After finishing as the runner up in the Mountain West tournament, Utah State (26-8) is preparing to take on Missouri (24-9) in Sacramento today. The Tigers are coming off a loss to SEC tournament champion Alabama and will be looking to start strong in first round action.
When: Thursday, March 16th at 10:40 AM PST
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
Line: Utah State (-1) Provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
What to Watch for
For Utah State the most important name to know might by Steven Ashworth, who leads the team in three point percentage (44.3%) and also leads the team with points per game, averaging 16.3 points. Ashworth also leads the team in assists (4.5 per game) and steals (1.5 per game), providing all around talent for Utah State. Taylor Funk is another starter to watch out for as he averages 13.3 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. Max Shulga is a third player to watch that could have a big impact in this game as he averages 12.1 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. Sean Bairstow, who averages 10.4 points per game and 5.1 rebounds needs to be watched as does Dan Akin coming off the bench. Akin averages 12 points per game and 6.9 rebounds, providing significant depth and talent for Utah State. The Aggies rank 32nd in scoring offense, scoring around 78.6 points per game in most games and ranks 158th in scoring defense, allowing 69.7 points per game. Utah State ranks 21st in three pointers per game, averaging 9.3, and this will be the key to taking an early lead against Missouri. Finding open shots and getting the ball to Steven Ashworth or Taylor Funk.
As for Missouri, Kobe Brown leads the Tigers in points per game (15.8) and rebounds (15.8) and has a field goal percentage of 55.2%, so he can be dangerous on offense when given the ball. D’Moi Hodge is a second player to watch and he averages 14.8 points per game and 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 2.6 steals per game. Hodge also leads the team in blocks with 0.5 per game. A third player to watch for the Tigers is DeAndre Gholston, who scores 10.7 points per game, and averages 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. One area that Missouri struggles in that could work to Utah State’s advantage is free throw shooting as the Tigers are shooting 76.4% from the free throw line and are also averaging 36.3% on three pointers. Missouri also struggles to rebound the basketball, which could also work to the advantage of Utah State. The strength of the Tigers is offense and fastbreak points, which could work to the advantage of the Tigers if shots are not falling for the Aggies.
Even though Utah State is a 10 seed, they are still a slight favorite to beat Missouri. Overall, the Aggies are just a more balanced team when it comes down to statistics, and that could be the difference in this game. The key number might be record vs Top 25 teams. Utah State is 0-2 in such games while Missouri is 6-4, so Missouri has certainly faced tougher competition which could also give the Tigers the edge. Missouri beat Tennessee twice in the regular season and also beat Iowa State, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Illinois, who are all tournament teams that are seeded favorably. The key to this game is going to be consistency on both sides of the ball, which comes down to consistently making shots and playing tight defense. This one could be very high scoring but Utah State has the talent on offense to outlast Missouri and move on to the next round.
Prediction: Utah State 78, Missouri 73