Utah State coach Ryan Odom calls out to players during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against San Diego State for the men’s Mountain West Tournament championship Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)
Utah State is in Sacramento for its third NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four iterations of March Madness (four of five if you include the cancelled 2020 tournament). The Aggies’ opponent — the Missouri Tigers — are a tough one.
How to watch
- Tip-off: 11:40 p.m. MT
- Location: Golden 1 Center | Sacramento, CA
- TV Broadcast: TNT
- Radio Broadcast: 106.9 FM / 1390 AM The FAN (coverage from Westwood One)
- Aggie GameDay Coverage on KVNU (102.1 FM/610 AM & KVNU mobile app): 10:40 p.m. MT
- KVNU Aggie Call (102.1 FM/610 AM, KVNU mobile app): Immediately after game ends
G – Rylan Jones (Concussion) – OUT
Jones went through practices with the team in Sacramento but will remain out due to concussion-like symptoms.
G – Tre Gomillion (Groin) – QUESTIONABLE
G – Kaleb Brown (Illness) – OUT
F – Ronnie DeGray III (Knee) – OUT
Gomillion sat out Missouri’s two games in the SEC tournament and is a game-time decision for Thursday. The senior guard has largely come off the bench for the Tigers, averaging 4.8 points per game for the team.
Utah State (26-8)
- G – Steven Ashworth (6-1, Jr.) – 16.3 points | 3.2 rebounds | 4.5 assists
- G – Max Shulga (6-4, Jr.) – 12.1 points | 4.4 rebounds | 4.1 assists
- G/F – Sean Bairstow (6-8, Sr.) – 10.4 points | 5.1 rebounds | 2.6 assists
- F – Taylor Funk (6-9, Gr.) – 13.3 points | 5.5 rebounds | 1.7 assists
- C – Trevin Dorius (7-0, Sr.) – 5.9 points | 4.0 rebounds | 0.3 assists
- 6th Man – Dan Akin (6-9, Gr.) – 12.0 points | 6.9 rebounds | 0.9 assists
- G – Nick Honor (5-10, Sr.) – 8.0 points | 1.6 rebounds | 2.9 assists
- G – D’Moi Hodge (6-4, Sr.) – 14.8 points | 3.8 rebounds | 1.6 assists
- G – DeAndre Gholston (6-5, Jr.) – 10.7 points | 2.3 rebounds | 1.8 assists
- F – Kobe Brown (6-7, Sr.) – 15.8 points | 6.3 rebounds | 2.5 assists
- F/C – Mohamed Diarra (6-10, Jr.) – 3.5 points | 3.3 rebounds | 0.6 assists
Team Statistical Ranks
Stats and ratings are from Basketball Reference (except the NET ranking). All ranks are out of 363 Division I teams.
- Pace – 69.2 (138th)
- Offensive Rating – 113.1 (19th)
- Defensive Rating – 100.4 (133rd)
- Field Goal % – 48.0 (24th)
- 3-point % – 39.3 (5th)
- Rebounding % – 52.9 (50th)
- NET Rank – 18th
- Pace – 70.2 (79th)
- Offensive Rating – 112.3 (22nd)
- Defensive Rating – 105.4 (273rd)
- Field Goal % – 47.3 (32nd)
- 3-point % – 36.1 (80th)
- Rebounding % – 44.8 (360th)
- NET Rank – 42nd
Utah State will try to do on Thursday morning what no Utah State team has done in what is now more than 22 years. The last Aggie squad to win in March Madness was the 2000-01 season that saw USU upset 5th-seeded Ohio State.
USU head coach Ryan Odom explained the program’s 22-year drought best on Sunday right after his players became the ninth Utah State team to receive an invite to the NCAA Tournament since that early Stew Morrill team.
“It’s hard because you’re playing a really good team,” Odom said. “Everybody’s got a stellar opponent that they’ve got to face.”
This year’s team is trying to do what previous great Aggie teams were unable to do. But rather than one-up those teams, the current players are more about building on a foundation left by those former Aggie greats.
“Coming to Utah State, I’ve obviously seen the legacy that guys like Sam (Merrill) and (Neemias Queta) and Justin (Bean) have left for us,” junior guard Steven Ashworth said. “Now to be in a way trying to do that ourselves as this team is trying to leave our own legacy, build off of what the players have built already, is something that we take great pride in.”
Missouri will provide a steep challenge for the Aggies in the goal of ending the 22-year drought without a win in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers finished fourth in an SEC that boasts some of the best teams in the country, including its top team in Alabama. They did so with a top-tier offense filled with versatile players.
“They have multiple guys on the court, five guys at all times pretty much, that can initiate. They have a couple of lineups that don’t, but the majority of them do,” Odom said. “Then they challenge you with help defense. They drive to the basket. They’re really efficient from two, but they’re also really efficient from three. That’s why they’re one of the better offensive teams in the country. They’re hard to stop because of that.”
One of the biggest challenges on the Missouri offense will be Kobe Brown, the 6-foot-7, 240-pound wing who leads the Tigers in scoring at 15.8 per night. He earned Second Team All-SEC honors and as USU forward Taylor Funk said, “Our defense is going to have to be set for us to stop him.”
“He’s a really good player,” Funk said. “Watched a lot of film on him already. He’s a versatile guy. He has the ability to shoot the three, shooting over 40%. He can put that thing on the ground and get to the rim.”
Defensively, Missouri doesn’t jump off a stat sheet in terms of efficiency although they do have one major area they can get you in — steals. The Tigers are among the best in the country at forcing turnovers. It not only bolster’s their rather-mediocre defense but fuels their transition/fast-break heavy offense.
With that knowledge in tow, Utah State’s backcourt players know very well how important not turning the ball over will be.
“We know we have to take care of the ball and we have to make sure we meet our passes, catch with two hands,” Ashworth said. “A lot of the primary things you learn growing up with basketball are going to be applicable tomorrow morning.”
“Their guards create a lot of turnovers which lead to their transition buckets, where they are very lethal,” senior guard Rylan Jones said. “We’ve got to keep them out of the transition offense area, and taking care of the ball will do that.”
When asked which teams the Aggies have played that are comparable, Odom said the Tigers are similar to New Mexico and Oral Roberts. The Lobos because of the pace and having guards that can force turnovers, and the Golden Eagles because of the ability to spread the floor and drive to the basket.
A lot was made during the team’s press conference about playing a major conference opponent like Missouri. The Tigers were obviously tested more often, having played 15 Quad 1 games to Utah State’s seven. But the Aggies noted the toughness of the Mountain West schedule, which Jones said was “a battle every night.”
“It prepared us for this moment,” Jones said. “We’re prepared for it that our brutal conference play. Every game you play, it’s a battle. You got to go to hard road venues, you have great teams coming into your home venue. It’s prepared us for this moment to play Missouri and be here in March Madness.”