Wednesday night’s gut-check win over Louisiana Tech in front of a packed house at the Spectrum was huge for Utah State.
Not only did it extend the Aggies’ win streak to an impressive 11 games, it came in front of a national audience thanks to ESPN2′s cameras and it strengthened USU’s case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should the Aggies need one.
Wednesday morning, according to the computers at cbssports.com, Utah State had an RPI of 43. Thursday morning, after beating the Bulldogs, USU checks in at 34.
That’s solidly in the discussion and, if the Aggies can win their remaining games, the RPI should dip down to the high 20s with a strength of schedule in the 80s.
Utah State’s jump came, in part, because of some help from the MWC. Utah (which beat USU back in November) knocked off UNLV. What that did was drop the Rebels from the mid-30s to the mid-40s while also boosting Utah State’s strength of schedule. The Utes rose a few spots with the win and that, in turn, helps out the Aggies.
Even if Utah State is able to win the WAC Tournament in March, having a strong RPI is vitally important. The Aggies (and WAC) have been and (at least until they make a significant run or two in the big dance) will always get a pretty lousy seed. If Utah State can work its way up the board to get a 10 seed, the opponent will be a much more manageable foe.
Some of the bracket projections out there have had USU as a 13-seed playing in Spokane against Gonzaga. It’s hard to imagine a worse-case scenario than that for any team trying to escape the one-and-done tournament appearances that so frequently fall on mid-major teams who get shafted a little bit on seeding.
Of course, the biggest knock on Utah State’s at-large considerations is not necessarily who the Aggies have beaten. It’s who they’ve lost to.
Losing to Northeastern and Saint Mary’s didn’t help USU, but didn’t hurt them a ton, either. The losses that jump out are the defeat at Utah early in the season and then a heartless effort at Long Beach State. Those two games will be considered bad losses when the selection committee starts debating.
But a long win streak at the end of the season more than counter-balances two losses in November.
Saturday night’s game against Wichita State, much like Wednesday night’s 67-61 win, will help Utah State a lot — if the Aggies win.
The Shockers have a very solid RPI of 53. Another win over a quality opponent could see USU’s RPI jump a stunning 15 points in a matter of a week and then the folks who play guessing games with brackets would really have no choice but to slide the Aggies into the mix.
Right now, they all have USU as the WAC’s automatic qualifying team — something I’m guessing all Aggie fans would prefer. But if Utah State loses in the WAC tourney, an RPI in the 20s would be huge in saying the Ags belong in the field of 65.