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Utah State basketball: Aggies look like an NCAA lock, but remain cautious

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 11:19 p.m. MST

LOGAN — If national pundits and bracketologists are to be believed, then Utah State should feel comfortable that it will be playing in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens at this week's Western Athletic Conference Tournament.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi projects the Aggies solidly as a No. 8 seed, playing ninth-seeded Old Dominion at Tulsa, Okla. Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner projects the same matchup, but with the seeds reversed and Utah State as the No. 9 seed, and the location being Cleveland.

It is important to keep in mind that Stew Morrill's Aggies have been in this position before and walked away disappointed. In 2004, the Aggies entered the Big West Tournament with a 25-2 record before being upset by Cal State Northridge. On Selection Sunday, Utah State was left on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament, after being a supposed lock to make the NCAA field just days earlier.

If Utah State takes all doubt out of the equation and wins the WAC Tournament, then the Aggies will likely be looking at their best NCAA Tournament seed in school history — possibly even as high as a No. 7 or 6 seed depending on how other teams do around them.

"They always say all you have to do is win one more game, then it's one more and so on," Morrill said. "At first it was beat St. Mary's on the road and you're in. Then it was get revenge on Idaho. Then it was sweep the road trip. It's never enough.

"Best thing we can do is play hard and focus on winning the next game. I would hope our RPI, winning our league by five games, and all that would be enough to get in should it come to that."

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: To help avoid possible distraction and get some rest, the Aggies will not arrive in Las Vegas for this week's WAC Tournament until Thursday afternoon.

Because of television time slots, the second round of games will take place Thursday starting at noon, meaning Utah State will likely know its opponent before even boarding the plane. The Aggies will play either fourth-seeded Idaho or the winner of today's first-round matchup between fifth-seeded Hawaii and eighth-seeded San Jose State.

CLIMBING THE POLLS: The Aggies jumped up to 17th in this week's ESPN/USA Today's coaches' poll.

It is the second time this season the Aggies have gotten up to 17th, which is their highest ranking since being 13th in the last coaches' poll of the 1975 season. In the media poll, Utah State sits at 23rd which includes votes of 20th by CBS basketball analyst Seth Davis and 21st from ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale. As of Tuesday, the Aggies are running an RPI of 18th in the country and a strength of schedule rating of 122.

COUNT ON IT: If you are traveling to Las Vegas for the WAC tournament, you can rest easy knowing Utah State will likely be playing in the WAC championship game Saturday night.

Since the Aggies' first year in the WAC in 2005-06, Utah State has appeared in four of five championship games. The Aggies have only been able to cut down the nets once in those four appearances when, in 2009, Utah State beat Nevada on its home floor. That victory gave Utah State a school-record 30th victory in one season, a total that can be matched by this year's squad by winning two more games to claim another WAC championship.

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