The Utah State basketball team’s drive to reclaim the regular-season Mountain West Conference championship will begin Dec. 29 — if COVID-19 doesn’t get in the way.

The Aggies, who captured a share of the 2018 regular-season championship but took second last season, are scheduled to tip off the conference season at Air Force Academy, according to the schedule USU released Friday. They will play their first game at the Spectrum on Jan. 2 against Fresno State, which joins San Jose State in being the only league teams the Aggies won’t play twice this season.

The game most fans will be salivating over will be Jan. 16, when USU hosts defending regular-season champion San Diego State. USU will also travel to San Diego State on Feb. 6. The Aggies lost to the Aztecs in both their meetings last season. They avenged those losses, however, with a stunning victory in the conference tournament championship. It was USU’s second straight championship title and one of the last college basketball games played before the NCAA shut down its sports because of the coronavirus.

The final conference game of the 2020-21 season is slated for March 6, with the MW Championship tournament set to take place March 10-13 in Las Vegas.

To prevent another stoppage, the MW has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to provide rapid-results testing for COVID-19 three times a week. Still, all games are subject to local and state regulations, which could put some of them in jeopardy. California and New Mexico, for example, currently have strict policies against group gatherings. Utah State is in the process of determining how, or even if, fan attendance will work at the Spectrum.

This season coach Craig Smith won’t have the services of guard Sam Merrill, who seemingly willed the Aggies to their come-from-behind championship victory before graduating last spring. He will, however, be reunited with seven letterwinners. That includes a core of juniors in center Neemias Queta, forward Justin Bean and wing Brock Miller.

New women’s basketball coach Kayla Ard will get an extra week to prepare her squad for MW play. The Aggies have a first-week bye and will open the conference season Jan. 2 at Fresno State. Their home opener will follow Jan. 6 vs. UNLV. Last year USU finished 8-23 overall and 2-16 in the MW.

NCAA Division I teams are allowed to begin their seasons Nov. 25. USU is expected to announce its complete schedules in the coming weeks.

UTAH STATE’S MOUNTAIN WEST SCHEDULE
Home games in CAPS
Tipoffs TBD


December 29 – at Air Force
January 2 – FRESNO STATE
January 5 – at Nevada
January 9 – WYOMING
January 12 – at San José State
January 16 – SAN DIEGO STATE
January 19 – BYE
January 23 – at Boise State
January 26 – COLORADO STATE
January 30 – at UNLV
February 2 – NEVADA
February 6 – at San Diego State
February 9 – at Colorado State
February 13 – BYE
February 16 – UNLV
February 20 – NEW MEXICO
February 23 – at Wyoming
February 27 – AIR FORCE
March 2 – BOISE STATE
March 6 – at New Mexico
March 10-13 – Mountain West Tournament (Las Vegas, Nev.)