It’s called the BracketBuster for a reason.
When Utah State faces St. Mary’s College on Saturday afternoon, the game may very well make, or break, the Aggies’ bracket.
A win will quiet many of the naysayers who like to point out USU’s relatively weak schedule. The Gaels are 21-5 and one of the top teams in the West Coast Conference. Beating SMC on the road will legitimize Utah State in the eyes of many college hoops ‘experts.’
A loss, however, might do irreparable harm to USU’s at-large hopes. Though it would be just the third loss of the season for the Aggies, it would be the second loss in the three games and create all sorts of doubts about Utah State’s worthiness for an at-large bid and a decent seed.
Whether or not it’s a true indicator of USU’s ‘worthiness’ is mostly irrelevent on the table of the NCAA Selection Committee. The Aggies may very well deserve an at-large berth to the Big Dance should they finish the season at 29-4. Then again, they might not and USU certainly can’t feel too comfortable trusting their post-season hopes to the committee after they were sent to the NIT despite being ranked in the Top 25 a few seasons aog.
That may be why this game against the Gaels is as important as any non-conference game since Stew Morrill took over the program more than a decade ago.
The Gaels, like USU, are nearly unbeatable at home. Their only loss came last week to Gonzaga and came with star player Patty Mills sidelined with a broken hand. And the loss was by only two points.
So beating St. Mary’s will, perhaps, be the toughest test of the season for the Aggies.
It will require disciplined rebounding, ball handling and consistant shooting.
A bevy of turnovers and getting beat on the boards might spell disaster for the Aggies.
Win or lose, an at-large bid is still a likelihood according to most experts. A win, however, would virtually cement those post-season chances barring an unbelieveable collapse.
The Aggies will be WAC champions — this time outright — for the second season in a row with just one more conference win.
They can also forget all about any speculation by winning three games in Reno in March. A regular season title coupled with a conference tournament title would likely result in the best seeding USU has enjoyed in a couple of decades.
But Saturday in Moraga, the Aggies have a chance to make that statement plenty early. Beating the Gaels might not do anything in regards to a conference championship or truly securing an NCAA tourney berth.
But a win over the Gaels will be huge as Utah State tries to tell the nation is is better than it’s lackluster strength of schedule might indicate.