountain West tournament championship that the NCAA Tournament would be completely canceled due to the rise of the coronavirus.

“That was certainly a tough pill to swallow, and I still feel bad for our seniors last year,” said Smith, noting that he had received already received congratulatory texts from former Aggies Sam Merrill and Abel Porter, as well as several messages from Diogo Brito over the weekend.

Texas Tech is coming off of a 67-66 loss to Texas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 championship on March 11. The Red Raiders went 9-8 in Big 12 play during the regular season to finish in a tie for sixth place with Oklahoma.

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“Coach (Chris) Beard’s got a really good team; I follow them a little bit,” said USU forward Justin Bean, who grew up in Oklahoma cheering against the Raiders as a Sooners fan. “The last couple of years they’ve been a really big threat to the Big 12, and they’ve got a really good player in Mac McClung, who transferred from Georgetown. And they’re always super athletic. … They’re a high-caliber, well-coached team.”

Beard, who spent 19 days as the head coach at UNLV in 2016 before bolting for Lubbock, is 111-54 in his five seasons at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lost to Virginia, 85-77, in overtime in the championship game of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. That was the last NCAA Tournament game played due to last year’s cancelation.

Senior guard Matt Mooney played a big role for Texas Tech in its title run in 2019, averaging 11 points a game and being named to the All-Tournament Team after transferring from South Dakota for his final season. The previous two years Mooney had played for Smith, who was hired away from South Dakota by Utah State in March 2018.

“Chris Beard’s a great guy and a great coach,” said Smith, who has the same agent as Beard. “… Coach Beard reached out about Matt when he was a grad transfer and asked about what kind of a kid he was and all of that sort of stuff. I don’t know Chris real well, but I know him well enough because of Matt Mooney.”

Oddly enough, Smith said that Mooney sent him a text after the Aggies beat Colorado State in the semifinals and wished he and the Aggies luck against San Diego State.

“I texted him ‘Thanks’ this morning, ‘I feel good about where we’re at,’” Smith said of Mooney, who is currently playing in the G League with Raptors 905. “And ironically, he texted back that he was going to try and make it to Indy for a game.”

In addition, USU guard Marco Anthony was a member of the Virginia team that beat the Red Raiders in 2019, although he didn’t see action in the championship game and ended up transferring to Utah State later that spring.

Texas Tech head football coach Matt Wells, an Aggie alum, is heading into his third season with the Red Raiders after seven seasons as the head coach of the Aggies. Wells attended the series the Aggies played against New Mexico back in January when the Lobos had to relocate to Lubbock.   

Former Aggie quarterback Henry Colombi, who transferred to Texas Tech last year to play for Wells, tweeted, “Utah State versus Texas Tech. You are kidding me right,” shortly after the matchup was announced.

If the Aggies pull off an upset of the Red Raiders, they will play the winner of Arkansas (22-6) and Colgate (14-1) in the Second Round on Sunday. The Razorbacks are coached by Eric Musselman, who was the head coach at Nevada from 2015-19.

San Diego State (23-4) was the only other Mountain West school to be included in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The No. 6-seeded Aztecs will face Syracuse (16-9) on Friday. Colorado State (18-6) and Boise State (18-8), two other Mountain West teams which were also considered to be “on the bubble” as the weekend progressed, were both left out of tournament field.

The Aggies last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2019, Smith’s first season at the helm. A No. 8 seed, Utah State lost to No. 9 Washington, 78-91, in Columbus, Ohio. Queta, Bean and current guard Brock Miller all saw action in the loss.

NCAA Tournament games will be played this year at Lucas Oil Stadium, as well as Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler University), Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Mackey Arena in West Lafayette (Purdue University) and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington (Indiana University).

Teams will practice at the Indiana Convention Center with multiple courts set up inside the huge facility in Indianapolis.