Utah State men’s basketball coach Ryan Odom has already seen his team lift one trophy during his first season in Cache Valley.
But the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship wasn’t exactly what Odom was dreaming of when he took over as the Aggies’ head coach.
“For me, going in it was all about trying to help this team reach its potential,” Odom said this week.
That hasn’t happened quite yet for the Aggies, who finished the regular season 17-14 overall and 8-10 in conference play. A run in the Mountain West tournament this week in Las Vegas, however, could change all of that.
“Certainly we had big expectations coming in,” Odom said. “There are some things to be celebrated, but we view this as a big opportunity for us.”
The No. 7-seeded Aggies open the tournament Wednesday (2:30 p.m. MT) against the No. 10 Air Force Falcons.
The Aggies are expecting to have guards Brock Miller and Steven Ashworth back in their lineup this week. Still, Odom knows his team will have work to do against the Falcons.
“When you’re playing against Air Force, you know you have to be ready to guard for the entire clock,” Odom said. “They’re certainly going to be looking for back cuts. They’re certainly excellent at shooting behind the arc. But they really test you when your man doesn’t have the ball. … We’re going to have to be energetic on both sides of the ball.”
A win would move Utah State on to face No. 2 Colorado State in the quarterfinals Thursday.
Odom, of course, wants his players focused on one game at a time. But, in a deep Mountain West Conference, the Aggies have their work cut out for them if they’re going to punch their own ticket to the dance.
“Top to bottom, it’s as deep as it’s probably ever been,” Odom said of the league. “Do we have that one team like San Diego State a couple of years ago when they were a 1-seed? No, we don’t have that. But we have really good squads.”
The Mountain West has three teams that would seem to be tournament locks. San Diego State (23), Boise State (26) and Colorado State (34) are all top-35 KenPom teams. The three schools are also 28th, 29th and 30th in the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Odom said he hopes to see four Mountain West teams get NCAA tournament bids.
KenPom ranks Utah State No. 53, while the NET ranking puts them at No. 63.
Asked if he thought his team deserved a postseason invite of some sort regardless of what happens in the conference tournament, Odom said: “I don’t know. That’s going to be up to others. Our numbers would say that we should, but that’s not up to me. I do think this team is worthy of playing in postseason play, but time will tell once we get to that point.”