Sam Merrill: Utah State ‘Can Beat Anybody’ In NCAA Tournament

Mar 10, 2020, 4:17 PM
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

LOGAN, Utah – The Utah State basketball team is flying high at the right time after its Mountain West tournament run that ended on a 59-56 thrilling victory over No. 5 San Diego State as the Aggies claimed back-to-back conference titles.

The Aggies have won nine of the last 10 and are off this week – waiting until Selection Sunday to find out who they will play in the NCAA Tournament.

This Aggies team heading into this year had high expectations with a preseason ranking and that increased with a pair of Quadrant One victories against LSU and Florida.

Then things started to stumble as Utah State lost to BYU and Saint Mary’s, quality losses, but the start of Mountain West play is where things started to fall apart as they lost four of five games as teams were targetting the preseason No. 1 team.

That allowed Utah State to hide in the background of the Mountain West and allowed San Diego State to take the focus as the Aztecs went most of the year undefeated and were considered a No. 1 seed.

The Aggies started winning at the right time.

Injuries And Expectations

Tournament MVP Sam Merrill Joined KSL Unrivaled and he knew the pressure was on the Aggies this year and that maybe it got to the team a bit.

“Last year, it was a dream season and it felt like any adversity at all. This year has been different with high expectations with preseason top 25 and unanimous pick to win the conference,” Merrill said.

“Then there are injuries and it is hard to be that good as you want to be when your star center [Neemias Queta] is hurt for 12 games. We went through a tough stretch in January where we weren’t any good and the season was on the verge of being a disappointment.”

To falter as the Aggies did and then rebound when it matters takes a one of a kind team and credit has to go to second-year head coach Craig Smith who was able to gather his team and get them to the level most thought Utah State would be. Also, getting Quetta completely healthy down the stretch helped a lot as he is one of the most dominant big men in all of NCAA.

Aggies Expect To Win NCAA Games

Utah State is officially in the NCAA Tournament and after last year’s first-round loss they want to avenge that performance. Currently, the composite NCAA Tournament projections at Bracket Matrix has the Aggies as an 11-seed, so Utah State will be an underdog but expect the Aggies to be a team that will get the Cinderella label for peaking at the right team.

“This year we had high expectations and then we had some disappointment. These past few weeks we have been grinding and working so hard and we didn’t know if we would even make the NCAA Tournament,” Merrill said. “We got ourselves back into but then we lost at New Mexico then most people had us out if we did not win the tournament.”

Merrill thinks this team is surging at the right moment and expects this team to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. They beat a top-five San Diego State team and now the goals are back to do well in March Madness.

“When you beat a potential No. 1 seed, that tells you that you can beat anybody. You never know what happens in a tournament like this but he have some good wins over San Diego State, LSU, Florida. Those are two teams that… can beat anybody. Last year, we were just happy to be there, but this year is not the case and we want do something and win at least a game or two, if not more.”

Utah State was the first team to earn an NCAA Tournament berth and now they are sitting around for over a week until their next game and the Aggies will not know their opponent until Selection Sunday. Having the time off will give this team some extra rest and have this team get as healthy as possible, especially if a tournament run is in the cards.

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