It's one of the biggest college basketball games ever in Logan, Utah, on Saturday night when Utah State hosts No. 7 San Diego State in Mountain West action. The Aztecs opened as 2-point favorites on NCAA basketball odds. It's also the latest-starting game Saturday (11 p.m. ET) so a potential way to cap a successful day on NCAA basketball picks or salvage a tough one.
White Out In Logan
To get the sellout crowd at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum even more fired up, the school is asking everyone to wear white for a "White Out" in hopes of distracting the Aggies a bit. This is definitely a big deal there. According to Utah State, San Diego State is the first ranked opponent to visit Logan since March 2007 (USU upset No. 10 Nevada in that one). SDSU is the highest-ranked opponent to visit since November 1996 and the highest-ranked team Utah State has played since the Aggies fell 64-61 to No. 6 Kansas in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Utah State (10-5-1 ATS, 4-10 O/U at sportsbooks) always has been a pretty successful mid-major team but hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011 when that club entered the Big Dance at 30-3 after dominating the WAC but lost as a No. 12 seed to No. 5 Kansas State. This is the Aggies' first season in the Mountain West and they aren't going to be in the NCAA Tournament without winning the conference tournament with a 12-6 overall mark (2-4 in MWC) entering this one. Five of those losses have come on the road and USU enters off back-to-back defeats at Boise State and UNLV, two middle-of-the-pack MWC teams. The Aggies' best win has been 87-68 at home against Mississippi State on Nov. 23.
Utah State senior center Jarred Shaw should be an All-MWC selection as he leads the team in scoring (16.1 points) and rebounding (7.8 per game). He was reinstated to the team in early January after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge after missing five games. USU was 4-1 without him but lost its MWC debut at Air Force with Shaw out.
Final Four Is Realistic
With all due respect to No. 5 Wichita State, San Diego State looks like perhaps the best team not in a power conference. The Aztecs reached the regional semifinals in the 2011 NCAA Tournament and won a game in last year's Big Dance, but this team looks better than either of those. SDSU pulled a 61-57 shocker at then-No. 16 Kansas on Jan. 5 as a 10.5-point underdog for sports bettors, ending the Jayhawks' 68-game non-conference home winning streak. That was hardly a fluke. The big Aztecs pushed KU around inside, outrebounding KU 51-39 and holding the Jayhawks to 29.8 percent shooting, easily the team's worst of the season. Kansas has not lost since and has looked dominant.
San Diego State (9-6 ATS, 2-12 O/U at sportsbooks) also beat ranked teams Creighton and Marquette earlier this year in a holiday tournament and its only loss was 69-60 at home against now-No. 1 Arizona on Nov. 14. Incidentally, Arizona and San Diego State are currently the only ranked schools west of the Central Time Zone. The highest SDSU has ever been ranked was No. 4 when that 2010-11 team started 20-0.
This team wins with rebounding (13th in the nation) and defense: tied for first nationally in points per game allowed (55.4) and first in defensive field-goal percentage (35.3 percent). The Aztecs have held 12 opponents under 40 percent shooting and 10 under 60 points. They aren't great offensively, shooting 43.9 percent from the field and averaging less than 11 assists per game, near the bottom nationally. Coach Steve Fisher starts four forwards and guard Xavier Thames, the team's leading scorer at 16.9 ppg.
Should San Diego State win out for our colllege basketball picks, which looks doable with the Mountain West down, a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance is possible. The toughest test will be Feb. 22 at New Mexico.
NCAA Basketball Free Pick: San Diego Sate -2. Utah State always has been tough to beat at home and this is its game of the season, but getting 2 isn't enough. Were the Aggies getting perhaps 5-6 points I would have leaned there.