Even though I know most of you, if not all of you, have always hated Utah State with a fiery passion due to the long-standing rivalry between the two schools... I figured it would be good to get an up-to-date primer on who the Aggies are as a basketball team.
The Mizzou-Utah State rivalry dates back all the way to 1967 when the two schools met for the first time on the campus in Logan, Utah. A home-and-home series was scheduled with each home team winning on their home floor. If you didn’t know, the 1967-68 season was Norm Stewart’s first on the sidelines. So yes, this rivalry (like all rivalries Mizzou has) was fueled by the gentile courtside manner of Stormin’ Norman.
Oddly enough, the late winter of 1968 was the last time the Tigers and Aggies faced each other. But there are other key connections between the two schools like... did you know that Larry Eustachy, the famed former Iowa State head coach best known for celebrating post-game in COMO with coeds, coached at Utah State before taking the job in Ames?
Utah State has a proud basketball tradition with 16 regular season conference titles, most recently tying for the 2019 Mountain West title with Nevada. The program has been to the NCAA Tournament 23 times but has just 2 wins in the tournament since 1970.
So let’s get to know THIS version of the Utah State Aggies.
The team is led by Ryan Odom most known for two things:
- Being Dave Odom’s son
- Being the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed in NCAA tournament history
Dave Odom was the long-time coach at Wake Forest, and recruited Tim Duncan, among many other eventual pros, to Winston-Salem. Then he spent 7 years doing good things at South Carolina before hanging up his clipboard in 2008. His son Ryan took his first full-time assistant job at Furman in the late 90s and eventually took over as head coach at UMBC (University of Maryland-Baltimore County). In 2018 the UMBC Retrievers (great mascot) absolutely whipped the top-seeded Virginia team by 20 points and became the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed. Many 15s had beaten a 2, but no 16 had beaten a 1 until 2018.
Ryan Odom took the program over after Craig Smith left for the Utah job two years ago, and he’s held the program steady. The Aggies currently have their highest KenPom rating if the season were to end today. The previous high was 21st in 2005.
- Overall Record: 26-8
- Conference Record: 13-5
- KenPom Rank: 18
- BartTorvik: 25
- NET Rankings: 18
- KPI: 14
- Strength of Record: 34
- Quad 1 wins — 2 (Boise State Neutral, Home)
- Quad 1 losses — 5 (San Diego State Home, Neutral, Away, Boise State Away, Nevada Away)
- Quad 2: 9-1
- Quad 3: 13-0
- Quad 4: 1-2
- Average NET ranking in wins: 104
- Average NET ranking in losses: 74
This is a very good offensive team. They’re currently 13th in Offensive Adjusted Efficiency per KenPom.com. They’re led by five players who average in double figures, starting with Steven Ashworth’s 16.3 ppg. Ashworth is a 6-1 Junior point guard who can shoot the cover off of the ball. His 43.9% 3FG is top 50 in the country, and he’s also very secure with the basketball, with just a 13.9% turnover rate.
Taylor Funk, Max Shulga, Dan Akin, and Sean Bairstow all average between 10.4 and 13.3 points per game, with Funk being the worst three-point shooter amongst them at 37.8%. Watch out for Dan Akin; he doesn’t take many threes but when he does they go in (I’m kidding here, kinda... he’s 1-1). All four players are upperclassmen with only Shulga being a junior. So this is an experienced starting five.
The Aggies are 11th in 3P%, 36th in 2P%, and have a solid 17.4 turnover rate. So this team can shoot the ball and take care of it, but they typically don’t get a lot of offensive rebounds, ranking just 219th in that category.
The problem though is depth. The Aggies rank just 335th in the country in bench minutes. Akin is the primary post player and he averages 26.8 mpg. Then the Aggies get some time from 7-1 senior Trevin Dorius, who plays about 15 mpg. Rylan Jones is a senior guard who was starting before getting injured. The Utah transfer has been dealing with concussion issues but handled the ball primarily when he was healthy.
Not really known for their defense but the Aggies are respectable in that category, rated 64th in Adjusted Efficiency overall. They do what they can to make you take guarded jump shots, and do not force turnovers. And while they don’t get a lot of Offensive Rebounds, they also don’t give them up.
Overall, this is a fun matchup for Mizzou. It’s a good, experienced team who can match them on offense. They aren’t crazy athletic and defensive stalwarts who can suck up the Mizzou offense the way a team like Mississippi State or Alabama can. If both teams are making outside shots this game will be a blast.
The Quad 4 losses for them look ugly, but those were two games where they shot the ball poorly. Against Weber State, they hit just 48% of 2s and 34% of 3s, while Weber State hit 10 of 20 three-pointers. Then the same thing against SMU— the Aggies shot 10 of 36 from behind the arc and lost by 3 points. As we’ve seen with our own Tigers, a poor shooting night can derail a good team in a hurry.
So this is a good matchup and a tough one. But the one I think Missouri can win provided they make shots. Like always.