Utah State Faces Cinderella Wyoming In MWC Semifinals

Mar 6, 2020, 4:23 AM
Utah State Aggies head coach Craig Smith calls out during a Mountain West Conference Tournament qua...
Utah State Aggies head coach Craig Smith calls out during a Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinal game against the New Mexico Lobos at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Spencer Heaps, Deseret News)
(Spencer Heaps, Deseret News)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Utah State (24-8) continues its defense of their Mountain West Conference Tournament title against a team no one was expecting them to face in the tournament. The Aggies will face Cinderella of this year’s MWC Tournament, the 11-seed Wyoming Cowboys (9-23).

Wyoming defeated Border War rival Colorado State in the Opening Round to become the first 11-seed to ever win a game in the MWC Tournament. Then in the Quarterfinals shocked everyone again taking down 3-seed Nevada who was seeking their 20th victory of the season.

Now Utah State will look to be the team that forces Wyoming’s Cinderella ride to strike midnight. In the two regular-season meetings, the Aggies rolled through the Pokes by a total of 43 points. But this is March and as we’ve seen, anything is possible. Wyoming had a 1.8 percent chance of making the Semifinals of the MWC Tournament according to Ken Pomeroy.

Utah State Facing Wyoming isn’t good for the Aggies NCAA Resume

On the surface, Utah State facing Wyoming instead of Nevada in the MWC Semifinals might appear to be a good thing as it could potentially be an easier path to Saturday afternoon’s Championship Game. This is probably true as the Aggies have a 91 percent win probability according to KenPom against the Pokes.

The downside is that Wyoming is a Quadrant Four team in the NET Rankings. As of Thursday, Wyoming checked in at No. 277 in the NET. With Utah State looking to secure at a minimum an At-Large NCAA Tournament bid, taking on Wyoming regardless of the outcome will likely hurt the Aggies resume and puts a greater emphasis on getting to Championship Saturday and finding a way to secure the automatic bid.

Had Nevada got by Wyoming, the Wolf Pack would have been a Quadrant Two opponent that could have given the Aggies another quality victory on their resume.

Right now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Aggies as the “First Team Out” of the 68-team field.

Wyoming player with Cache Valley ties

One of Wyoming’s top players during their Cinderella run in the Mountain West Tournament is Smithfield, Utah native Jake Hendricks. Hendricks is very familiar with Utah State and a lot of the guys on the Aggies roster.

“I know a lot of the guys, so it’s going to be fun, it’s going to mean a lot. We just got to come out and work hard and follow the game plan and just see what happens,” said Hendricks.

Trends To Watch

Utah State comes into Friday’s Semifinal as the 13th best rebounding team in America according to KenPom. On the other side, Wyoming is the worst on Pomeroy’s metrics. Watch for Utah State’s Justin Bean and Neemias Queta to be all over the glass against Wyoming’s frontcourt that has only one player taller than 6-8 (Hunter Thompson, 6-10).

The Aggies are 9-0 this season when shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Last night against New Mexico, Utah State was 50.9 percent shooting the rock. In the first meeting against the Pokes in Laramie, Utah State hovered around 49 percent in the blowout win.

Friday night’s Semifinal matchup will mark the 22nd conference tournament for Utah State as a No. 2 seed. The Aggies are 17-4 all-time as a two-seed and are 6-1 in Semifinals as the top team in the bottom half of the bracket.

No. 2 Utah State vs. No. 11 Wyoming

Tip: 9:30 p.m. (MT)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1280 AM

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