Utah State vs No. 21 Houston: Keys to an Aggie victory

Utah State vs No. 21 Houston: Keys to an Aggie victory

Mountain West Basketball

Utah State vs No. 21 Houston: Keys to an Aggie victory

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9-2 USU plays 10-0 Houston tonight at 6pm MST


Aggies look to snap Houston’s 23-game winning streak at home


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Prepare for a fun game with maybe not a lot of points

Utah State takes on Houston’s 10-game hot streak tonight in Houston (7 p.m. MT/ESPN3) in what should be an intriguing matchup for both parties. The Aggies’ surprising 9-2 start can largely be credited to a renewed focus on rebounding, ranking sixth in the nation in defensive boards per game (32) and winning the rebounding battle 11 out of 11 times this year.

The same formula has Houston off to its best start in 50 years and looking to extend its undefeated season after inching past St. Louis in a close one Sunday. The Cougars rebound as well as any team — including the Aggies — and boast a sneakily good homecourt advantage, winning their past 23 straight home games.

Utah State is 2-1 on the road this season, but tonight will be its toughest test yet. Keys to an Aggie victory go as follows:

Get to the foul line

Getting to the line early and often means a lot of other elements of this game also fall in USU’s favor. Aggressive drives to the rim and potential foul trouble for Houston will tilt things Utah State’s way early and allow Sam Merrill and co. to dictate the game’s tempo. Stout defense doesn’t matter if opponents get points in other ways (How else would James Harden even have a job?) and USU can frustrate the Cougars’ best-laid plans by getting in a rhythm at the foul line, cashing in some free points and taking the crowd away early in what is typically a tough place to play.

Box out

Barring an uncharacteristic 3-pointer explosion, the battle of the boards will determine tonight’s victor. Don’t get caught sleeping against a team with a proven nose for the ball — the Cougars average a +7.5 rebounding differential. Utah State ranks fourth in the nation with +13.2 rebounds per game, but schedule strength plays a role in that metric. Houston knows USU considers rebounding a specialty, and will surely aim to neutralize that advantage at every turn.

Hold Houston under 70 (and prepare for a late push)

The 10-0 Cougars have managed to pull out four wins by six points or less, due in part to Galen Robinson and Corey Davis ability to handle late-game pressure with ease. Poise isn’t by any means a measurable statistic, but the Aggies will need some tonight if they hope to stun Houston at home — did I mention Houston is on a 23-game home game hot streak? The Aggies can’t afford any late jitters tonight. A calm, collected USU squad could very well pull off a big-time win tonight, but only if it’s prepared for Houston to make a game of it down the stretch.

Prediction:

Utah State 76, Houston 72

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