Eli Lucero, AP
Utah State guard Brockeith Pane (0) tries to drive past Cal State Bakersfield guard Stephon Carter during a college basketball game in the CollegeInsider.com tournament, Wednesday, March 14, 2012, in Logan Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)

LOGAN — Entering each new season, every college basketball team dreams of reaching the NCAA Tournament and making an extended run in the Big Dance. No team sets its sights on the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship at the end of the season. Even so, Utah State (21-15) is happy to be hosting Mercer (26-11) tonight for the CIT crown.

The Aggies struggled through much of the season, and when UC Santa Barbara handed them their fourth home loss of the year, it looked as though the season may already be over. The Aggies stood at 14-14 at the time and seemed in doubt of mustering another win.

Since then, though, the Aggies have won seven of eight games. Making it this far into March — in any tournament — is a success story, especially when considering where this Aggie team stood a month ago.

"The snowball is rolling right now," senior forward Morgan Grim said after the Aggies' 105-81 CIT semifinal win over Oakland last Sunday afternoon. "We are playing good; we are playing with some energy. It's showing in practice and it's carrying over to the games."

The Aggie offense looked unstoppable Sunday, but don't count on the scoreboard hitting the century mark against Mercer. The Bears are much closer to the Utah State model of play — a slow, methodical offense and stout defense. Mercer went toe-to-toe with an excellent Belmont squad throughout Atlantic Sun play. In the CIT, Mercer defeated Tennessee State and Georgia State at home before downing Old Dominion and Fairfield on the road.

"We're excited that we have extended our season and obviously I'm very impressed with Mercer," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "They've won 26 games, they're big and skilled and come in here having won a couple of road games in this tournament. We know that we have got our hands full."

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Besides finishing the season on a positive note, the Aggies hope to carry over the momentum from this tournament into next season. Old Dominion won the first CIT championship in 2009 and pulled off a first-round upset of Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament the following year. Last year's CIT runner-up Iona had a great regular season this year, enough to warrant a rare at-large NCAA tourney selection for a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team.

Tickets are still available for fans hoping to see the Aggies win their first-ever postseason tournament. Prices are $17 for adults, while USU students will receive free admission with a valid ID.

Tickets are available on-line 24 hours a day at UtahStateAggies.com.

Aggies on the air

Mercer (26-11)

vs. Utah State (21-15)

Today, 7 p.m. MT

Dee Glen Smith Spectrum

TV: Fox College Sports Radio: Aggie Sports Network