Utah State to start NCAA Tournament against Washington
LOGAN, Utah — Having already punched their ticket to the Big Dance, the Aggies just needed a first opponent and a venue to begin March Madness.
Both of those missing parts were unveiled Sunday afternoon during the CBS Selection Show. The Utah State men’s basketball team will play Washington in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday at Nationwide Arena. Tipoff is set for 4:45 p.m. MDT and will be televised nationally on TNT.
The Aggies (28-6) are the eighth seed in the Midwest Regional — the highest seed in school history. The Huskies (26-8) are the ninth seed and the designated visiting team in the first-round NCAA Tournament game. Washington and USU met up in San Diego in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. The Huskies won the meeting, 75-61.
The Aggie team, coaches, USU administrators and their families gathered Sunday at the West Stadium Center at Maverik Stadium to watch the Selection Show. After the East and South Regions were announced, the Midwest Region was up and had USU listed.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Aggie guard Sam Merrill, who was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. “I’m still not sure it sunk in. To be able to finally get our name called makes me even more grateful that we won (Saturday). Going through those first couple regions, I was shaking. I wanted to know where we were going.”
“It’s been an exciting week,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “What a great season and a historic season, quite frankly, in every way, shape and form. ... It’s been a historic run and a magical season. Now to earn the highest seed in the history of Utah State men’s basketball as an eight seed just speaks volumes to the character of our team and our program.”
Washington won the Pac-12 regular-season title after posting a 15-3 league mark. The Huskies, who received 11 votes in last week’s coaches poll to rank tied for 31st in the nation, lost to Oregon 68-48 in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game. Washington is coached by Mike Hopkins, who is in his second year at the helm and has an overall record of 47-21.
This will be the 21st NCAA Tournament appearance for USU. The last time the Aggies went dancing was in 2011, and their last victory came in 2001. This group has plans to end that long drought and will be the favorite, according to seeding.
“Yeah, it’s been 18 years. It was Ohio State that they beat,” said Merrill, a life-long Aggie fan before coming to play at USU. “I was probably 4 or 5. I do remember all the losses throughout the next few years, and those were really good Utah State teams that for some reason or another couldn’t find a way to get over that hump. We’re hoping to be that team that can do that and make some noise for our program.”
Some of the national experts are already predicting USU will beat Washington. If that happens, the Aggies would play Sunday against the winner of top-seeded North Carolina and 16-seed Iona.
Entering the NCAA Tournament, USU has a NET Ranking of 29, a non-conference strength of schedule of 20, an overall strength of schedule of 96, 14 wins away from home, a 3-2 record against Quad 1 opponents, a 2-3 record against Quad 2 opponents, a 9-1 record against Quad 3 opponents and a 13-0 record against Quad 4 opponents. The Aggies did not lose back-to-back games all season.
During the 2018-19 campaign, USU and Duke are the only two teams in the nation with a top 30 NET ranking, a top 20 non-conference strength of schedule and 14 wins away from home.
So, one could argue the Aggies have already made some noise. However, they are still hungry.
“It’s incredible,” Merrill said. “I would have never thought we would be at this point with how my first couple years went. How we’ve grown as a team and how each player individually has grown, it’s been an incredible ride and I can’t ask for anything better. Go win a couple games here. We’re, obviously, very excited to have helped bring Utah State basketball where it needs to be.”
BOISE STATE WOMEN GET 13 SEED, PLAY OREGON STATE
The Boise State women’s basketball team is a No. 13 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West Conference champion Broncos face fourth-seeded Oregon State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. MDT in Corvallis, Oregon.
Boise State (28-4) seeks its first-ever NCAA Tournament win. This year’s trip to the Big Dance is the program’s eighth, and third in as many seasons.
Oregon State (24-7) advanced to the Elite Eight round of the tournament last year. The Beavers’ starting point guard is former Mountain View High School standout, Treasure Valley native and McDonald’s All-American Destiny Slocum.
“Destiny Slocum is a terrific player,” BSU coach Gordy Presnell told the Idaho Statesman. “She’s highly, highly skilled. She’s a gym rat. She’s one of the premier guards in the whole country.”
Saturday’s game will be televised on ESPN2.