The Aztec Effect,
Even though Utah State’s fantastic play came as a bit of a surprise last season to most outside of the Aggie program, they were a very good team the entire season, especially early on. I mean I get it, it was Craig Smith’s first year in charge coming from the Summit League (South Dakota) and impactful players we know now like Diogo Brito and Brock Miller didn’t play much under former head coach Tim Duryea. Heck, Abel Porter was a walk-on when he first got to Logan, who knew what kind of player he would develop into. And Neemias Queta was just another tall big man from Europe, who we have seen time and time again come with a 50/50 chance of star power potential, who knew what side of fifty Utah State would get right?
Nevertheless, the level of play for Sam Merrill and crew hasn’t been bad, honestly it is somewhat on par to what they were doing this time last year when everyone was surprised at how good they were. The Aggies are currently 20-7 (9-5) and were 21-6 (11-3) in as many games last season. Yes those numbers are similar but also very different in terms of conference play. But there’s a reason for that, and that would be the Aztecs.
San Diego State has had an amazing season that doesn’t need anymore explanation that what has been previously said. But their dominance all season long separates them from the rest of the conference. They’ve clinched the regular season title in convincing fashion and have a top-5 national ranking while the rest of the conference is busy trying to beat each other for a higher seed in the conference tournament next month. This performance has overshadowed most other conference performances thus far. And for an Aggie team whose perceived dominance last season came in conference play which included a ten game winning streak that went right to the Mountain West Tournament championship.
For everyone watching the Mountain West, it was wrong to think Utah State was going to stay down for long. With the recent reemergence of Neemias Queta down low and Sam Merrill averaging 20.2 PPG in their last seven, in which the Aggies are 6-1 it’s hard to see them stopping now. And after a win over Colorado State on Tuesday night Utah State has maybe the easiest four game stretch ahead of them against four of the bottom five teams in the Mountain West.
Securing those four wins could solidify a second place finish, which with the current state of the conference is a win in my book. Plus without another shot at San Diego State in the regular season Aggies fans can hope for a tournament championship match up against the Aztec and a win would give them their second straight NCAA tournament appearance.