Utah State Has Advantage in Mountain West

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BOISE, ID - JANUARY 18: Guard Sam Merrill #5 of the Utah State Aggies passes the ball during first half action against the Boise State Broncos at ExtraMile Arena on January 88, 2020 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)

Utah State defeated San Diego State in back-to-back games last week and took down Colorado State last night. After the Aggies’ tough start to the season, they’ve turned things around. Now, they’re in the driver’s seat to a Mountain West Conference regular-season championship.

Utah State Handles San Diego State and Colorado State

Aggies Go 3-0 Last Week

Among the cardboard cutouts, real people scattered throughout the permissible seating of Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The fans donned navy blue masks, but the covering didn’t seem to muffle the resonating roar. It was weird, something that used to normal but is now considered risky and somewhat taboo. It was great.

On Thursday, the Aggies defeated the Aztecs 57-45 in front of a raucous 1,585 fans. The attendance was at 15 percent of the arena’s capacity. On Saturday, the same matchup drew 1,638 spectators to witness another Utah State victory. Their 64-59 win over SDSU in the latter game of the series has the Aggies sitting tied atop the conference with Boise State, and the Aztecs sweating in fifth place.

Tuesday night, Utah State handled the Colorado State Rams, 83-64, in the first leg of their two-game series. There were 1,553 fans in attendance.

The Current Standings

Utah State (9-0) and Boise State (8-0) are both undefeated in conference play thus far. Colorado State is 7-2, and besides Nevada (5-3) and SDSU (3-3), all others are seemingly out of regular-season championship contention.

Nevada finishes against Boise State, Colorado State, and Utah State in six of their last eight games. SDSU has a favorable schedule remaining, with only the Broncos posing as a challenge. However, the injury to Matt Mitchell on Thursday night has the star sidelined for at least two weeks.

The Broncos are an untested 8-0. Boise State is a very good team with chances at an at-large nod to the NCAA Tournament, but their conference schedule has been weak to date. In wins against New Mexico, San Jose State, Air Force, and Wyoming, the Broncos average point differential is 23 points. They still have to play series against Colorado State, Nevada, Utah State, and SDSU—three of which are on the road.

The Rams already split their season series with the Aztecs in San Diego but lost to the Aggies last night in Logan, Utah. This series, along with the late-February double-bout between Boise State and Utah State in Idaho, could ultimately decide conference seeding. And the fans may have something to say about it.

Fans Played a Role

With the MWC schedule being reformatted to assure the safety of the student-athletes and athletic staff, some teams have benefited from their state’s health order – especially the Aggies. The program can thank the cautious leniency of Utah’s state government for that.

As is the case with other conferences, the MWC decided to play the regular season in a two-game series format. This took away the usual home-and-home splits between teams, but the league did its best to balance out the schedule. It was proven in Logan, however, that some programs may have an advantage.

This isn’t to take anything away from Utah State’s talent. They are a very good team. Last season, behind the outstanding play of superstar Sam Merrill, the Aggies finished second in the MWC. They defeated SDSU on Merrill’s contested dagger with 2.5 seconds remaining in the 2019-20 conference tournament final. Utah State was a dangerous team heading into last year’s NCAA Tournament if the season wasn’t canceled because of the pandemic. This year, they’re even more complete – including the presence of their honorary sixth man. After a disappointing 1-3 start to the season, the Aggies have won 10 in a row.

Boise State, Colorado State, and SDSU still aren’t allowing fans at home games per each university’s policy. Though 1,500-1,600 fans may not seem like a difference-maker, it sure beats zero. The players fed off what noise there was, and allowing fans has given Utah State the edge – currently.

Tuning into Saturday and Tuesday’s games, they felt like sellouts in comparison to what most have seen this season. It felt great. It felt like college basketball again.

Looking Ahead

Now that the vaccine is being distributed, keep updated on how universities, counties, and states handle their policies and orders. Most importantly, it’s for the safety of all residents. But it will be interesting to see how it affects the outcome of important conference matchups. Utah State hosts Colorado State again on Thursday. Then, Boise State visits Fresno State on Wednesday and Friday. Finally, SDSU visits Air Force on Friday and Sunday.

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