NCAA Tournament: Utah State Aggies & The Improbable Journey To Indianapolis

Mar 20, 2024, 4:46 PM

darius brown and danny sprinkle...

Utah State Aggies head coach Danny Sprinkle talks with Utah State Aggies guard Darius Brown II (10) at a game against the San Francisco Dons at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. USU won 54-53.


INDIANAPOLIS – The tears were flowing and the emotions were raw in a locker room inside of Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. It was March 2023 and the Utah State Aggies had just lost to Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The loss hurt. What hurt worse was this group of teammates knowing that their basketball lives would never look the same again.

Head Coach Ryan Odom would be accepting the same position at VCU in less than two weeks. Starters Max Shulga and Sean Bairstow followed Odom to VCU via the transfer portal. Steven Ashworth led the Aggies with 16.2 points per game and shot 43.4 percent from three-point range and he chose to join Creighton via the portal.

Rylan Jones and Szymon Zapala both play for NCAA Tournament teams this spring at Samford and Longwood respectively.

Whether by graduation or transfer, 12 of the 15 players on Odom’s roster that won 26 games and earned a coveted slot in the 68-team bracket left the program.


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Danny Sprinkle Rebuilds Utah State

Nine days after Odom left Logan Utah State announced the hiring of Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle as the new man in charge of the Aggie basketball program. It was time to rebuild.

So how did a team that brought in 13 new faces and was picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the Mountain West win the outright regular season title and earn a program high-tying seed in the NCAA Tournament?

“They’ve become a team,” Sprinkle simply put. “Even in the summer and early fall we still had a lot of individuals. We had good character and good people but they still hadn’t come together as a team. I didn’t expect them to until we started having some of those, we call them shared experiences.”

Among those shared experiences Sprinkle listed was losing on the road in overtime to Bradley in the second game of the season. And then beating Marshall, Akron and Stephen F. Austin to win the Cayman Islands Classic.

“I think we really started becoming a team right before conference (play),” Sprinkle added. “I could see they started to believe they could do something special. You have to go through some rough patches especially when you have 13 brand new players.”

It helps that Sprinkle brought in the 13 players that fit exactly into the system he wanted to run in Logan. But even Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Great Osobor and All-Conference player Darius Brown II who came with him from Montana State didn’t believe this type of season was possible when they arrived on campus.

“We surpassed everything that I thought that we could be before summer,” Brown said. “But during season when you start picking up wins and bonding more as a team I knew we were capable of doing something like this.”

For Osobor it wasn’t just one thing that got the Aggies going in the winning direction.

“I feel like it’s a combination of having really good guys and everyone buying in and having good leadership,” Osobor said. “When people buy in and do what we think is going to help us win and you have guys ready to listen and learn every day and come to practice every day wanting to get better, it works out.”

And when winning happens, fun happens.

“I’ve been in college three years and I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with a team,” transfer guard Josh Uduje said. “If you can gel and mesh with a group of guys off the court I feel like the cohesiveness on the court kind of shows and I feel like that’s what has catapulted us to success.”

Aggies At NCAA Tournament

The Aggies came up short at the Mountain West Tournament losing to San Diego State in the semifinals. But that just might be the final touch Sprinkle’s team needed heading into their first-round matchup at the NCAA Tournament on Friday against TCU.

“Sometimes losing games helps you win the next game,” Sprinkle said. “I think that’s going to be the case with this. When its March you have to put your big boy pants on. Its go time.”

Sam Farnsworth is a sports anchor and reporter for KSL 5 TV and KSL Sports. You can keep up with Sam in Indianapolis with the Utah State Aggies at the NCAA Tournament by following him on X and Instagram. 

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NCAA Tournament: Utah State Aggies & The Improbable Journey To Indianapolis