Mountain West Championship: Keys to a Utah State Aggies Win
Ryan Odom looking for first tournament title at Utah State.
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The Utah State Aggies are primed to cut down the nets in Las Vegas Saturday afternoon.
Ryan Odom has managed to harness the same magic in Mountain West that his predecessor Craig Smith found before him. Utah State is enjoying a March Madness run everyone dreams of.
After downing New Mexico in the quarter finals. And taking care of a more troublesome Boise State last night to advance to their first championship game since 2021. Utah State has to take down one of the Mountain West’s best in order to cut to down the nets inside the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday.
But no need to steady any nerves. As the Aggies have been here before, against the same opponent. Both now seeking their third tournament championship in six years.
San Diego State and Utah State have been two of the more dominant programs in the Mountain West in recent years. This is the Aztec’s fifth straight championship game appearance. Securing two conference titles during that span, one of which came against Utah State back in 2021.
While the Aggies have enjoyed similar success, with three straight title game appearances from 2018-2021. All meetings with the Brian Dutcher’s Aztecs, securing back to back titles during the first two years of coach Smith’s tenure at Utah State.
Now coach Odom gets a chance to make his mark on the Mountain West and bring some hardware back to Logan in the process. The only thing standing in the way is an Aztecs team that swept the Aggies en route to a regular season championship.
Utah state’s strengths
The Aggies have rallied behind leading scorer and floor general Steven Ashworth this season. As the junior guard has enjoyed a breakout season, earning all-Mountain West 1st-team honors this week from the conference’s coaches. After being snubbed by in the media’s selections days prior.
Ashworth’s 16.5 PPG, 4.7 APG & 1.2 SPG (all team highs) in 32.9 MPG this season leads the way for what may be the best offense in the entire conference.
The Aggies boast a league leading 17.1 APG, thanks to an overwhelming amount of depth. With five different players averaging 10.4 PPG or higher. Including the unanimous Mountain West 6th Man of the Year Dan Akin coming off of the bench to average 12.3 PPG & 6.8 RPG (team high) in just 27.1 MPG.
The addition of Akin this offseason from the transfer portal (California Baptist) speaks to the depth in scoring and size coach Odom utilizes every game. With players who can score inside (54.6 2P%, top-50 in the nation), at the line (15.1 made FTs a game, top-50 in the nation) or from beyond the arc (40.4%, 2nd in the nation).
This combination of size, depth and scoring ability sets the Aggies apart. Not to mention a team chemistry likely only rivaled by San Diego State. Utah State is primed to earn their first conference tournament championship of the Ryan Odom era.
To do this they’ll need to do three things:
Take and make the three-As mentioned the Aggies do this better than anyone in the Mountain West. Including Ashworth who knocks them down at a rate of 45.4%, 5th in the entire country. But the Aztecs hold their opponents to just 29.7% from three, including Utah State. Who were kept to just 29.7% from deep in both of their regular season losses to San Diego State this season.
Handle the ball efficiently-The Aztecs hold their opponents to a league leading and top-50 in the nation scoring average of just 63.8 PPG. They do so with above average and extremely efficient defensive metrics at all three levels of scoring.
Forcing teams to take contested shots and forcing turnovers to create wasted possessions. For a team of Utah State’s caliber handling the ball, they’ll need a near perfect performance to not fall victim to that defense.
Play both sides of the ball-We know the Aggies can score it, but they aren’t necessarily defensive slouches either. While the Aztecs are known for their defense, they have 4-5 players of their own that can take over a game offensively themselves.
Just ask Adam Seiko, San Diego State’s 8th leading scorer, but who enjoyed a season high 25-points with 7-9 made threes against Utah State on January 25th. It’s going to take everything Utah State has left in the tank, but if there was ever a time to run down to empty, it’s Saturday afternoon.
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.