February 18, 2009
By Michael Omenazu
Many people watch college basketball for various reasons.
Typically these include more intense and sincere passion from both fans and players. Also, the format of the tournament which determines the national champion in the sport usually features a surprise team that makes an unexpected run toward a title, claiming the label as March Madness’ Cinderella. A possible team that could come as the classic cliché this year is Utah State.
As of February 9, the Utah State Aggies sat ranked 21st in the AP Top 25 and as high as 17th in the ESPN/USA Today Poll. With a 24-2 overall record and 12-1 in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), the Aggieshave totaled up wins along with national interest.
Utah State is led by the lone senior on the roster; Gary Wilkinson has the potential to possibly wreak havoc in the tourney. Averaging 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game the forward is an X-factor.
A knock against the Aggies is the weakness of their schedule. While it is evident that they do not play in one of the more recognizable leagues such as the Big East, ACC or Big Ten, they play in what is viewed as a lesser mid-major conference that features minimal opposition.
There are no teams ranked intheir league. The best competitor that they have opposed and probably will face off against has been Brigham Young University who beat them by five 68-63.
However, Utah State can make the argument that you can only play the teams on your schedule. They have operated under a similar focus and have won a high percentage of their games (.923 as of February 16) including a key win against instate rival Utah.
This current trend included the nation’s longest accumulation of consecutive wins (19) until the Aggies had their hearts and that streak broken by Boise State on Valentine’s Day. This high level of performance is nothing new as the university has had over 20 wins in each of the last seven seasons.
Utah State has an opportunity to prove itself on February 21 as it will square off against another potential bracketbuster, Saint Mary’s College. Led by star guard and Australian National Olympic team member Patty Mills, SMC went 12-2 in WCC conference play last year and earned a berth in the national tournament. The outcome of this game will determine the legitimacy of the Aggies demands for national respect.