Utah State might not play above the rim, but the Aggies sure know how to fill it.

For the second season in a row, USU is the nation's top field goal shooting team. The Aggies are making 49.8 percent of their shots this year.

"That's a product of the system we run," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said.

Though sandbagging a little bit, Morrill said a program like USU's does not have the same "athletic" players many schools in power conferences do.

Instead, he said, the Aggies rely on precision and execution.

Utah State's offensive playbook is a thick one, as opposing coaches frequently point out, and the Aggie assistant coaches famously employ flip cards in a three-ring binder to signal plays and decoy plays to the team.

Good shots are often passed up for better shots a pass or two later.

A year ago, USU shot 51.4 percent to lead the nation.

That kind of marksmanship and patience on offense will be needed Friday morning when the Aggies face No. 6 seed Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Leading the way for Utah State is the duo of Tai Wesley and Gary Wilkinson.

Wesley, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, makes 59.0 percent of his shots and Wilkinson, a 6-9 senior, connects on 58.6 percent.

SMART GUYS: The matchup between Marquette and the Aggies very well may be a contest between two of the best collections of student-athletes in the tournament.

According to a study of the graduation rates of all 65 teams participating by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, Utah State is one of only seven schools able to boast a 100 percent graduation rate. Marquette is another.

The study looked at all freshmen players enrolling at the school between the 1998-99 and 2001-02 school years and whether those players left the school within six years and carrying a diploma.

USU and Marquette were joined by Binghamton, Florida State, Robert Morris, Wake Forest and Western Kentucky in the 100 percent club.

Conversely, Cal State-Northridge graduated only eight percent of its players and was followed by Maryland (10 percent), Portland State (17), Arizona (20) and Clemson (29) at the bottom of the scale.

EARLY TO BED, EARLY TO RISE: With eight teams needing practice time for Friday's four games, Boise State's Taco Bell Arena will see plenty of activity on Thursday.

The four games — each taking a little more than two hours to play on average — will also eat up a large chunk of time and Utah State's game against Marquette is the first one on Friday's schedule. Because of the early tipoff, practice and media availability sessions are also bright and early in the morning.

The Aggies will meet with the media beginning at 11:20 a.m. and then hit the Blue and Orange court at noon. Marquette will follow with a press conference starting at 12:50 p.m. and practice at 1:30.

Aggies on the air

Utah State (30-4) vs. Marquette (24-9)

Taco Bell Arena, Boise

Friday: 10:30 a.m.

TV: CBS; Radio: 1230 AM, 610 AM, 95.9 FM

E-MAIL: jeborn@desnews.com