Fresno State vs. Utah State: Series Preview
Will the Aggie frontcourt be enough to hold off upset hungry Fresno State?
The Bulldogs host the Aggies with the hopes of keeping the ‘Giant Killers’ label going through to Las Vegas.
WHO: Fresno State Bulldogs (11-10, 9-10 in the MW) vs. Utah State Aggies (17-7, 14-4 in the MW)
WHEN: Saturday, March 6th, 8:00 PM PT, 9:00 PM MT
WHERE: Save Mart Center, Fresno, CA
Stream: This matchup can be seen for free on FuboTV with a seven-day trial
Line: KenPom, Aggies favored by 10 points
SERIES RECORD: Utah State leads all-time series 40-25
If your ready to stay up for some late-night Mountain West hoops action on Saturday, regardless of your time-zone, your in luck. The last Mountain West regular season game of the 2020-2021 takes place in Fresno, CA on Saturday. With the host Bulldogs looking for another make up week upset over the visiting Utah State Aggies.
Something to keep in mind is the one-sided dominance of this series in recent year. As the visitors having won the last five meetings in a row. With the most recent win coming back on February 4th in Fresno. Where the Aggies prevailed 69-53 and kept all Bulldog players to single-digits scoring.
Things may be different on Saturday night. As Fresno State has had four players averaging double-digits over their last three games (2-1 in that span) and is coming off of their biggest win of the season.
Coach Justin Hutson’s group had no problem manifesting the exact fear of most fans around the conference this past week. As his Bulldog’s upset NCAA Tournament hopefuls Boise State, 67-64 in on the road.
Doing so possibly ended their hopes of receiving an at-large bid come selection Sunday, but that’s okay. This is March right? That same loss could have taken place next week in the conference tournament.
Utah State also played a makeup game this week, as they defeated the visiting Wyoming Cowboys on Thursday 72-59. Playing without junior guard Brock Miller due to injury, the Aggies struggled shooting the three ball out the gate but adjusted early.
The Aggies have been anchored by the play of their frontcourt duo, Neemias Queta and Justin Bean. Who both combined for 35 of their teams 72 total points against Wyoming as well as 23 of the total 42 rebounds secured. Thursday’s win was Queta’s fifth consecutive game with a double-double, for Bean it was his third. So to have both of these guys catching fire late in this season feels just right for a Craig Smith coached Aggie team who have net cutting goals next week in Las Vegas.
Match up of the night: Can the Bulldogs stop Utah State’s dominant down-low duo?
Alliteration achieved astutely aside (4-streak), the Aggies frontcourt has been unstoppable of late and the clear difference makers in their three-game winning streak. The Bulldogs don’t utilize a ton of size on their roster and often place redshirt senior Christian Gray (6-6, 250) and sophomore Anthony Holland (6-5, 225) at the four spot.
Their starting post and leading scorer sophomore Orlando Robinson (7-0, 235) will be tasked with scoring on one end, and defending Neemias Queta on the other. He will surely be a handful himself, averaging 15.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.3 APG & 1.0 SPG his last six games.
Seven-foot Portuguese rim protector Queta poses possibly the biggest problem for Fresno State tomorrow night. As Queta isn’t just the conference’s leading shot blocker but has enjoyed great run of scoring recently as well. Averaging, 22.0 PPPG, 11.5 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 2.3 APG & 1.0 SPG in his last six.
But it is the defensive presence he brings with him down low to be cautious of as well. As the Bulldogs leading scorer being his main defensive objective, others will need to step up if he has a tough night.
oh no, oh no, oh no no no no
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) March 5, 2021
Aggie four-man Justin bean isn’t necessarily Queta’s twin tower at 6-7, 210. And isn’t the one you have to necessarily be worried about in the paint, as you can find him just about everywhere the ball goes throughout the game usually. But you do have to prepare for his relentless pursuit of lose balls, rebounds and ability to step out and guard the perimeter.
Though just as important as interior offense and defense might be, the Bulldogs have also made ten three-pointers in each of their last three games (an average of 42.7%).
— Fresno State Men’s Basketball (@FresnoStateMBB) March 3, 2021
Just ask the Broncos how dangerous a streak like that can be.
What’s at stake: Conference Tournament Seeding
This will literally be one of the last games of the Mountain West regular season, along with a clash in Laramie between Wyoming and visitors UNLV. Thus when the final-buzzer sounds on Saturday night, we shall have our official Mountain West Conference Tournament bracket.
“There is a lot on the line, right now we can still get a two seed, I think winning tonight we can’t get any lower than a three-seed. So there is a lot to play for.” said coach Smith after Thursday night’s win.
Game-One Prediction: Utah State 75, Fresno State 64
KenPom has the Aggies as ten-point favorites on Saturday night. Given the recent production from their frontcourt, I think that holds. Unless the Bulldogs can repeat a rare feat they achieved on Tuesday night once again.
The X-Factor: Free Throws
But if the Bulldogs can accomplish one feat from their win over the Broncos, they could make life hard on the Aggies.
Last time out, the Bulldogs went a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line. As a team they lead the conference in free-throw attempts per game (20.6) but not in made free-throw attempts per game or percentage.
If they attack the basket (yes, I know Queta will be below or near it) and draw fouls without committing too many turnovers, go to the line and make them. This could be the difference maker, as we have seen Queta head to the bench with foul trouble early on before. Take Thursday night for example, as he dominated with 5 blocks but eventually fouled out with 5 fouls.
With Queta on the bench, you have one less thing to worry about. And if you can clog the paint and deny Bean the chance to garner second chance opportunities you level the playing field. The Aggies would then have to take and make the three, which they still haven’t quite figured out this season as they rank in the bottom-half in three-point field goals made (6.6), attempts (19.5) and percentage (34.0%).
The Bulldogs should make this one interesting, especially at home where they are 7-4 on the season, as opposed to 4-6 when they have to pack their bags for game. While the Aggies feel primed to find consistency heading to Las Vegas next week in hopes of a three-peat as tournament champions.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.