Rebounding battle central to Utah State's upset chances
Utah State came to the brink of a huge win in Logan just over a month ago. Louisiana Tech got the better of the Aggies in a 51-48 win, but there was a definite blueprint there to beating the Bulldogs.
The best thing the Aggies can do to help their chances Thursday night is something they already do well: rebound.
The battle on the glass will be key to knocking off No. 25 Louisiana Tech. Last time, in a three-point loss, the Aggies outrebounded the Bulldogs 50-31, most of the boards coming in the second half. Both Spencer Butterfield and Jarred Shaw had double-doubles.
Think of it this way: Louisiana Tech's full-court press is reliant on making a shot on the other end. When the Bulldogs sink a shot, Utah State has to make an inbounds pass, then run it up the floor. That extra beat gives La Tech time to set up its defense, either a zone or a man press, and make going up the court a lot harder for the Aggies.
When USU outscored Louisiana Tech 26-16 in the second half of their last meeting, Stew Morrill was asked how the Aggies broke down the defense. "They didn't make shots," he said.
The best way to break the press is to stop Louisiana Tech on defense. It prevents them from setting up the press, and forces the ball back on the other end before they're ready.
Utah State is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They have a 9.0 rebounding margin this year, good for No. 6 in the nation, and KenPom.com has the Aggies as the 21st-best offensive rebounding team by percentage (USU gets O-boards on 38.3 percent of all opportunities).
The Bulldogs are a very mediocre shooting team (41.1 FG percent, 32.4 3FG percent) but have a potent offense because they get a lot of extra possessions from their steals generated through their press. Outrebounding La Tech is one of the best things USU can do, because it limits their second chances on offense and it takes away their ability to force as many turnovers.
Utah State did this fairly well last time, giving the ball away only 11 times and getting plus-19 on the boards. The only problem? They shot poorly. The Aggies only hit 27.3 percent of their shots.
It will be tough again, because Louisiana Tech has a lot of long, athletic defenders who take shotblocking and steals very seriously. A second time around, it seems likely that Utah State will find a way to make more than 15 field goals, especially if their first-half effort can match their second-half intensity from last game. Still, it would be hard to expect Louisiana Tech to go only 5-for-27 in half as it did last game.
The Aggies will still need breaks to go their way, even winning the rebounding battle. They'll need to shoot well, they'll need to prevent Louisiana Tech from shooting well, and Marcel Davis and TeNale Roland will need to show leadership against the press.
That, combined with facing a Ruston road crowd? There is a reason why the Bulldogs are nationally ranked.