Las Vegas • Utah State hopes to begin playing in the Mountain West basketball tournament on a Thursday one of these years. The consolation is the Aggies have performed well on Wednesdays lately.
USU coach Tim Duryea won a first-round game in each of his first two seasons, and his team is in the same position this week. The No. 7-seeded Aggies will meet No. 10 Colorado State on Wednesday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals Thursday vs. No. 2 Boise State.
“You like to avoid [playing] the first day, if possible,” Duryea said. “We’ve not been able to do that.”
The Aggies did earn a first-round bye via a top-five finish in the 11-team league in 2015. USU lost to Wyoming in coach Stew Morrill’s last game before he retired.
The No. 7 seed is the highest for USU under Duryea and will enable the Aggies to avoid meeting regular-season champion Nevada in the quarterfinals. Wednesday’s matchup with CSU is tricky, though. The Rams, who beat USU 84-75 in Logan in January, are playing for their third coach this season.
Former USU coach Larry Eustachy was placed on leave in early February, then agreed to a contract settlement. Steve Barnes, his longtime assistant, lasted two games as the interim coach before Jase Herl was given that title.
The turmoil makes CSU unpredictable. “That group is talented enough to come together for a week and kind of put all the chaos aside and really play well,” Duryea said.
USU’s biggest variable is the health of starting guards Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill, sophomores who were named to the All-Mountain West third team. McEwen missed part of Saturday’s win over UNLV with a strained groin and was held out of practice this week. He’s expected to play Wednesday. Merrill has a nagging leg injury but has not missed significant playing time.
UTAH STATE VS. COLORADO STATE
Where • Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Tipoff • 2:30 p.m. MST Wednesday
TV • Facebook Live
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • USU 15-16, CSU 11-20
Last meeting • CSU 84, USU 75 (Jan. 10) About the Rams • Junior guard Prentiss Nixon scored 26 points in the Rams’ victory in Logan in January. … CSU has lost four straight games and was routed in three of them but came within 92-83 of MW regular-season champion Nevada in the other contest
About the Aggies • USU broke a four-game losing streak with Saturday’s 79-67 win over UNLV in Logan. The victory pulled the Aggies into a tie for seventh place with UNLV and gave them the tiebreaker via a sweep in the season series.