Utah State basketball faces grudge matches with Denver, New Mexico State
It's grudge match week.
That's right, Utah State will finally have a shot at taking out the teams that beat it up on the road: Denver and New Mexico State. And the Aggies will be able to test them at the Spectrum.
It's arguably the critical week for Utah State, actually, as they look to catch up with both the Pioneers and the "other" Aggies who are both sitting at 11-2 in WAC play at the moment. Louisiana Tech is 12-0 in WAC play and may end up running away with the regular season conference title, but both Denver and NMSU are catchable - as long as the Aggies win these two games.
It will not be easy, but for different reasons.
Denver is one of the most efficient teams and best defensive teams. The Pioneers slow down tempo as well as anyone in the country, holding opponents to an average of 55.3 points per game, good for a No. 7 ranking. They're also top-15 nationally in assists per game, assist-to-turnover ratio and turnover margin. They're the No. 25 team in 3-point shots per game (8.1).
All of these strengths were factors in Utah State's loss to Denver back on Jan. 19, when the Aggies fell 68-57. The Pioneers had 10 3-pointers, held the Aggies well under their season average, and had 17 assists to only three turnovers.
It also happened to be the first game without Preston Medlin or Kyisean Reed, so Utah State hopes to play better on its home court this time around.
But even assuming the Aggies find a way to win on Valentine's Day, Saturday will be tough as well. If Denver is the jab, New Mexico State is the uppercut.
In their last match-up, Utah State was pounded by NMSU, phyisically and on the scoreboard. That was the game during which Medlin and Reed got their injuries.
The 64-51 defeat could reasonably be called the team's worst loss of the season. Utah State shot only 38 percent while NMSU shot about 65 percent. The Aggies will have to figure out how to get around the massive Sim Bhullar to the bucket while stopping Daniel Mullings and Bandja Sy who are dangerous on offense.
The silver lining there is that NMSU is likely playing without Tyrone Watson, who was suspended from the team and charged with assault since the last meeting. He had 12 points in the last game.
But the Aggies still have a towering challenge ahead. On a three-game winning streak, Utah State will have to prove it is for real against two of the toughest challengers the WAC has to offer.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon