There was a time when the Western Athletic Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference were comparable, coach Stew Morrill said. But as the years have gone by, and the MVC has been on the rise, it's been harder to find ways to schedule teams from that conference.
It took BracketBusters, a concept that Morrill has felt conflicted about from year to year, to bring together a home-and-home series with Illinois State, a late riser in the conference that will travel to Logan this Saturday.
That was among Morrill's thoughts when he addressed the media on Friday. In the final year of BracketBusters, he was somewhat remorseful that he had ever thought the ESPN promotion for midmajors wouldn't be all that helpful to any of them.
"I understand why it's coming to an end," Morrill said. "It's served its purpose from our perspective. ... I wasn't a guy who thought that BracketBusters was going to be a good deal, but I was wrong. It has been very positive for us."
Illinois State comes in a bit cold after blazing a streak through the MVC. Creighton fell to the Redbirds before back-to-back losses to Witchita State and Evansville.
Still, Illinois State is dangerous - there's little refuting that. Morrill spoke at length about Jackie Carmichael, who is the leading scorer, rebounder and blocker for the team. When I asked if Carmichael and teammate Tyler Brown compare at all to BYU duo Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies, Morrill assured the media that Carmichael brings his own concerns.
"Carmichael is like guarding a very active four player in a sense because he can go by you on the dribble, he can shoot face-up jumpers, he can post it low, he is just a very versatile guy," Morrill said. "Tyler Brown can change the complexion of the game with his ability to get on a roll and make a bunch of shots in a hurry."
The Redbirds are a very versatile offensive team that does a lot of things well. They shoot for good percentages, they have a good assist-to-turnover ratio, and generally generate more turnovers than they give away. They are very rarely blocked on their shot attempts.
Carmichael seems to be central to Illinois State's smoothness. He's one of the best scorers (18.1 ppg) and rebounders (9.3 rpg) in the country, and his consistent play in those areas gives the Redbirds a lot of quality looks and second chances. Defenses collapse on him, and that opens opportunities for the team's 3-point shooters.
But stopping Carmichael seems to stop Illinois State. In their most recent loss to Evansville, the Redbirds were blown out as Carmichael struggled to seven points.
One thing Utah State has done well lately is guard big men. Idaho's Kyle Barone was held to 11 points when he faced the Aggies, and BYU's Brandon Davies only had 10. New Mexico State's Bandja Sy had a quieter night in the second time around with USU, getting 12 points.
Expect the Aggies to try to win their final BracketBusters game by trying to shut down Carmichael inside. There will be a lot of pressure on Jarred Shaw and Jordan Stone to contain him. But the way the Aggies have been working lately, Morrill seemed optimistic.
"We keep talking about just trying to get better, working towards getting better towards the end of the year and towards the conference tournament," Morrill said. "We are trying to compete in every game, and see if we can find a way to win some. They have been solid along those lines and hopefully that will continue."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon