The Aggies rose to prominence in the Mountain West this season, beating Nevada at home to eventually win a share of the conference crown. The Huskies marched through the Pac-12 with relative ease before falling to Oregon in their conference tournament final.
Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 6:50 p.m. ET
kenpom.com projection: Utah State def. Washington 68-66
Betting Line: Utah State -3 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)
No. 8 seed Utah State
Coach: Craig Smith
Record: 28-6 (15-3)
Conference tournament finish: Won Mountain West
Player to Watch: Sam Merrill
The Aggies are an efficient offensive machine, ranking 30th in the country on that end of the floor according to kenpom.com. Merrill keeps the machine running smoothly and has made huge plays in big moments all season long. He averaged 21.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game this season.
One of Utah State’s keys is ball movement. It ranks sixth in the nation in team assist percentage and keeps opponents on their toes. Against a Washington defense that makes impact plays, Utah State’s passing will be important in deciding the winner of the game.
The Aggies took down tournament-bound Saint Mary’s and UC-Irvine in the non-conference slate and played Houston tough on the road. They have won their last 10 games, including the conference tournament.
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No. 9 seed Washington
Coach: Mike Hopkins
Record: 26-8 (15-3)
Conference tournament finish: Runner-up
Player to Watch: Jaylen Nowell
The Huskies rank third and second in the nation in block and steal percentage respectively, showing they can create big plays defensively. They’re 20th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and although Hopkins is a Boeheim disciple, Washington plays mostly man-to-man defense.
Nowell is averaging 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game and makes Washington go offensively. The Huskies have two other players averaging double figures, but Nowell is the key.
The Huskies don’t have a signature win this season from their non-conference schedule as they lost to tournament-bound Auburn, Minnesota, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech. Can this group step up against a quality opponent in a tournament setting?