Utah State hosts Air Force; preview, prediction, and more.
Can the Aggies add a third straight win?
Matchup: Utah State vs. Air Force in Logan, Utah
Time: 9 PM EST
STREAM: Mountain West Network
Odds: Utah State -14.5
Air Force has given Utah State trouble in recent years, including this year! On December 29th, the Aggies looked firmly in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but a rough 1-19 shooting performance helped Air Force come away with the home victory. That’s how Air Force wins games this season, keeping games low scoring and tough defense. If that happens again, it plays right into the hands of Air Force, who’s 3-5 in conference play.
Utah State had some tough luck, losing five Mountain West games by 19 total points. It was inevitable that the Aggies’ luck would turn around, and two blowout wins over San Diego State and Nevada showed just how dangerous this team could be when hitting shots. In last week’s victories, they went 20-47 from three. It’s unlikely the 1-19 performance will come up again, but the three-point shooting of Utah State will dictate how this meeting goes. Justin Bean hasn’t scored above 19 points since January 8th in the overtime victory over New Mexico. If Bean starts scoring in the 20-point figures once again, it’ll bring intrigue.
Air Force has found the trio to bring the team victories, starting with veteran leader A.J. Walker, paired with younger players Jake Heidbreder and Ethan Taylor. Walker still leads the team with 15.8 points, but Taylor leads Air Force in rebounds, assists, and steals per game. Heidbreder provides lethal shooting ability from deep, connecting on 37.8 percent of his shots. The big-men Lucas Moerman and Nikc Jackson lead the team in the defensive box plus minutes (per sports-reference) department with 2.6. The defense those two play on Justin Bean will be worth monitoring in this game.
Air Force: Lucas Moerman
This season, Moerman’s started each of his 17 games and provided the team with defense and floor-stretching ability. In past years under Joe Scott they played using the five-man as the main decision-maker in the Princeton offense, but the offense runs through the guards far more in 2021-22.
Utah State: Sean Bairstow
The younger brother of former New Mexico star Cameron Bairstow blossomed into a solid scoring option in Ryan Odom’s first year in Logan. Bairstow’s averaging 10.0 points as a junior and reached double-digit scoring in six of the past seven games.
Utah State 75
Air Force 56
If Utah State scores 75 points that would tie Nevada for most points scored against Air Force in conference play. But, we already saw Utah State score 75 points in the win over San Diego State, who ranks third in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ranking. I think we’ll see a big game from Justin Bean, and the guards of Utah State should have solid production.