After a stunning season in which the Aggies found themselves as co-Regular Season Champs and winners of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, they now find themselves as an eight-seed (their highest seeding in the NCAA tournament ever) in Columbus, Ohio. They’ll take on the ninth-seeded Washington Huskies in the Midwest Region, the winner facing either 1-seed North Carolina or 16-seed Iona (never say never, look what happened with UMBC last year).
Let’s take a look at their upcoming matchup:
A Stiff Husky Defense
The Aggies will have to work harder than usual for every basket against Washington, as the UW defense has been elite at taking the ball away, amongst other categories. The Huskies rank 9th in the country in steals and 10th in turnovers created. This is a factor of the game Coach Smith and the Aggies will need to be prepared for if they want to win, as Utah State turns the ball over at a scary pace. They’re 209th nationally in turnovers. The Huskies also rank 2nd in blocks, so expect a block party between these two programs.
Attack, Attack, Attack
Washington’s weakness is below the post, so driving to and attacking the rim is pertinent to a winning effort. It’s basic basketball: drive to the hoop and score OR find a passing lane. It’s so simple that sometimes a team can overthink it and mess themselves up, but the Aggies will need a clear mind and an aggressive mentality to open up shots and get points. Queta and the other big bodies on the team can do some major damage in the post and rebounding game.
Defend, Defend, Defend
Washington’s offense has struggled at times throughout the season, so taking advantage with a solid defense will do wonders for the Aggies. Jaylon Nowell has been an incredible offensive performer for UW, averaging 16.3 PPG. No one really knows which Husky offense will show up on a given night, they could churn out 80 or 60 points. No matter what, this team will be difficult to beat. They have an elite defender in Matisse Thybulle, who can take the ball away from you in the blink of an eye.
If you read the Q&A I took part in with Chris Landon over at UW Dawg Pound (you can find the link to that HERE), you’ll see I gave this a final score of 76-72 in favor of the Aggies. While I still believe the Aggies can and will pull out the victory, that score might be a bit high. Both teams come in with great defenses that can dominate in rebounds (USU) and forced turnovers (Washington). 8-seed vs 9-seed matchups are indeed the hardest to predict, as the seeds have split the all-time series (68-68).
I’ve given it more thought, and I will say that both teams will start out fast, but tough defending and fatigue will hit both squads. The Aggies hold on late and steal one from the PAC-12 Regular Season Champs.
Final Score: Utah State 67, Washington 63