Well it wasn’t the Utah State Aggie team in 2019 that was led by Sam Merrill that received an eight seed and ended up losing to ninth Washington in the first round, 78-61. This was still a good Utah State team though that went 15-4 in conference play and fell in the conference tournament game. After tournament play the aggies sat at 20-8 (25-4) and despite losing to Boise State twice, the Aggies received an 11 seed on Selection Sunday. They will face off against Texas Tech, who is a six seed sitting at 17-10 (9-8), and will have their work cut out for them.
How to Watch
Date/Time: March 19th; 1:45 P.M. EST
Spread: Texas Tech (-4.5)
Three Keys to Victory
1. Win the turnover battle
Utah State typically does a pretty good job of taking care of the basketball but they need to figure out a way to win the turnover battle, which doesn’t just mean not turning the ball over but also forcing Texas Tech into turnovers. Utah State is tied for 126th in the nation in forced turnovers, forcing 13.86 per game, while Texas Tech ranks 25th in the nation, forcing 16.04 turnovers per game.
Utah State is tied for 301st for number of turnovers given this season, giving up 381 turnovers through 28 games. Texas Tech ranks 137th, giving up 296 turnovers through 27 games. In order for Utah State to have a chance in this game, they will need to limit their turnovers and force Texas Tech into turnovers to give themselves more opportunities.
2. Continue to rebound at a high level
One of the most interesting statistics about this Utah State team that makes them different than some of the other teams competing in the tournament? The Aggies have outrebounded every single opponent on their schedule. Yes even San Diego State. Their rebound margin is ranked 2nd in the nation, just behind North Carolina. The Aggies have averaged 40.8 rebounds per game this season while their opponents have averaged 30.5 per game, a difference of just a little over one.
Texas Tech ranks 120th in the nation averaging 35.1 rebounds per game and allowing their opponents an average of 33 rebounds, a difference a little over two. Utah State has been an excellent rebounding team this year and continuing that streak is going to be a key to stealing a victory in week one and upsetting the Red Raiders, starting off bracket busting season strong.
3. Make the most of opportunities
There is no way that Utah State is going to be able to make the most of every single opportunity they are given because they are going to make mistakes and miss shots just like any other team. However, Utah State can not afford to go into a cold streak shooting the basketball and allow the Red Raiders to build a lead. One of the main reasons Utah State lost their conference championship game to San Diego State was because of poor shooting. In that game the Aggies went 19-51 shooting the ball (37.3%) and went 3-13 from three (23.1%). That kind of performance is not going to cut it against a Texas Tech team that looks good this year and will be looking to make a deeper tournament run.
The best way to take advantage of opportunities is to score, so Utah State should take points where they can find them. For example, instead of shooting a contested three if the team is already leading, go for an easier two if it is available. The essential thing Utah State needs to do is to make free throws, especially late. If the Aggies can play smart offense and make free throws, this game should be a very entertaining one that comes down to the final minutes.
Players to Watch
Utah State Center Neemias Queta
Neemias Queta was an essential part of Utah State having success this season after the departure of Sam Merrill. Queta leads the team in three categories in points per game, rebounds, per game, and blocks per game. Queta is averaging 15.1 points per game with a shooting percentage of 55.7%, 10 rebounds per game, and 3.2 blocks per game. He is a key player on both sides of the ball and Texas Tech will need to keep him in check. Without Queta, the Aggies may not have swept San Diego State in the regular season and without those two wins, maybe Utah State doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
Utah State Forward Justin Bean
Justin Bean leads the team in steals with 1.3 per game and is averaging 11.3 points per game with a shooting percentage of 51.6%. Similar to Queta he is a good rebounder, averaging 7.7 rebounds per game, and has been important to Utah State’s success this season. Bean had 12 points and six rebounds against San Diego State and 13 points and 11 rebounds in the semi-final against Colorado State.
Utah State Guard Rollie Worster
When Utah State played Boise State back in the regular season, one of the major topics of discussion was the absence of Rollie Worster, who was in a boot. The loss of Worster seems to have been a big contributing factor in Utah State being swept by Boise State and he should play an important role against Texas Tech. He leads the team in assists per game, averaging 3.6 per game and is also averaging 9.2 point per game with a shooting percentage of 41%. Finding open shots is going to be a significant key to victory for Utah State, so letting the team leader in assists try to find more open guys and create shots is going to be important to keeping the game close.
Texas Tech Forward Marcus Santos-Silva
Marcus Santos-Silva leads Texas Tech in two categories: rebounds and blocks. He is averaging 6.5 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game in addition to averaging 8.5 point per game on 54.2% shooting. One of the areas that Texas Tech will need him to improve in during the tournament is free throw shooting, as he is currently 58.1% from the line and that could make a difference in a close game. Texas Tech will also need him to build on his rebounding numbers if they want to get past a very good rebounding team in Utah State.
Texas Tech Guard Mac McClung
Mac McClung is leading the team in points per game this season with 15.7 on 42.3% shooting and he is also shooting at 33.3% from the free throw line. Utah State can play really good defense so getting out ahead of the Aggies is going to be key for the Red Raiders. He is 80.3% from the free throw line and will need to have a bigger game than his last two, where he had a total of 14 points, six rebounds, and two steals.
Texas Tech Guard Kyler Edwards
Kyler Edwards leads the team in assists with 2.7 per game and as previously stated with Rollie Worster of Utah State, finding the open shot and creating shots is going to be key in this game. He averages 10 points per game on 41.2% shooting, is 78.8% from the free throw line, and a statistic to pay attention to, he is 41.5% from the three point line. Being able to shoot the three ball is significant in any close game and especially in March Madness where crazy things happen, you have to be able to make big plays in close games. So don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders try to get Kyler Edwards going from behind the line.
This Utah State team can be hard to pin down. If this is the team that showed up against Boise State and was swept or the team that didn’t fully show up against San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament, then this is going to be a long and disappointing game for the Aggies. However, if this is the team that beat San Diego State twice in the regular season and the team that also swept Nevada, there’s a good chance this one comes down to the wire.
Utah State had a slow start to the season and they weren’t able to take advantage of important opportunities in games with BYU, Boise State, and San Diego State (the third game) in three of the biggest games of the season for Utah State. This game will likely not by an means be a blowout but against competition that has really tested Utah State this season, they have had a hard time delivering at some points.
Consider this: Texas Tech beat Oklahoma twice, Texas twice (who is a three seed), LSU, and had a close loss to Oklahoma State in overtime. The Red Raiders are just a few points away from having a few more wins. The Big 12 was a difficult conference in basketball this year and the conference placed seven of their teams, 70%, into the NCAA Tournament.
The best team that Utah State has played so far is San Diego State. Considering that Texas Tech has been more tested than the Aggies, they probably do deservedly have an edge but this one could be close.
It’s March. Remember that crazy things happen during March Madness. That being said this game will be close at the end of the first half but ultimately Texas Tech has been tested more and will likely pull ahead late.
Score Prediction: Texas Tech 68; Utah State 59
This sponsored post was published according to our guiding principles.