Utah State in talks to play former head coach Craig Smith’s new team
The in-state hoops rivalry between the Aggies and Utes could soon see new life.
After a breakup — especially an amicable one — it’s perfectly healthy and natural to want to hang out with your ex from time to time.
That situation currently applies to Utah State athletic director John Hartwell and former Aggies head coach Craig Smith, who took the reins at the University of Utah earlier in the offseason. According to Hartwell, the two have been in discussions about a potential home-and-home basketball series that would see the state’s two major public universities go head to head in both Salt Lake City and Logan in the seasons to come.
ICYMI, John Hartwell joined Eric Frandsen and Ajay Salvesen on the Full Court Press on Wednesday night.
— Utah State Athletics (@USUAthletics) July 8, 2021
On Wednesday, Hartwell spoke with Eric Frandsen and Ajay Salvesen on the Full Court Press podcast. During the interview, he mentioned conversations that he has had with Craig Smith about playing against each other in the future. Hartwell was also quick to note that any potential agreement with Craig Smith’s Utes would have to be a two-way street.
“I’ve had a couple of conversations with him about it. He and I [were] somewhat neighbors there in North Logan,” Hartwell told the program. “We had a chance to get together. There is that conversation going on. We’ll continue to try to get … a home-and-home series.”
“It’s not about going down there and playing one game,” Hartwell continued. “It’s about a game in Logan and a game in Salt Lake City, so we’ll continue to work on that.”
Of course, it’s not just Hartwell and Smith who would be reuniting if the teams were able to get a game on the docket for 2021-22. Two of the Aggies’ key contributors from a year ago, guards Marco Anthony and Rollie Worster, followed Smith to Salt Lake City via the transfer portal.
Conversely, former Utes point guard Rylan Jones went the opposite way, transferring to Logan after starting 43 games over his first two college seasons at Utah. New Aggies head coach Ryan Odom also managed to flip the commitment of Dutch forward Norbert Thelissen, who had originally committed to play for Larry Krystkowiak last summer before signing on at Utah State.
The Aggies and Utes have a long history on the hardwood, but the rivalry all but disappeared after Utah joined the Pacific 12 conference prior to the 2011-12 season, transcending the realm of the mid-majors in the process.
Though the Utes lead the all-time series 131-93, the schools were trading haymakers at the end of their days of playing every year. In the nine contests held between 2002 and 2010, the home team came away victorious each and every time. The team’s only meeting since then was in the 2017 Beehive Classic, where Utah won 77-67 in Salt Lake City.
Now that Utah has parted ways with Krystkowiak — who had been the head coach for the Utes’ entire lifespan in the Pac-12 — the door has opened for the schools’ basketball series to be renewed. Helping that cause is the fact that there is now a friendly face staring back at John Hartwell from the other side of that door.
However, with the wound of Craig Smith’s departure still fresh in Cache Valley, they may want to schedule the first game in Salt Lake City, just to be safe.
What’s your take on the Aggies rekindling their rivalry with the Utes? Who would win if they played next season? Connect with us on Twitter at @MWCwire and @andrewdieckhoff and let us know your thoughts!
Andrew Dieckhoff is a USBWA member covering college basketball for Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Heat Check CBB. He is also the creator of The DPI Gradebook presented by Heat Check CBB. Andy currently resides in Portland, Oregon.