Before the season started, the Utah State Aggies were picked to finish tenth in the conference, head of only San Jose State. With no returning starters, a young team and against the odds, it did not look good for the team.
Yet, they had a season to remember, ending fifth in the conference and earning a first round bye. Some have said this team may be a dark horse to win the conference's automatic bid. Here are some keys as to how they can make that dream a reality.
1. Live by the three
It is no secret that Utah State has shooters that can hit from beyond the arc. They are the top team in the conference in three-point shooting (42.2 percent). They also do a great job limiting teams from getting three-pointers, holding teams to 31 percent shooting. The main threat on the Aggies' offense is Darius Perkins, who leads the the team in three-point shooting percentage (47.2 percent). With other teams in the conference that have great offenses, the Aggies' ability to shoot the three is one of the reasons they have been able to find success thus far this season. Look for their three-point shooting to be a major X-Factor in the tournament.
2. Gotta make those free throws
Utah State may be good at three-pointers, but they have struggled mightily from the free throw line this season. They are currently ranked near the bottom of the conference in free throw shooting (63.4 percent). The team has been games that have been decided by points left at the line. With teams like Boise State and San Diego State and their offenses, getting free points is going to be key if the Aggies want to make a deep run and possibly win the conference. You can't expect to win games just by shooting the ball. Free throws are key.
3. Battle of the Boards
The biggest glaring stat for the team is rebounding. In their non-conference portion of the schedule, the team struggled to get defensive rebounds and gave up lots of second chance opportunities. They have gotten slightly better, but they rank near the bottom of the conference in rebounding margin (-4.3). Rebounding is going to be big for the Aggies. If they can't take advantage of missed shots and grab rebounds, there's a good chance they could be seeing an early exit.
4. Keep exceeding expectations
The Aggies have been a very pleasant surprise this year, especially in conference play. Picked to finish second to last in the conference, they have been able to battle and finish a respectable fifth. At one point, they had chance to finish third and had a six game win streak near the end of conference play. Even though they have lost their last two games, the team is riding a confidence high right now. If they can carry that momentum into tournament play, they may just run the tables and win the Mountain West.