Darius Brown II was careful to clarify his feelings about the Aggies being tabbed as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon.

“I wouldn’t say disappointed. More like surprised,” USU’s graduate point guard stated minutes after it was revealed that Utah State (27-6) will be playing TCU (21-12) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Aggies and Horned Frogs are slated to tipoff at 7:55 p.m. MDT on TBS.

“I mean, I’m glad we’re in; there’s worse positions to be in,” Brown continued. “But I have to say it’s more surprising that disappointing. I’m like everybody else who was expecting something lower, like a 6 or 7, especially with San Diego State being a 5. But I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing. The committee is going to do what the committee does.”

Heading into Sunday’s selection show, most college basketball insiders predicted that the regular-season Mountain West champions would probably be awarded somewhere between a No. 5 and a No. 7 seed. But other than the Aztecs, who were awarded a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance after being the fifth seed in last week’s conference tournament, MW schools were seeded lower than most bracketologists anticipated despite getting an all-time best six teams in the NCAA Tournament.

New Mexico (26-9), which defeated San Diego State (24-10) Saturday in the championship game of the Mountain West tournament, was given a No. 11 seed. Nevada (26-7), Boise State (22-10) and Colorado State (24-10) all earned No. 10 seeds, with the Broncos and Rams headed to Dayton, Ohio, for the First Four.

“You know, it is what it is,” USU head coach Danny Sprinkle said of the Mountain West’s outcome following arguably the best overall season in conference history. “I mean, now we have to go prove it on the court. And, you know, it was a tremendous league this year, and I expect all the teams in the Mountain West to go and represent really well.

“It’s just that time of year when you’re in this tournament it doesn’t matter what seed you are. You’ve got to go play a tremendous opponent, and I know our league represented very well.”

The former head coach at Montana State, Sprinkle took the Bobcats to the NCAA Tournament in 2022 and ‘23, and he also faced Big 12 schools both years, losing in the first round to Texas Tech and Kansas State, respectively. Sprinkle also said he’s known Texas Christian head coach Jamie Dixon since the ‘90s when Sprinkle was playing for Montana State and Dixon was an assistant coach at Big Sky rival Northern Arizona.

“We obviously know we have a tremendous opponent in TCU,” Sprinkle said. “His team is going to grind, and it’s going to be a tough battle, just like every Big 12, Mountain West game.

“… I’ve seen some of their games this year on TV, but I’ve watched them a lot in the past. I know how Coach Dixon coaches, and it’s going to be a physical, smashmouth game. They really defend you really well, and their league is just like our league. It’s a physical battle every night, so it should be a fun one.”

The Horned Frogs, who finished in a tie for seventh place with Texas in the Big 12 this season, have lost four of their last six games. TCU beat Oklahoma, 77-70, last Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament, but then lost to then top-ranked Houston, 60-45, on Thursday.

Nevada is the one common opponent between TCU and Utah State this season, with the Wolf Pack pulling off an 88-75 win over the Frogs on Dec. 22, at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Nevada was the only team to beat the Aggies this year at the Spectrum, upending USU, 77-63, on Feb. 6.

Sprinkle said he hopes his team has a similar reaction following Friday’s 86-70 loss to San Diego State in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament. After that stunning defeat to the Wolf Pack, the Aggies rallied back to beat Boise State four days later and went on to win eight of their next nine games.

What does Utah State need to work on between now and the NCAA Tournament?

“A lot of it was focus-related, and then a lot of it was effort-related,” Sprinkle said of the loss to the Aztecs, who played in the national championship game last season. “And you know, we didn’t make the toughness plays. We didn’t box out with physicality, and the times we did, we got the rebound. They just came and took it a couple of times, and those were turning points in the game where they just took it and kicked it out and hit a three. Those are back breakers.

“But like the Nevada game, when they beat us, that helped us beat Boise State. It exploited some things that we needed to clean up. And I hope that game against San Diego State helps us win the first-round matchup by learning some lessons.”

The Aggies are making their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past six years, not including 2020 when they won the Mountain West’s postseason tournament to secure the conference’s automatic bid before the national tourney was canceled during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will be USU’s fifth at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, following the 2006, ‘10, ‘21 and ‘23 teams. Utah State was a No. 10 seed last season under former head coach Ryan Odom, and lost in the first round to Missouri, 76-65, in Sacramento.

Sprinkle, who retained zero points from last year’s USU team, does have three players with NCAA Tournament experience on his roster. Brown and junior forward Great Osobor were on the No. 14 seeded Montana State squad that lost to K-State, 77-65, while senior guard Ian Martinez saw action in Maryland’s win over West Virginia and the Terrapins loss to Alabama in last year’s NCAA tourney.

“I’m just so happy for this team, and so glad that we’re able to play in the tournament,” Brown said. “For a lot of these guys, it’s going to be their first time playing in the tournament. And we’re going there to win. That’s what we want to do. That’s been the goal this whole year is to go get an NCAA Tournament win. And hopefully keep advancing, but I’m just so happy for this team that we’re that we’re getting the opportunity to go to the NCAA tournament.”

The Aggies are 6-24 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and have lost 10 straight games in the Big Dance. Utah State last won a game in the NCAA Tournament in 2001 as a No. 12 seed, pulling off a 77-68 upset in overtime over No. 5 Ohio State.

Utah State also earned a No. 8 seed in 2019 under former head coach Craig Smith. That team, powered by current NBA players Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta, ended up losing to No. 9 seed Washington, 78-61, in the first round of NCAA Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.