BOISE — Everyone loves an underdog and Utah State, as usual, is an underdog in every sense of the word as the Aggies prepare to take on Marquette.
The Golden Eagles, the fifth-place team from the powerful Big East Conference, are a team loaded with fast, sharp-shooting athletes and carry what many "experts" consider to be a snub of a seed at No. 6 in the West Regional.
The Aggies, ranked No. 25 in the latest USA Today/ESPN poll, enter tomorrow's game with a No. 11 seed. USU is, however, getting a fair amount of love and respect in bracket projections on various media outlets.
Foxsports.com, for example, calls Utah State one of its most-likely upset teams according to a computer program that analyzes statistics, trends and the like.
"Utah State is actually the likely team from its part of the bracket to make the Sweet 16, propelling it from a popular first-round upset pick to a very possible Final Four participant," Foxsports.com. "The competition may be better in the tournament, but this is still a team that knows how to win. 56.6% and 35.0% likely to win their first and second round games respectively, the Aggies are a 6.6% favorite to advance to the Final Four."
While a Final Four prediction might be — OK, it definitely is — a bit of a stretch, an upset in the first round is something lots of people like to see and when filling out brackets, the Aggies and their 30 wins are popular picks.
The folks at ESPN.com had this to say when running a computer simulation of the tournament: "The Golden Eagles are winning 55 percent of simulations over Utah State, but that percentage is significantly lower than the other 6 seeds, all of which are winning at least 70 percent of their first-round simulations," the site said.
"In simulations against Marquette, Utah State is shooting 43.1 percent from the field," the article said. "However, if Utah State shoots 40 percent or better from 3-point range and 48 percent or better from the field overall while matching Marquette on the boards, they can pull off the big upset."
ATOMIC MASS: Another ESPN.com study had a computer program assigning values to various statistics and scheduling trends. When putting them all together, the program assigned the various tournament teams an "atomic mass" according to the findings. Among the findings, Utah State should have received a seeding of No. 5.
"These categories include: strength of overall schedule, record in the last third of the season, record in games played on the road and at neutral sites, strength of the out-of-conference schedule and wins against teams in the RPI top 50," the article said. "By comparing each team's strength in these areas in relation to the other teams in the tournament, we can assign each school a single value, which I call a team's 'Atomic Mass.' "
According to the program, Utah State is the most likely team to score a significant upset according to the "atomic mass" and seed.
"Without Dominic James, this just isn't the same Marquette squad, and Utah State's 11-seed is the true embarrassment of this bracket," the article said. "After all, they're ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and yet the committee can't give them even an 8- or 9- seed? It makes little sense, and the Aggies should prove they're far better than that."
THE AGGIE THAT NEVER WAS: Friday's meeting between USU and Marquette will see Tony Benford finally on the floor with the Aggies.
Who is Tony Benford? He's an assistant coach with the Golden Eagles who, in 2006, was hired by USU's Morrill to join the Aggies after then-assistant coach Don Holst resigned.
Benford, however, never made it to Logan. He was hired after his boss at Arizona State was fired. Before he really even made himself at home at Utah State, Benford agreed to a job offer at Nebraska.
He spent two seasons with the Cornhuskers before accepting an offer to join new Marquette coach Buzz Peterson this year in Milwaukee.
CHEESE HEADS: Not that the battle on the hardwood will decide anything, but on the Internet a few fans from each school have begun debating the merits of the cheese from each locale. Utah State, of course, shares the valley with a number of cheese factories including the famous Cache Valley Cheese label.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, proclaims itself the home to the best cheese in the country and Green Bay Packers fans often wear the familiar wedge of fromage atop their noggins at football games.
Not to be outdone, a few years ago an Aggie fan contacted the company that makes the famous triangular hats and placed a special order — but in a dark navy blue instead of yellow.
Those Aggie blue cheese heads are seen at USU games every now and then and, according to the Internet debate, will make an appearance Friday.