Utah State head coach Ryan Odom looks on against the Colorado State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
LOGAN, Utah — For the fourth season in a row, the Aggies will play postseason basketball. The bracket for the 2022 National Invitation Tournament was announced Sunday evening and Utah State is the fourth seed, hosting fifth-seed Oregon on Tuesday night.
“We’re just happy to be playing, without a doubt,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “It’s like icing on the cake to be able to play one more time in the Spectrum. And I know the Aggie faithful will be in that gym on Tuesday night and excited.”
Following the Aggies’ loss to Colorado State in the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinal game, Utah State was far from guaranteed a spot in the postseason. Due to the Aggies’ record and failure to win the conference tournament, a bid to the NCAA Tournament was ruled out. Additionally, many national pundits did not have Utah State projected to make the NIT.
Odom felt his team deserved to make it due to their metrics and quality wins (finishing the season ranked 60th in the NET rankings), but he did not know the Aggies made it until Utah State flashed on the screen during the NIT Selection show Sunday evening.
“I was a little nervous because it got all the way down to the end and there hadn’t been one Mountain West team called yet,” Odom said. “It ended up happening, obviously, so it was a big celebration in the Odom household.”
Odom called senior forward Justin Bean after they were announced as the fourth seed.
“He was obviously over the moon and ecstatic about being able to play another game in another tournament,” Odom said.
After the announcement, Bean posted a picture of him celebrating during a game with this caption: “Mood… See you this week Aggie nation.”
The rest of the team shares Bean’s excitement and Odom said they “deserve it.”
“I’m so happy for our players because they genuinely want to play again,” Odom said. “I’m so happy that they get a chance to play in a postseason. They deserve it. They’ve been through a lot all season… Everybody’s ecstatic about continuing the season and being able to compete with one another, for sure, one more time.”
Utah State may be the fourth seed, but the Aggies are aiming for the title, played at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“I know there’s a lot of work to be done for all the teams to even make it to New York City,” Odom said. “It’s a special experience to do that and be a part of that and so that’s what we’re chasing… I know our guys will approach it like they have every other game that they’ve played this year and that’s to try and win.”
Utah State was the only Mountain West team to get into the NIT; however, the league received four bids to the NCAA Tournament.
“I was disappointed that others didn’t get in from our conference,” Odom said. “I thought UNLV, I thought Fresno State (were) both well deserving of an NIT berth but they’ve cut it down now. You only have 32 spots….We’re gonna do our best to represent the Mountain West the right way.”
This season, Utah State has faired well against NCAA tournament teams and NIT teams this season. They beat NCAA tournament-bound teams Richmond, New Mexico State and San Diego State. The Aggies have also had close losses to Boise State, Colorado State, Iowa, Saint Mary’s and Wyoming, all of which are NCAA tournament teams.
The Aggies split the two games they played against NIT teams. They beat No. 1 seed Oklahoma in the championship game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational but fell to No. 2 BYU.
“You look at the tournament and field that’s in it, there’s some really good teams throughout the bracket,” Odom said.
Oregon’s trip to the Spectrum will be the first visit by a Pac-12 team since USC in 2013. The Ducks will also be the first power-five opponent to come to Logan since Mississippi State came later in 2013.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us ’cause it doesn’t happen that often, and we certainly want to schedule these types of games,” Odom said. “We welcome any team that wants to come to Logan and certainly we would want to return that game to them.”
Historically, the Aggies are 2-9 in the NIT all time. The last time Utah State made the NIT was in 2008. They fell to Illinois State 61-57. The 2004 NIT was the last time the Aggies hosted a game in the competition. Hawai’i got the win in the Spectrum, 85-74. To find Utah State’s last win in the NIT, you have to look back at the 1959-60 squad that won the third-place game over St. Bonaventure, 99-83.
This year marks the 33rd time USU will have participated in post-season basketball. According to USU Athletic Media Relations Director Doug Hoffman, the Aggies have appeared in 22 NCAA tournaments, 10 NIT tournaments and participated one year in the CIT. The only other Mountain West school with more post-season experience is New Mexico with 34 post-season appearances.
For Odom, he has a family legacy in the NIT. His father, Dave Odom, won the NIT three times. Once with Wake Forest in 2000 and twice with South Carolina in 2005 and 2006.
“It’s certainly been good to the Odoms,” Odom said. “ I can remember (my) dad was holding Connor (Odom) as a little kid after he won… on that main court, so it is special.”
The Aggies see the tournament as not only one last chance for seniors on the squad but as an opportunity to propel the program next year.
“The NIT is a storied tournament,” Odom said. “I think it can springboard you onto better things in the coming years as long as you use it the right way. Certainly, disappointment that we didn’t reach our goal of making the NCAA Tournament and having a go at that, but this is a really good opportunity for our program.”
This is backed up by teams, such as Boise State, Colorado State and Memphis, who played in the NIT last season and earned berths to this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Tip-off for Oregon at Utah State is scheduled for 7 p.m. MDT on Tuesday and will be broadcast on ESPN. Stay tuned to Cache Valley Daily for a preview of the Oregon Ducks.